Spotlight: Jennifer Liscio, VP of Tax Incentives and Legal Affairs
Behind every production, a team works diligently to achieve a delicate balance: honoring their collective creative vision while staying within the confines of a detailed budget and adhering to a strict schedule.
Tax incentives are a phenomenal tool that can help productions optimize their budget, but navigating the world of regulations and compliance can be overwhelming. As a trusted partner in the entertainment industry, EP helps productions across the globe identify and take advantage of the best tax incentives for each highly individual project. Jennifer Liscio, EP’s VP of Tax Incentives and Legal Affairs spearheads this initiative for Canadian productions.
In law school, Liscio found herself immediately drawn to the entertainment industry. She says, “I took a law course taught by two guys who were active in the entertainment space. Right away, I enjoyed the transactional nature of this area of practice and loved the idea of applying law to a creative industry.”
Shortly after being called to the Ontario Bar in 2003, she was offered an opportunity to be the first in-house legal counsel at EP Canada (then known as Canada Film Capital). Reflecting on the early days of her career, she says, “As a young lawyer, it was amazing to learn on the job and to be taught by incredible mentors.”
She later earned her Certified In-House Counsel designation from the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association and University of Toronto - Rotman School of Management, further broadening her skills as a strategic legal advisor to EP’s Canadian executive team.
Fast-forward seventeen years – Liscio is now a VP at the same company where she started her career. As a senior legal counsel with decades of experience supporting productions, she’s still enchanted by entertainment law and is inspired by the significant evolution she’s seen throughout her tenure in the industry.
What makes EP tax incentive support different?
Every production is tasked with the lofty goal of identifying, securing, and efficiently utilizing a stringent budget. As a result, productions often prioritize certain locations based on where they can find the best incentives for their project. However, there's a lot to sort out, especially because each taxing jurisdiction offers different funding opportunities. Drudging through details can be a complex, time-consuming process.
At EP, Liscio works collaboratively with in-house leadership and outside parties to overcome significant tax incentive challenges productions face on a daily basis. Her ultimate goal is to streamline the process, end-to-end, and she's made a huge impact.
Here are some key differentiators EP offers productions considering filming in Canada:
- Free tools help you identify the best incentive for your project
Incentives can mean the difference between a successful production or a not-so-successful production – and it all starts with proper planning. To help you budget accurately, EP provides a free estimate tool that teams can use to learn about different content and production service incentive programs available throughout Canada.
Liscio says, "Incentives vary widely. Some places offer labor-based incentives, meaning the more people you hire in that jurisdiction, the more value you get. Others offer an 'all spend' incentive, which means that, in addition to labor employed on your production, money spent on equipment, materials, and other production costs also qualifies for the incentive in those jurisdictions. ‘All spend’ is often a better fit if you plan to bring in talent and crew members who are not residents of your filming jurisdiction. There are also bonuses available for certain types of work, such as animation and visual effects – and some remote areas offer great monetary bonuses to attract productions."
With so many options, it’s helpful to be able to see and weigh each jurisdiction’s incentive options in pre-production. The difference in the amount of money you may be able to access from province to province can be dramatic.
- Expert guidance helps you maximize your production budget
Before you commit to a location, it’s smart to check with the EP incentives team to find out if there are any funding opportunities you’re missing. “We often see money left on the table,” says Liscio. “Our expert knowledge of the qualifying spend rules and our detailed analysis of all the accounting data allows us to accurately quantify and maximize a production’s incentives.”
Logistics are another huge part of the equation. Liscio says, “With incentives, timing can be as important as value. Our team pinpoints when you can expect to receive funding so your team can plan accordingly.”
- Smart systems reduce manual work
There’s an enormous amount of manual work involved in the administrative aspects of production, and EP is deeply invested in relieving that pain across multiple departments. “We’re digitizing production processes – from timecards to tax incentives – and our digital systems are all being designed to talk to each other. Having interconnected systems enables us to tap into multiple secure information sources, simplifying information-gathering processes while reducing redundant manual work,” Liscio explains.
Many jurisdictions require productions to hire talent that lives in the province offering the incentive to qualify for funding. EP recently released a tool called EP Residency, which streamlines the process of collecting residency-based information from local talent. Liscio says, "Before this tool existed, every make-up artist, crew member, and driver had to physically go to the production office to deliver documents that verified their identity and place of residence. Accountants made copies and stored them in binders that had to be manually reviewed, page by page."
She continues, “Digitizing manual processes is a gamechanger, and we’re moving away from paper artifacts wherever we can. As an example, we built a tool that allows crew and talent to upload documents to our secure online system in just a few minutes. It’s a one-and-done step, so if anyone in our system works on future projects managed by EP, they don’t have to repeat the process. Soon, our system will be able to remind talent and crew members to upload new documents if anything in the system is nearing expiration. We’re also integrating this tool into our primary employee onboarding system.”
Small changes like this save production teams and crews tons of time and ensure greater security over personal information and greater accuracy in estimating the value of a production's incentive. Liscio adds, "Having access to all production data also allows us to pull global aggregate numbers, resulting in more accurate forecasting."
- Expert in-house guidance is available at every stage of production
“Many productions – and some other entertainment industry payment processors – use outsourced lawyers and CPA firms or chartered accounting firms to handle various aspects of their tax incentive filings,” Liscio explains.
“While these firms are very knowledgeable, their knowledge is generalized. At EP, we set out to build a team with deeper expertise. We’ve had in-house accountants and legal support for years, and they’re only focused on productions. That means there’s always an expert available to provide status updates and answer your most complex questions.”
Unmatched administrative support
Anytime a production team has to communicate with multiple outside parties, they end up spending lots of time checking up on people to make sure things are getting done. When it comes to tax incentives, keeping track of government-regulated moving parts, while also keeping track of an active production, is a lot to ask. Liscio says, “The EP team is well-versed in this process, and we’re here to guide you. We stay on top of all paperwork and deadlines, so your team doesn’t get bogged down by admin work.”
- Seamless tax filing with EP
When your project wraps, the team at Entertainment Partners – which has been continually packaging together everything you need to file a valid tax claim along the way – handles your production’s tax filing and any tax audits in-house so you can collect your refund as quickly as possible. Our system also aggregates the confirmed status of all eligible employees, making it easy to build a valid incentive claim that offers audit protection during reconciliation.
Liscio says, “Not only do we manage your filing– our team collaborates with local tax jurisdiction offices to improve processes. We work together to identify ways to make the whole process easier. It’s so beneficial to have those trusted relationships because it really makes a difference in streamlining the way tax incentives are handled."
When you add it all up, EP offers a seamless end-to-end tax incentive management experience to productions. “We’ve truly seen it all," Liscio says, "Productions are complex, but we have solutions in place to support you.”
The student becomes the teacher
Things have come full circle for Liscio. The once brand-new lawyer eagerly learning from others is today the mentor, teaching young lawyers how to succeed in the industry.
“The role reversal has been incredibly rewarding,” she says, feeling fortunate to have landed at a company that valued her potential and gave her the opportunity to build something that helps so many people. “As an industry, we’ve come a long way, and at EP, we’re always working to continue to push things forward. We’re focused on streamlining, optimizing, and simplifying things as much as possible for productions. It’s so inspiring.”
Liscio continues, “Working in entertainment is so special because everyone in the larger ecosystem wants film and tv to be a robust industry. We’re all proud of our role in supporting productions, and it shows. We’re a giant team, working collaboratively to make things simpler, smarter, and better all around.”
Any production investigating tax incentives in Canada would be remiss not to call Liscio and her team. “Productions require two things to be successful: a good creative vision – and money," she says, "we understand how important an optimal budget is, and we’re here to help you make the most of the money available to you in Canada.”