"Busiest" summer ever for B.C.'s film sector

Boom fuelled by tax credit program extension, corporate head office move, low dollar and experienced crews

B.C.’s tax credits have helped lure filming for projects such as Twentieth Century Fox’s continuing Planet of the Apes series to Vancouver | Weta Digital

B.C.’s booming film sector is poised to grow further, which is good news for industry insiders and business owners who rely on the sector’s success.

“This is the busiest season we’ve ever had,” said Peter Hayman, a business representative at International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 669, the union that represents 678 camera operators, publicists and others in the industry.

“It’s going to continue because of the falling Canadian dollar and, certainly, tax credits that are favourable to U.S. producers,” Hayman said.

“We’re not seeing a slowdown. If anything, more action looks to be coming our way.”

Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group last month moved most staff in its Sony Pictures Imageworks subsidiary to a new 75,000-square-foot head office in the Pacific Centre office tower above the future Nordstrom department store. Imageworks, which had been based in California, now has more than 700 staff in Vancouver and is the city’s largest animation house.

Sony cited Vancouver’s “attractive lifestyle for artists” and the city’s emergence as a “world-class centre for visual effects and animation production” when it announced Imageworks’ move in May 2014.

That attractive climate for animators was fostered by the B.C. government’s digital animation or visual effects (DAVE) tax credits, which began in 2010 and were expected to end this year. Earlier this year, Victoria extended DAVE until 2018 while also expanding the program to include post-production services such as colouring, timing, editing and sound mixing.

“That expansion is new and good, but it’s a comparatively smaller sub-sector of work,” said Paul Klassen, who is the business representative of IATSE Local 891, which has about 5,400 members.

“We had 5,000 members not that long ago, so we’re in expansion mode,” he told Business in Vancouver.

More industry expansion is expected to come from the B.C. government’s announcement last month that it will open an office in Los Angeles to market the province as a destination for film productions.

This comes as U.S. film producers spurn California as a place to film movies and television.

“California is expensive and the tax credit system there is incredibly awkward, unwieldy, unreliable and contested,” said Where’s Arnold Productions Inc.’s Mike Elliott, who is producing the Universal Studios-financed remake of Kindergarten Cop, which is filming in Vancouver.

“We love the fact that Vancouver has excellent infrastructure, reliable transportation and a bike path system that helps keep the traffic light,” Elliott said.

Elliott’s only frustration with Vancouver is that the city’s film industry is booming so much that he sometimes has to use less experienced crews than he would like to.

Adding to the boom is the lower loonie, which helps Canadian production companies when they sell their content to U.S. television stations.

Paperny Entertainment, which was founded in B.C. and then sold to Toronto’s Entertainment One for $29.2 million last year, is likely to move some of its post-production work to B.C. from the U.S. because of the tax credit situation, its executive vice-president, Cal Shumiatcher, told BIV.

“We’re not currently filming a studio-based show in the U.S. now but if we were and felt it could be shot in Canada, then, absolutely we would move it here to take advantage of the [currency] situation,” he added.

International film production budgets in B.C. soared 54% last year

Film production in B.C. done by international companies soared in the year that ended March 31 whereas domestic production dipped a bit.

The latest statistics from Creative BC show that international film production companies produced tax-credit-eligible shows that had a combined $1.672 billion in the year that ended March 31. That’s 54% more than in the previous year.

The production budgets for tax-credit-eligible domestic shows, in contrast, dipped 4.3% to $350.6 million in the year that ended March 31, compared to the previous year.

Combined, tax-credit-eligible film production in B.C. soared 39.7% to a record $2.022 billion in the year that ended March 31.

The number of productions did not rise to the same degree, meaning that each production, on average, had a larger budget.

There were a total of 287 tax-credit-eligible productions in B.C. in the year that ended March 31. That’s up 15.7% from the previous year.

Creative BC was born in April 2013, when the B.C. government merged the B.C. Film Commission and B.C. Film + Media.

The B.C. Film Commission had largely dealt with location services, whereas BC Film + Media handled development funding for the domestic industry while also administering the provincial film and TV tax credits.

Creative BC incorporates now oversees all those functions.

Victoria launched Creative BC in an attempt to quell criticism from the now-disbanded group known as Save BC Film that the government was not doing enough to keep the industry sustainable.