Lights, camera, Surrey!

City reaps benefits from B.C.’s film and television production boom

James Monk, the City of Surrey’s film liaison, says 2016 was another record-breaking year for film and television | Chung Chow

Film and television productions broke records last year in Surrey, capping off five consecutive years of growth for the sector.

In 2012, the City of Surrey issued 56 film permits. Since then, that number has risen through 2013 (63), 2014 (82), 2015 (97) and 2016, when it jumped to 170.

Filming days in the city have also risen from 2012 (88) through 2013 (103), 2014 (158), 2015 (193) and 2016 (265).

James Monk, the City of Surrey’s film liaison, said the low Canadian dollar and a 28% film tax credit have greatly increased the amount of attention the Lower Mainland is getting from the entertainment industry south of the border.

“The growth has just been tremendous,” Monk said. “And we have a wide variety of locations that people can film at in the city of Surrey. We’ve got everything from urban developments to downtown cores to landscapes, farmland. We have hundreds and hundreds of green parks – the list goes on.”

The city is hoping to capitalize on the increased interest by rolling out an interactive map of popular film locations across Surrey. A big reason for the boom last year was Skydance Studios, which officially opened in September on 88th Avenue, east of the Alex Fraser Bridge in Newton. Last year, the city estimates, film and television shoots and Skydance brought in about $100 million to the local economy and created 400 jobs. Monk said it’s the main benefit for a city when it comes to film and television.

“It’s hard to measure exactly the economic spinoffs, but we know that it’s employing people locally in Metro Vancouver, and we know lots of people have been employed that live in Surrey.”

Monk added that representatives of studio owners Skydance Media have recently expressed interest in shooting scenes outside of their production studios in 2017, heading into the community to find additional locations.

Robert Wong, vice-president and acting film commissioner of provincial agency Creative BC, noted that Skydance has one of the world’s longest and tallest stages and that there is also another conversion stage in Guildford. Wong said he expects growth to continue in film and television across the Lower Mainland.

“With this continued growth, 2017 could be another record year for production with [170] new permits being issued [in Surrey],” he said. “It is also very likely that more conversion space will open throughout the city, as the demand increases for production space.”

Monk said Surrey’s vast parkland has been a vital selling point for film and TV shoots, noting shows like Prison Break, Supergirl, The Flash and The 100 were all shot in town last year. He added the new city hall building has been used to stand in for a number of fictional locations, including a courtroom and bank vault. He credits the modern architecture of the space as a big draw for productions.

One of the most notable shoots that took place in Surrey last year was Why We’re Killing Gunther, an action-comedy starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. There was a four-day closure in Cloverdale with massive controlled explosions that drew large crowds each day.

“It creates this buzz and excitement in the community,” said Monk of the high-profile shoots. “They’re trying to catch a glance of whoever it is, and so I get calls once in a while: ‘Is there anything big in town?’ It creates some excitement, absolutely.”

According to the Vancouver Economic Commission, Metro Vancouver is, on average, home to about 30 movies and 30 television series annually, as well as hundreds of production days for commercials, TV pilots and other features. The commission also estimates film and television production generates approximately $2 billion annually, making it the third-largest production centre in North America.

Last May, the provincial government held consultations with film and television industry leaders, which resulted in dropping the production services tax credit from 33% to 28%.