B.C. directors’ campaign targets U.S. production gigs

Locals say lagging employment opportunities don’t reflect surge in foreign film productions

Vancouver-based director Zach Lipovsky is helping launch a new initiative to persuade more American producers to hire Canadians to direct films and TV shows made in B.C. | submitted

American producers of the TV movie Kim Possible had not yet landed on a filming location when they hired Vancouverite Zach Lipovsky as the feature’s director.

New Zealand and Hollywood North rival Toronto were both still possibilities at that point.

“And when they hired me, that’s what made them shift their decision to Vancouver because I had shot everything else here,” recalled the 35-year-old actor-turned-director.

“So that’s a $17 million spend that hired people for six months. All that money went straight into the province because they hired me.”

And the Directors Guild of Canada’s B.C. chapter (DGC) believes it can snag more hires like that soon with this month’s launch of its Directors Initiative.

The awareness campaign sees the DGC facilitating meetings and flights down to Los Angeles for B.C. directors to meet with producers, film showcases to raise the profile of their credits, panel discussions, career development and a new directors.ca online hiring directory.

The website allows producers to filter through results to find directors who may have special skills, such as one who can speak another language or has shot underwater.

Lipovsky, the DGC’s B.C. chapter directors caucus representative, said he’s able to land gigs from American productions only because he commutes from Vancouver to L.A. once every week or two for meetings with producers who otherwise stick to familiar networks.

But he admitted that’s not a practical prospect for most of the 70 or so working union directors based in the province.

“It might seem like a lot of fuss for one job, but the director is the key creative element that steers the whole ship,” Lipovsky said. “If we support our local directors, because it’s a very pivotal role on a film set, that’s how we ensure the stability and strength of the industry.”

It’s an industry already known to wax and wane depending on factors like the strength of the loonie.

The volume of film and TV production in B.C. reached $3.58 billion in the last fiscal year, according to the Canadian Media Producers Association’s Profile 2018 report released in March.

That’s up 20.6% from a year earlier when production volume reached $2.97 billion.

However, growth was dominated by foreign-service productions, which grew 31.5% to $3.04 billion year-over-year.

Domestic TV productions from B.C.-based producers fell 15.1% year-over-year to hit $438 million, and domestic film productions from B.C.-based producers fell even more dramatically, tumbling 74.4% year-over-year to $11 million.

Meanwhile, the DGC has been collecting data for a decade and found that only 33% of productions in B.C. are currently led by a Canadian director.

Lipovsky said the concern is that while employment has remained steady for directors, it hasn’t been growing in step with the surge in foreign-service productions hitting the city.

The DGC’s initiative aims to get that 33% figure closer to 50% within two years.

The campaign was originally being funded entirely by the DGC, but Creative BC, the non-profit agency charged with promoting the province’s entertainment sectors, has since come on board.

“A lot of key creative talent drive decisions on productions, from where they’re going to be shot to the other people who are going to be hired to work on a show,” Creative BC CEO Prem Gill said.

“We hope that there’s more Zach Lipovskys that are … [influencing] not just where something is shot but the composition of the talent working on a show or the ability to drive their own creative content someday.”

Lipovsky said there’s also a solid financial incentive for American productions to hire B.C. directors, citing DGC estimates that peg savings at about $100,000 when a Canadian is hired over an American due to tax credits and not having to pony up for additional flights and living expenses.

“But we don’t want to be looked at as the cheaper choice,” he said. “We want to be looked at as the completely valid, equally good choice.”