Vancouver film sector spending drops $700m as pandemic year takes its toll

Industry spent $3.4b in 2020, according to new report

Vancouver Film Studios | Photo: Rob Kruyt, BIV

It appears 2020 was not exactly a blockbuster year for Vancouver’s film and TV sector.

A new report from the Vancouver Economic Commission (VEC) reveals directing spending in the sector dropped $700 million compared with a year earlier as pandemic-induced restrictions took their toll.

Wednesday’s report found film, TV, post-production and animation companies generated $3.4 billion in direct spending last year — down significantly from the $4.1 billion in spending generated in 2019.

The sector was hit hard by the suspension of live-action productions at the outset of the pandemic in March 2020. 

Productions did not begin ramping up once again until summer 2020, leaving the industry in a state of paralysis much of last year. B.C., though, was able to stay competitive as lower COVID-19 case counts allowed productions to resume quicker than in California.

"Put in context, $3.4 billion is a truly impressive performance during a pandemic year," acting film commissioner Geoff Teoli said in a statement, noting last year’s spend exceeded the $3.2 billion generated in 2016.

The pandemic also saw major shakeups in terms of logistics, with new (and more expensive) safety guidelines being deployed on sets at the same time animators and visual effects (VFX) professionals rapidly shifted to working remotely.

This resulted in B.C. companies like Teradici Corp. experiencing a surge in business during this period, according to vice-president Ziad Lammam.

The Burnaby company develops enterprise software allowing companies to access desktops remotely from less powerful devices, making it easy to launch high-performance applications needed for animation and VFX houses. All the applications are hosted in the cloud or Teradici’s data centre.

Flash forward more than a year and foreign VFX firms such as DNEG (Double Negative Ltd.) and Zoic Studios are promising Vancouver employees the option to work from home if they choose to do so.

Meanwhile, data released earlier this week from Statistics Canada showed cinemas faced major last year amid pandemic-induced restrictions.

Operating revenue went from nearly $2 billion in 2018 to $553 by 2020 as people turned to other entertainment such as streaming services.

The VEC report also cites a study from not-for-profit FilmLA that found B.C. was home to 16 out of 24 new streaming projects that got off the ground in Canada last year.