Pictured: Pictured: Chung Chow.
An episode of the locally produced TV series Legends of Tomorrow being filmed in Vancouver
The Canadian dollar, which is at its lowest point against the U.S. dollar since June 2020, has been a major boon to BC’s film industry in its continued post-COVID resurgence, officials say.
The industry contributed nearly $5 billion to BC’s economy last year. It also has feature film production and several other subsectors closely related to Hollywood studio spending. So the falling loonie — which hit US$0.72 on Oct. 1 — reinforced one of Metro Vancouver’s key advantages when it comes to attracting projects, an official said.
“Most of our industry is run by the US dollar, whether you’re shooting in foreign jurisdictions outside of the United States or Canada,” said Shawn Williamson, Founder and President of Burnaby’s Brightlight Pictures Inc. “So most of our budgets are in US dollars. budgets. There are three or four things that foreign producers – whether American, English or European – always look at when deciding whether or not to come to Vancouver. Currency is always the one of them, so we’re an industry that generally benefits from a weaker Canadian dollar.
Brightlight, which helped produce major Hollywood features such as Every Breath You Take (2021) and TV series like ABC’s The Good Doctor (2021), has been extremely busy since a hiatus in the early months of the pandemic. of COVID-19. But the pandemic has also caused a massive wave of demand from stay-at-home consumers and created a huge appetite for shows and movies on streaming platforms.
Prem Gill, CEO of Creative BC, the province’s “industry catalyst” for the film sector, said Brightlight’s experience is not isolated. Gill said BC had 500 productions in 2021. Before the pandemic, the number of productions could have been as low as 350. Currently, there are around 40 productions in the province – not including additional works such as visual effects and animation, added Gill.
“Pre-pandemic productions can also go up to 500, so they’ve been pretty stable and consistent,” she said. “But in 2021 there was definitely a little increase because there was a backlog of stuff all over the world. And when things picked up, people continued to see Vancouver, Metro Vancouver, and British Columbia as a place they want to come, because we have an industry that’s been established for over 40 years, and the infrastructure and talent base.
The presence of this talent base in British Columbia, more than the increasingly favorable exchange rate, is the main draw for investment and productions in the region, said Brian Hamilton, lead and executive producer at Omnifilm Entertainment. Ltd of Vancouver.
Hamilton has been heavily involved in building the BC film industry ecosystem since the company was founded in 1979. Hamilton also co-founded the Pacific Screenwriting Program with financial partners that include Netflix Inc. ( Nasdaq:NFLX), and he said the talent base in Vancouver, not a cheaper currency, is driving the business.
“We mainly produce TV series, rather than feature films – which are projects that are completed in a few months,” he said. “In terms of filming, they are more sensitive to fluctuations in the US dollar than filming TV series, because when a studio decides to make Vancouver the birthplace of a new series, it is a decision that goes through many years. . Decision makers cannot therefore focus solely on the exchange rate, as this value will change over time. »
But Hamilton confirmed the industry has emerged from the pandemic in much better shape than others. Again, he attributed this to BC’s human capital, adding that this is the No. 1 challenge the province faces to ensure future incoming productions.
“We are in expansion mode and have made some key hires over the past month,” Hamilton said. “But there is more competition for the talent pool that exists here… Yes, our costs are lower and the tax incentives offered by both levels of government are significant. But while the exchange rate is good news, people choose Vancouver because of the crews, and it comes down to our people assets – which are world class.
Gill and Williamson agree that a variety of factors – including the exchange rate and BC’s film production skills – create a welcoming ecosystem for productions.
“The exchange rate can certainly work to the advantage of any jurisdiction by making it more lucrative [to film there]”, Gill said. “But if we didn’t have the almost three million square feet of studio space and the thousands of people in the industry, … you can’t attract productions. And you can’t creating that ability overnight.… We have worked hard and will continue to work to create an environment that makes productions successful.You have to keep your eyes on all things at all times.
Williamson added that there was another piece to the puzzle: productions beyond the United States. Recent currency swings have largely been triggered by a sharp drop in the British pound – the Canadian dollar hitting almost £0.70 at the end of September, its highest point against the UK currency in at least a year. decade.
The rising Canadian dollar on that front could hurt British Columbia’s ability to attract film investment across the Atlantic, Williamson said, hampering British Columbia’s ability to grow its industry overseas.
“I would like to see a stronger pound because we have UK partners working with us,” he said. “We would like to see them be financially strong and successful, able to come and spend British pounds in Canada. We’ve just finished a huge project with UK partners, so hopefully things will bounce back quickly.