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Tuesday, 10 February 2009 10:36

Frosty Film Frontier: Western Canada

Written by  Iain Blair
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A cannery in Steveston, British Columbia Photo courtesy of Marni NelkoAlberta hoodoos in the sunset Photo courtesy of Alberta Film
With their spectacular mountain and sea scenery, great infrastructure, experienced crews and state-of-the-art post houses, Vancouver and the B.C. region have long attracted filmmakers and earned the affectionate title “Hollywood North"...

 

A cannery in Steveston, British Columbia Photo courtesy of Marni Nelko

            With their spectacular mountain and sea scenery, great infrastructure, experienced crews and state-of-the-art post houses, Vancouver and the B.C. region have long attracted filmmakers and earned the affectionate title “Hollywood North.” Western Canada also offers everything from rolling prairies to icy tundra, and its provinces aggressively court business and are well experienced in tax credits and eager to accommodate production. And with the Canadian dollar currently hovering around $0.80US, it provides U.S. producers with an approximate 20-percent advantage on total spending within the provinces. B.C. film commissioner Susan Croome notes, “This discount, combined with our competitive tax incentives, will allow production savings and excellent value on the technical and creative elements of production.”

British Columbia
             Croome reports that production activity in British Columbia has been “relatively steady” throughout 2008. “It has been negatively impacted the by the WGA strike, unstable financial markets and ongoing, unsettled labor negotiations between the Screen Actors Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers,” she explains. “The recently lower Canadian dollar has definitely had a positive effect on our production outlook for 2009. The B.C. Film Commission has had a recent flurry of activity with scripts and projects that are now giving B.C. much more serious consideration than earlier in the year. The cost-benefit analysis seems to be tipping more and more in our favor. Although B.C. is always recognized for its excellence and experience as a production center, sometimes producers have sacrificed our quality for cost savings elsewhere. The lower Canadian dollar has made the decision to go elsewhere much more difficult.”
British Columbia’s highly competitive tax incentives provide another tremendous advantage to producers who choose to do both physical production and digital-animation and visual-effects work in B.C. “Clients report that B.C.’s Digital Animation or Visual Effects (DAVE) Production Services tax incentives are reliable, predictable and easy to access,” says Croome. “B.C.’s tax incentives are stable and will be in effect until 2013. They provide a tremendous advantage to producers who choose to do physical production or digital animation, visual effects and post-production work in B.C. The DAVE credit can also be claimed on digital work done in B.C. even if physical production is done elsewhere.”     
Feature films shot in B.C. in 2008 include Farewell Atlantis for Columbia Pictures; The Day the Earth Stood Still, Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian, Tooth Fairy and The X Files: I Want to Believe for 20th Century Fox; I Love You, Beth Cooper for Fox Atomic; Jennifer's Body for Fox Searchlight; Watchmen for Warner Bros.; and Traveling for Universal Studios. Television series shot in 2008 include “Battlestar Galactica,” “Psych” and “Eureka” for NBC Universal; “Smallville” and “Supernatural” for Warner Bros.; “Harper's Island” for CBS Paramount; “Kyle XY” for ABC; “The L Word” for Coast Mountain Films; and “Stargate: Atlantis” for MGM.
So what makes B.C. such a popular production destination? “We’re a full-service production center,” stresses Croome. “As well as having many diverse and spectacular locations, British Columbia has built a solid reputation and track record for delivering excellence to filmmakers, both in terms of production value and quality, and all at a highly competitive price. Our clients keep coming back because they know that in B.C., there are no surprises –– we can produce an excellent project on time and on budget. And our center of production, Vancouver, is consistently rated one of the most liveable cities in the world. British Columbia delivers on its promise to provide an excellent production and post-production experience. The B.C. Film Commission just celebrated its 30th anniversary. With over 30 years of experience, the members of our production and post-production community keenly understand the essential value of customer service in maintaining our client base. B.C.'s cast, crew and service providers believe in working together to make sure that our customers get great service. We value and understand the importance of effective partnerships, as in the end our success depends on your success.”

Manitoba

It’s been another great year for Manitoba, according to Louise O’Brien Moran, manager of film production and location services at Manitoba Film & Sound. “Manitoba had a record number of series and pilots produced in the province,” she says. “And it was also a significant growth year for local Manitoba production companies with Farpoint Films having its first feature, Wild Cherry starring Rumer Willis, and Two Lagoons producing its first project with Mark Wolfe (K-19: The Widowmaker, I Heart Huckabees, Kinsey). With Lifetime and key Manitoba creatives, including directors, editors, production designers and composers, Manitoba is well established as a place for MOWs and features, but this year with the number of Canadian series in production, they demonstrated the ability of local producers, directors and crew to create and produce excellent film and television in any format.

“The highs for 2008 include the Manitoba Tax Credit, which increased to up to 65 percent, making it the most attractive in Canada,” Moran adds. “Two features shot in Manitoba and made by Manitoba producers, The Stone Angel and My Winnipeg, placed in the top-three Canadian films at the Canadian box office. And Manitoba broke records for series production this year with the production of three series plus two pilots shot in the province. Manitoba captured its second-largest-budget feature with New in Town, starring Renée Zellweger and Harry Connick, Jr.”

            Other productions include the Manitoba-co-produced film Amreeka, which was invited to the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, the Manitoba-written/produced/directed short film Cattle Call (also invited to Sundance in 2009), and Lifetime’s highest-rated program ever, “The Capture of the Green River Killer,” a mini-series directed by Manitoban Norma Bailey.

Moran notes that the lows for 2008 include a slow down in production during June and July due to various factors including the Canadian dollar, the SAG strike and increased competition from the U.S. “While the Canadian dollar was certainly higher in the early parts of the year, our tax credit increased to up to 65 percent in April and certainly worked to offset that to the point that, in comparative budgets, Manitoba was still able to compete with the best of the US incentives because our overall production costs are lower,” she explains. “So lower production costs combined with an increased tax incentive still kept Manitoba very much in the game. Fortunately the film and television industry in Manitoba has a strong indigenous sector, so we still have production by local producers even when there are fluctuations in the levels of foreign-service work.

“Manitoba companies have always been good at bringing in co-productions, and 2008 was a great year for Manitoba producers and co-ventures,” adds Moran. “As part of the increased tax incentives introduced in April 2008, an additional Manitoba Producer Bonus was introduced, rewarding productions an additional five percent on the labor credit for collaborating with a Manitoba producer. This is an added financial tool for Manitoba producers to attract production and help further finance films. The Manitoba Tax Incentive was specifically designed to allow producers to access the tax credit on their own, but now, with the Manitoba Producer Bonus, they have an added incentive to consider the benefits of working with top-notch Manitoba producers. Furthermore, the Manitoba government increased the equity funds available for Manitoba producers to apply to for production, which is another tool to assist in co-production ventures.”

 In 2008, Manitoba companies had co-productions with Gold Circle Films (New in Town); Buffalo Gal Pictures, Alcina Pictures and First Generation Films (Amreeka); and Rampage Entertainment and Farpoint Films (Wild Cherry).

Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan’s film and television industry continues to generate steady production volumes for the province, reports Kerry Fraser, communications officer at SaskFilm. “For the previous fiscal year, the industry will have generated $65 million in production while 2008/2009 continues to be on track for approximately the same,” she says. “In spite of competition from other jurisdictions, Saskatchewan continues to progress through a balance of indigenous and visiting productions, including most recently the feature film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel “Dolan’s Cadillac” (Minds Eye Entertainment); The Shortcut (Happy Madison Productions/Minds Eye Entertainment); the thriller Hybrid (Stallion Media/Tadora Filmproduktions/Studio 407); Walled In (Experiences Films/Forecast Pictures/Minds Eye Entertainment); the Canada/France co-production Grace (Anchor Bay Entertainment/ArieScope Pictures/Dark Eye Entertainment); Surveillance (Film Star Pictures/Lago Film/Stephen Onda Productions), which premiered at Cannes last spring; and indigenous productions such as the Gemini Award-winning screen adaptation of the Governor General Award-winning novel “The Englishman’s Boy” (Minds Eye Entertainment); Canada’s number-one CTV series “Corner Gas” (Three Thirty-Five Productions/Vérité Films); and the CBC-ratings hit “Little Mosque on the Prairie” (Westwind Pictures).  

            Fraser attributes the ongoing success and growth of the industry to Saskatchewan’s “competitive and user-friendly” tax credit program, which is among many other benefits. She notes, “[We have] the largest, most state-of-the-art production facility in the Prairie Provinces; our team of experienced and enthusiastic producers and production personnel; our combination of rural and urban locations; and most importantly, our commitment to ensuring our visiting producers reap the rewards of filming in our region. Our personal, client-driven approach has served us quite well in generating repeat business.”

The Saskatchewan Film Employment Tax Credit Program (SFETC) is one of the most comprehensive and competitive tax-incentive programs available in the world.  Offering a tax credit of up to 55 percent of eligible labor on each individual project with no content or copyright restrictions, the program continues to be user friendly and production oriented and is designed to encourage film and television production in Saskatchewan. Incentives are available for each production, without any obligation to film additional projects in the province to qualify for an additional rebate. There are no financial caps per production, and program applications are processed swiftly in the interests of the producer. Saskatchewan's base-tax credit will rebate 45 percent of the total wages of all eligible above- and below-the-line Saskatchewan-deemed labor. It also provides for an additional five-percent bonus of total production expenditures in the province for productions that choose to film in smaller centers and rural areas (25 miles or more from the province's two major cities). And, finally, an extra five-percent, key-position bonus is available to hire specific Saskatchewan crewmembers and technicians for below-the-line positions. Designed for productions with budgets of $3 million CDN or more, this incentive is eligible for projects that attain six out of ten points on positions specified by the program.

 

Alberta hoodoos in the sunset Photo courtesy of Alberta Film

 

 

Alberta

Alberta’s film commissioner, Jeff Brinton, says the province has been busy with many television and film projects. “We’ve had a pretty good year, and our total spend will be about the same as ’07,” he reports. “The main reason for that is that we have three major series in production, ‘Heartland,’ ‘Wild Roses’ and ‘Fear Itself,’ so even though we’re down in the number of productions by about 30 percent our spend is still high. ‘Heartland’ is a domestic series for CBC that’s running on primetime, and we have a big deal with Lionsgate for ‘Fear Itself,’ a big series on NBC.

“Alberta’s film grants have also helped us a lot,” he notes. “We’re a grant program, so it’s not a tax rebate but a grant that’s paid out on all approved Alberta expenditures –– and not just labor, which is a key difference between a tax credit and our program. You can apply in three tiers. Tier One, gives the maximum percentage between 21 to 23 percent when the majority ownership in the project is Albertan; then Tier Two is 19 to 21 percent with Albertans in a minority co-production partnership; and Tier Three is purely service and offers you 16 percent of the total Alberta spend.”

Brinton adds that the Minister of Culture recently announced some grant application changes. “Previously there was a $1.5 million cap per production,” he says. “That’s been doubled to $3 million to help us stay competitive. It’s also retroactive for this fiscal. We’ve also made some other changes, notably that we now allow Alberta crews to travel outside the province, mostly for documentary films, and still be included in the Alberta expenditures. So that’ll help all documentary filmmakers. The other significant change is a financing clause that now allows the Alberta portion of the financing to be included in a 65 percent threshold in order to leverage other funders. And our grant program is very fast to process.

“So we’re trying to be very proactive,” Brinton explains. “And this was all done this past year to address the realities of the marketplace. And the Minister of Culture has said he’ll be taking forward a proposal for a new funding model that will build further on these changes.”

Recent productions in Alberta include Lifetime’s Nora Roberts’ Northern Lights (Nora NL Productions) starring LeAnn Rimes, Eddie Cibrian and Rosanna Arquette; High Noon (Nora NL Productions) starring Emilie de Ravin, Ivan Sergei and Cybill Shepherd; When Calls the Heart (Pine Springs Productions Inc.); Flirting with Forty (Lifetime/Sony Pictures Television) starring Heather Locklear, Cameron Bancroft, Robert Buckley and Sam Duke; and The Last Rites of Ransom Pride (Horse Thief Pictures/Nomadic Pictures) starring Lizzy Caplan, Scott Speedman, Jason Priestley, Kris Kristofferson and Dwight Yoakam.

            “We have world-class locations, everything from prairie and mountains to desert and forests, as well as urban cities and historic buildings,” Brinton sums up. “We also have very experienced crews. And we’re the only province with no sale tax –– another six- or seven-percent savings.”

Northwest Territories

Northwest Territories Photos courtesy of Terry Parker/NWTT

Northwest Territories (NWT) Film Commissioner Carla Wallis reports that the past year has been “a lot busier” than 2007, which was very slow. “Thanks to high-profile TV shows such as ‘Ice Road Truckers,’ which is now in its second season, we’ve had a lot more interest in shooting and production up here,” she says. “A lot of people are coming up here to scout, and we’re hoping to get another series soon.”

Wallis notes that the film commission for the region is a government-funded office, not a private one, and that the Northwest Territories presently have no tax-incentive programs in place, although this could change. What the Northwest Territories do offer producers and directors is the unique landscape, natural environment and vibrant cultural essence of a spectacular backdrop for film and television production in Canada North. “By acting as a liaison to key contacts and service providers, communities, production companies and the government, the NWT Film Commission works with industry professionals seeking to capture the images and sounds of this spectacular land and the wonderful people who live here,” Wallis reports.

Award-winning film and television professionals and expert outfitters offer a range of services, from fully serviced, multi-day production packages to freelance day service in many communities of the Northwest Territories. Providing advice to photographers for location shoots, the film office has recently assisted several film companies with scouting for projects, including The Snow Walker, The Mad Trapper, Tears of the Wolf, “Canadian Idol,” “North of 60” and “Ice Road Truckers,” as well as The White Stripes Tour.

Yukon

Barbara Dunlop of the Yukon Film & Sound Commission notes, “The Yukon is known as a film-friendly region, and we're willing to put our money where our mouth is as we invite your production to take advantage of the Yukon’s spectacular locations. The Yukon offers these financial incentives to eligible productions: a Travel Rebate of up to $15,000 can assist your production in the cost of getting to Canada’s Yukon; the Yukon Labour Rebate can refund up to 35 percent of wages paid for eligible Yukon labor on your production; and the Training Rebate can refund up to 35 percent for out-of-territory crewmember wages where none are available in the Yukon, [when the crewmember is] actively training a Yukon resident.”

Are there other advantages? “There is no cap on Location Incentive Funds to any production," says Dunlop. “Our film-incentive programs are second to none. We offer rebates rather than tax credits, and they are normally paid within weeks, not months or even years, of final reporting.”

            The region also offers 24 hours of daylight in summer months and the tallest mountains in Canada. Known for its snowy locations, the Yukon has hosted several commercials this past year, including six for Versus Country, and a full one-hour episode of "Man vs. Wild" for the BBC. “We offer vehicle and equipment rentals, including trucks, snow mobiles, aircraft and cranes,” Dunlop sums up. “Our crews are experienced and enthusiastic, accustomed to working in wilderness and cold conditions. They are creative and innovative, offering solutions to a myriad of technical and logistical challenges. Yukoners are proud of their spectacular environment, their crystal clear lakes, soaring glaciers and rugged mountain peaks. We have early snow in fall and endless, warm light in summer. Our forests teem with wildlife, while our wilderness stretches for hundreds of miles without a fence, a house or even a telephone line to mar the shot.”

 

Nunavut

The people of Nunavut aren’t exaggerating when they say the locale is “like no other place in the world.” Located in Canada’s far north, this huge region is right in the heart of the Canadian Arctic and borders Hudson Bay and Baffin Island. And while the winters are bitter and dark, it also offers filmmakers unlimited daylight virtually 24/7 in the summer months. Project Manager at Nunavut Film, Sarah Brown, reports, “The territory of Nunavut allows for partnering with local producers, which can significantly enhance your equity investment participation and allow you to avail yourself to a local labor rebate (up to 50 percent). Canada's inter-provincial, co-production agreements will also allow you to choose key crewmembers from anywhere in Canada, while still being able to secure a labor rebate for them in Nunavut.” 

Recent Nunavut productions include “Global Warming 101” with Will Steger; the Billy Connolly documentary series “Ocean to Ocean” for ITV Productions; Michelin Fountain for Films Traffik, To the Arctic 3D for IMAX/MacGillivray Freeman Films; The Meaning of Laughter for CTV/Caché Film & Television; “Survivorman” with Les Stroud for OLN/Discovery International; and “Baffin Expedition” for Stefan Glowacz and Robert Jasper.

             “Nunavut is like no other place in the world,” Brown notes. “And we have a thriving film, television and new media industry, located right in the heart of the Canadian Arctic. From flat Arctic tundra to majestic mountains, to beautiful sea and sky –– we have it all. And it’s all natural and accessible. Amazing wildlife, places and a proud history of unique Inuit storytelling. We can do it, whatever it takes to make successful productions. We have talented and skilled people, great equipment and facilities and production amenities in almost every community. We can host, coordinate, provide financial incentives and make arrangements for everything from small productions to large international movies.”

 

Alberta Film Commission
www.albertafilm.ca

British Columbia Film Commission
www.bcfilmcommission.com

Manitoba Film & Sound
www.mbfilmsound.ca

Northwest Territories Film Commission
www.iti.gov.nt.ca/nwtfilm/index.htm

Nunavut Territory
www.nunavutterritory.gov.nu.ca

SaskFilm
www.saskfilm.com

Yukon Film & Sound Commission
www.reelyukon.com

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