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Monday, 04 June 2012 11:31

On Location in Western Canada

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As one of the most popular filming destinations worldwide, Western Canada is known for its experienced crews, state-of-the-art production facilities and spectacular scenic locations. Thanks to generous tax incentives, its industry continues to stand in solid stead with Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, the Yukon and Northwest Territories increasing their cinematic exposure throughout the years. P3 Update takes a closer look at what’s been happening in Western Canada in 2011–12.

As the third-biggest production hub in North America, British Columbia has consistently attracted more than 3,000 foreign and domestic projects of every cinematic calibre over the past 30 years. Blessed with experienced cast, world-class infrastructure and the endearing capacity to crew 40 productions simultaneously, this media and digital-animation mecca just continues to shine. “Vancouver’s a great place to shoot because the studios and local crews are great,” says Producer Wyck Godfrey (Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn). “The crew base is [large], so when you’re making a larger-budgeted film you don’t have to bring in everybody.”westerncanada_britishcolumbia
With the province’s extraordinary scenic beauty and exciting mix of cosmopolitan urban centers and laidback rural settings, British Columbia is a favorite for filmmakers as it has many films lodged under its cinematic belt, including the Twilight films, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Big Year, Red Riding Hood, 2012 and The A-Team. Executive Producer Adam Horowitz praises Vancouver’s breadth of locations to fit the fairy-tale world of his new ABC show “Once Upon a Time,” which required the use of forests, lakes and fantastical vistas. “What we were able to achieve visually and from a production standpoint is not something we feel like we could have accomplished anywhere else,” he explains.
According to the British Columbia Film Commission, the Production Services Tax Credit (PSTC) offers 33 percent of B.C. labor expenditures plus a regional tax credit of 6 percent to stimulate production outside of Vancouver. More remote locations (north of Whistler and east of Hope) can add another 6 percent. The Digital Animation or Visual Effects (DAVE) tax credit is currently set at 17.5 percent. Feature films shot in British Columbia in 2011 include Elysium (starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster), The Grey, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Underworld: Awakening, 50/50, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, Apollo 18, Man of Steel and Robert Redford’s The Company You Keep, while upcoming projects for 2012 include The Seventh Son (starring Julianne Moore and Jeff Bridges) and Akira.

With the natural grandeur of remote mountains, pristine lakes, rivers and arctic coastline, not to mention horizon-stretching tundra, the Northwest Territories are known to simply sing to filmmakers and commercial production executives alike. With no permits or licences necessary, it’s easy for productions to capitalize on the myriad of cultures that inhabit five regions: North Slave, South Slave, Inuvik, Dehcho and Sahtu. Each region has its own distinctly natural beauty, and history and legends abound for the special homelands of the Inuvialuit, Gwich’in, Dene and Metis peoples. Many top television productions have already worked closely with the region’s friendly local communities, including the shows “Ice Road Truckers,” “North of 60,” “Ice Pilots” and Discovery Channel’s documentary “Mighty Ships.” The multi-award-winning Tropicana commercial campaign of “Brighter Mornings for Brighter Days” filmed in Inuvik in 2010, and CBC has just completed the new TV adventure drama series “Arctic Air.”
The Film Northwest Territories Commission is exceptionally helpful when linking filmmakers with local contractors via its Film Suppliers Guide, and its Website points location scouts in the right direction with an image database and other useful links to government representatives and industry folk. Associate Film Commissioner Camilla MacEachern stipulates that there are currently no specific tax incentives but that films do not qualify to pay the provincial sales tax. The Northwest Territories has become an undisputed mecca for underground filmmaking. Filmmaker Jay Bulckaert was especially impressed with the Territory’s community spirit when he shot the films Ciest to Lie and Triumph of the Chill. Over 100 actors and extras took part in the 20-minute 1930s supernatural project Ciest to Lie for less than $1,500.

With no financial cap, Saskatchewan’s competitive and comprehensive tax-incentive program — the Saskatchewan Film Employment Tax Credit Program — offers a tax credit of up-to-55 percent on eligible labor. Saskatchewan’s base tax credit is made up of a rebate of 45 percent of the total wages of all eligible above-the-line and below-the-line Saskatchewan and deemed labor. (Deemed labor can include non-Saskatchewan labor that provides mentorship to a Saskatchewan resident.) Eligible salaries are limited to no more than 50 percent of a production’s total eligible budget, and 25 percent of a production’s eligible labor costs qualify for deeming.  westerncanada_northwestterritories
An additional 5-percent bonus of total production expenditures is available for productions that film in smaller centers and rural areas within the province (25 miles or more from Regina and Saskatoon). Productions can gain another 5-percent incentive through the key position bonus, which is designed to encourage the hiring of specific Saskatchewan crewmembers and technicians in below-the-line positions. Productions with budgets of CDN$3 million or more are eligible on projects that attain six out of ten points on positions specified by the program.
With modern production facilities, such as the leading equipment provider William F. White (located at Canada Saskatchewan Production Studios), the full-service film commission SaskFilm, great locations, famously hardworking crews and the low cost of doing business, the province is highly competitive. Recent key productions shot in Saskatchewan include Filmmaker Jennifer Lynch’s psychological thriller Rabbit, the family feature Vampire Dog and the second season of the TV comedy “InSecurity.”

Offering 24 hours of sunlight each summer, the Yukon is a filmmaker’s paradise set amongst some of the most dynamic scenery in all of Canada. Crystal-clear lakes capture the transparent melting of alluring emerald glaciers while Canada’s highest mountain peaks, such as Mount Logan, soar majestically above. With fantastic opportunities for snowy scenes, especially along the historic Dempster Highway, the Yukon has true location brilliance that’s film friendly to boot.
To help productions soak up the region’s scenic delights, the Yukon Film & Sound Commission lists a Spend Rebate offering 25 percent of eligible Yukon spend (including labor) for feature films, documentaries and television productions (but not commercials). A Travel Rebate of up to $15,000 is available for projects (including commercials) not utilizing the Yukon Spend Rebate. With no cap on Location Incentive Funds, the rebate is normally paid within eight weeks of final reporting. Additional funding programs are also available for co-productions.
Populated with wildlife, the Yukon’s wilderness stretches for hundreds of miles without a fence, house or even a telephone line to mar the shot. And the Yukon’s large army of experienced film crews possess the skills and talent to successfully run productions in all forms of extreme weather. All of the Yukon’s different locations can be viewed in the 13-part Web series “Yukonic: The Map, the Gold and the Girl” at Recent high-profile productions utilizing the Yukon’s magnificent scenery include The Big Year, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn and Discovery Channel’s “Gold Rush,” which shot its second season in the Dawson City area.

“Manitoba is a great place to film,” says Don Carmody, the producer of the locally shot productions Whiteout and Goon. “The locations are diverse, the people friendly and the film commission goes out of their way to problem solve and make things simple.” Indeed, the full-service film commission for Manitoba Film & Music (MFM) offers a mouth-watering choice of the up-to-65-percent, labor-based credit (which includes 45-percent base credit, 10-percent frequent-filmer bonus, 5-percent Manitoba producer bonus and 5-percent rural bonus) or the 30-percent, local eligible-expenditure credit. After 14 years, Manitoba’s tax credit is an established entity with a proven track record and no caps.
Manitoba offers purpose-built sound stages and converted warehouses, yet its cinematic allure also comprises a seasoned production community with over 25 years of experience on feature films, such as the Academy Award-winning Capote, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Divide, Faces in the Crowd and The Haunting in Connecticut.
Blessed with diverse locales that include arctic terrain, rolling prairies and pristine beaches, Manitoba’s capital city of Winnipeg has the largest collection of turn-of-the-century buildings in North America and has doubled for major U.S. cities, such as Boston, San Francisco, New York and Chicago. Winnipeg, Manitoba is also the prairie headquarters for the William F. White equipment house. “We had a great experience shooting in Manitoba,” says Richard Saperstein, producer of Filmmaker Darren Bousman’s horror/thriller Mother’s Day. “Not only did the financial incentives help our bottom line, but we also benefited from accessible production facilities, talented crews and a variety of suitable locations. I hope to produce more films there in the future!”

Replete with a host of ice-capped peaks, endless prairies and lush green valleys, Alberta encompasses a unique mix of thriving cities and arid prehistoric badlands. Major feature films have benefitted from the province’s disparate terrain, including Inception, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Brokeback Mountain, with the latter truly launching Alberta into the cinematic limelight. “The locations really shaped the feeling of [The Assassination of Jesse James],” notes Brad Pitt, the film’s star and producer. “It’s as much a character as the people in the film. We really enjoyed it there.” westerncanada_sask
Leading the way is the Alberta Film Commission ready to make your filming experience an enjoyable one by putting together location packages and assisting productions in anything they need. The skill of Alberta’s crews cover both large- and small-budget films alike, as well as TV series, pilots, commercial productions and documentaries. The track record of the local professionals speaks for itself — Alberta crewmembers have received 48 Academy Award nominations since 1948 and secured 22 wins for Emmy Awards. While shooting Inception in Kananaskis, Filmmaker Christopher Nolan stated, “We had scheduled three weeks and finished early because the local crew was superb [with] really fantastic guys, a great local special-effects crew. Everything went very, very smoothly.”
Alberta recently implemented significant changes to its provincial incentive program, the Alberta Multimedia Development Fund, a competitive and flexible incentive in the form of a grant against all eligible production expenses incurred in the province. Alberta will now contribute up to 26 percent for service production (0 to 30 percent Alberta ownership) and up to 30 percent for indigenous and co-productions (30 to 100 percent Alberta ownership). This is equivalent to up to a 45- to 53-percent labor-based tax credit. In addition, there are four grant options to encourage digital-media productions; support professional and project development; facilitate export opportunities for industry members; and encourage the production of Alberta-focused stories.
Given the generous incentive programs currently being offered by most of Western Canada, it looks like this corner of the world will remain in good cinematic stead throughout 2012.

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