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Wednesday, 23 February 2011 18:54

Western Canadian Filming Perks

Written by  Margie Barron
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Canada_Alberta_Jasper_compAlthough an abundance of great films and television shows have been shot in Vancouver, that production hub is just the gateway to British Columbia’s breathtaking sites and many other impressive locations throughout Western Canada. The increased exposure of Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories in film and TV productions is growing steadily thanks to ever-important incentives and other core attractions like great locations, crews and the exchange rate. And now state-of-the-art studios, postproduction houses, special effects facilities and other high-tech services are adding to the toolbox that’s available for producers, whether they’re shooting downtown Vancouver, the Saskatchewan prairie or ice-pressure ridges in the Northwest Territories.

Repeat business from producers, networks and studios confirms that Western Canada is giving productions what they need for their storytelling –– and nowadays that involves high tech-shoots for TV series like the effects-heavy hit “Smallville,” now in its 10th season, and “Supernatural,” with six seasons. Western Canada has a full spectrum of services and facilities ─ from preproduction to post ─ and producers keep coming back because they know what the region offers.


As the third-largest production center in North America, British Columbia is proud of its international reputation as a full-service industry hub. It has a proven track record for providing exceptional value for the producer’s dollar, according to Commissioner Susan Croome of the British Columbia Film Commission.

B.C.’s many benefits include its proximity to Los Angeles and the same time zone, plus it has experienced cast and crew; world-class infrastructure (of studios, equipment suppliers and talent agencies); the capacity to crew 40 productions simultaneously; expertise in visual effects, digital animation and digital media; and state-of-the-art postproduction facilities. Add in B.C.’s diversity of locations and highly competitive provincial and federal tax credits, and you can see why it’s home to hundreds of film and TV productions each year, helping B.C.’s crown jewel Vancouver to earn the nickname “Hollywood North.”

Provincial tax credit incentives are one of the key drivers of film and television production in B.C. The province’s foreign and domestic tax credits contribute to its ability to attract productions in a competitive global market. Croome boasts B.C.’s tax incentives are the easiest to access in Canada. Its recently increased rates and new Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit will help keep B.C. at the forefront of the North American film and television industry.

The Production Services Tax Credit (PSTC) is a strong incentive for all production companies that have incurred eligible labor costs in B.C. The specifics are the basic tax credit of 33 percent plus a regional tax credit of 6 percent to stimulate production outside of Vancouver. More remote locations can add another 6 percent. And the Digital Animation or Visual Effects (DAVE) tax credit of 17.5 percent has raised the profile of B.C. in that segment of the industry.

Over the last three decades, more than 3,000 domestic and international film and television projects have been shot in B.C. In addition to an immense variety of locations around the city, the areas outside of Vancouver get a lot of film action too. The Vancouver Island town of Tofino hosted Twilight Saga: New Moon and the upcoming film The Big Year, starring Jack Black; while Kamloops and Ashcroft in the interior of the province offer filmmakers desert, prairies and ranchland used by The A Team and 2012; and Northern B.C. offers spectacular glaciers, mountain-fed lakes and small industrial towns used in Insomnia and Eight Below. “The same incredible attributes that draw filmmakers to this province, such as our natural beauty, the exciting mix of cosmopolitan urban centers with laidback rural settings combined with the province’s exceptional recreational opportunities, make it a favorite destination for visitors wanting to experience supernatural British Columbia,” says Croome.

Another B.C. production is the Fox TV hit “Fringe,” a sci-fi darling that explores an alternate-universe concept. For Showrunners/Executive Producers Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman, the alternate universe for Hollywood is Vancouver which they see as a different world that still has everything they need for their Hollywood North production. Wyman says the benefit of filming “Fringe” in B.C. is its great open territory and landscapes that sometimes follow in the footsteps of the “The X-Files.” Pinkner adds, “There’s an energy and a vibe with our team in B.C. that adds to the quality of the show.” Other notable B.C. productions include the upcoming films Red Riding Hood (starring Amanda Seyfried) and Rise of the Apes (starring James Franco). TV series shot in B.C. include “Hellcats,” “Human Target,” “Life Unexpected,” “Psych,” “SGU Stargate Universe” and “V.” And the Syfy Network ordered a two-hour pilot for “Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome” that’s set to shoot in Vancouver in early 2011.


A flurry of production activity in Alberta has put the current fiscal year on par with last year. Current projects include the TV series “Heartland,” the pilot for “Hell on Wheels” and the TV movie Blackstone as well as the feature films Lloyd the Conqueror, The Truth Below and The 19th Wife, among others.

Incentives for filmmakers has Alberta providing funding for screen-based content creation through the Alberta Multimedia Development Fund (AMDF), a unique production incentive in the form of a grant against all eligible production expenses incurred in Alberta. Alberta will contribute 20 to 29 percent of all eligible expenses up to $5 million (in Canadian dollars) per project. This is equivalent to a 36-to-53-percent labor-based tax credit. Alberta’s level of contribution increases with the employment of Alberta key creative personnel. Helping the growth of the production industry, the Government of Alberta has implemented modifications to the provincial incentive program. The broadcast license requirement has been removed to trigger funding, and now there are four new grant options that encourage digital media productions; support professional and project development; facilitate export opportunities for industry members; and encourage the production of Alberta’s stories.

Alberta’s expert crews have been duly recognized thanks to 48 Academy Award nominations since 1948 and 22 Emmy Award wins out of 92 nominations. The crews are skilled in working with large- and small-budget films, TV series and pilots, documentaries and commercial productions. Alberta also offers thriving city centers that are a short drive from ice-capped mountains, endless fields, lush river valleys and arid prehistoric badlands. Major projects, including Inception, Brokeback Mountain, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, TV’s Broken Trail miniseries and “Fear Itself,” have used the region’s incredible range of diverse locations. Additionally, work continues on creating the Alberta Creative Hub at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary. This state-of-the-art facility will provide soundstages, production studios, offices, interactive media and new technology-development facilities to further innovation and growth in Alberta.


The latest news from the full-service film commission Manitoba Film & Music (MFM) is that efforts to secure television series have paid off: Four shows are being produced in the area for the first time in 2010, including the first season of “Todd and the Book of Pure Evil” (which had the Space Channel’s highest-rated premiere for a TV show), the first season of CBC’s “Men with Brooms,” the third season of “Less Than Kind” (picked up by HBO Canada and nominated for numerous Gemini Awards), and the third season of “Cashing In” for APTN. The past year also brought to Manitoba a diverse slate of feature films, including Faces in the Crowd (starring Milla Jovovich), The Divide, The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mum, Keyhole, ATM and Goon.

According to Ginny Collins, MFM’s communications and marketing director, the development of filming in the area has been helped by broadening its incentives for filmmakers. Manitoba offers a choice between the up-to-65-percent labor-based credit and the 30-percent local eligible-expenditure credit. And filmmakers co-venturing with a Manitoba company can also apply for production equity funds. Along with a “blue chip” tax credit, Manitoba has purpose-built sound stages and converted warehouses, and the largest collection of turn-of-the-20th-century buildings in Canada, with Winnipeg offering many different looks. Also making the province a much sought-after location destination is Manitoba’s seasoned production community, which offers more than 25 years of experience in feature films as varied as the Academy Award-winning Capote, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Shall We Dance?, The Haunting in Connecticut and Amreeka.


The Northwest Territories’ recent success in attracting productions to the area shows, without a doubt, that the Northwest Territories Film Commission is working hard to attract and support new film investments. “With many beauties and wonders within the NWT, such as the remote mountains, tundra, waterfalls and many rivers, there has been a significant increase in seeking out the NWT as a viable filming location and it has become a high interest to companies making commercials, for specific scenes for feature films or for television movies and documentaries and reality show scripts,” reports NWT Film Commissioner Carla Wallis.

Canada_NWTerritories_LiardRiverConfluence_compThe NWT Film Commission provides an array of important services, such as location scouting assistance, including augmentation of location research; liaison services with industry facilities and services as well as with the community, production companies and government; providing advice to photographers for location shoots; and offering important general information. The website details the various opportunities, contacts and services that can be accessed within the Northwest Territories’ film industry, and a Supplier’s Guide lists all of the industry folks and services that are available to assist with projects.

The Northwest Territories offers a variety of unique shooting locations that are the prime focus for the many documentaries and reality shows drawn to the area. Wallis reports that there are consistent requests for winter conditions, such as ice-pressure ridges or winter scenes and winter roads. Among recent NWT shoots is the Discovery Channel’s “Mighty Ships,” a documentary series that used many inspiring harbor locales. The TV shows “Ice Road Truckers,” “Ice Pilots” (Buffalo Airways) and “North of 60” have also used the NWT as either a shooting location or a key narrative component. These productions not only boost the local economy, but also increase the NWT’s exposure, inspiring other projects to come to the area.


The SaskFilm and Video Development Corporation continues to build on Saskatchewan’s standing as a competitive center for local and international productions through a blend of service, incentives, exceptional infrastructure and experienced crews. “Independents love Saskatchewan for our stellar service,” says SaskFilm CEO/Film Commissioner Susanne Bell. “Our customized and comprehensive locations services to showcase Saskatchewan’s diverse landscape. And our knowledgeable and helpful staff, with new Locations and Production Support Officer Tobi Lampard, brings an extensive industry expertise and insight to the team.”

Saskatchewan’s competitive and comprehensive tax-incentive program offers an up-to-55-percent tax credit on eligible labor. There are no content or copyright restrictions, and it includes digital eligibility to reflect the growth of alternative platforms. The province also features Canada Saskatchewan Production Studios (CSPS), which hosted the Hallmark telefilm A Dog Named Christmas, Terry Gilliam’s Tideland and Canada’s hit sitcom “Corner Gas.” Located in Regina, the modern CSPS offers complete support facilities and services on site.

Comments from producers speak volumes about filming in Saskatchewan. “When [Filmmaker] Jennifer [Chambers Lynch] saw the sometimes forbidding Saskatchewan prairie, she agreed that it was perfect [for Surveillance],” says Producer Marco Mehlitz. “Tax incentives only enhance the local’s allure, as does the reservoir of below-the-line talent that has grown up around the area’s burgeoning TV and film industry.” Scott Einbinder of Leomax Entertainment (Walled In, Grace) also endorses the local production professionals. “In this industry, having a phenomenal crew can make all the difference,” he says. “[That’s] precisely why we choose to work in Saskatchewan.”

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