VANCOUVER — British Columbia has surpassed Ontario as Canada's top locale for film and television production for the first time, a development that industry experts largely credit to the rise of streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.
A new report by the Canadian Media Producers Association says the 2016-2017 fiscal year was strong for Canada overall, with production volume in the country reaching an all-time high of $8.38 billion.
B.C. has always been in the top three provinces for film and TV production, but last year its volume hit $2.991 billion, just ahead of Ontario with $2.977 billion. Quebec, with its thriving French-language industry, placed third with $1.754 billion.
Streaming services drive demand
Robert Wong, vice president of Creative BC, the provincial agency that supports the artistic sector, said increased global demand for content and the recognition that B.C. is a world-class production centre are spurring the growth.
He said streaming services are the single biggest driver. Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" and Netflix's "A Series of Unfortunate Events" and "Altered Carbon," premiering Friday, are shot in the province.
"Blockbuster movies, we do get our fair share of them in British Columbia, that's for sure, but really what we are known for is television production," Wong said.
There are also a number of network shows shot in Vancouver, including CW's "Arrow," "The Flash," "Supergirl," and "Riverdale."
Film and TV productions in B.C. receive a 28 per cent tax credit for labour costs. The credit was reduced five points from 33 per cent by the previous provincial Liberal government in 2016.
Wong said a reliable tax policy is key, but it's also coupled with an abundance of talent, crews and variety of locations in B.C.
"The one thing that you can't legislate is basically proximity to Los Angeles," he added. "Being in the same time zone and two and 1/2 hours away by flight does make a big difference."
B.C. has also been home to blockbuster movie shoots, including "Star Trek Beyond," "Deadpool 2" and "Maze Runner: The Death Cure."
"Star Trek Beyond" employed more than 3,900 British Columbians and contributed $69 million to the provincial economy during 78 days of shooting, the report says.
Pete Mitchell, president and CEO of Vancouver Film Studios, which hosted "Star Trek Beyond," said the two biggest contributions to the local industry are big movies and long-running television shows.
Mitchell said the industry is becoming increasingly international, with growing middle-class populations around the world seeking entertainment.
"There's a surge in production and Vancouver is well-situated to benefit," he said.
But he said both B.C. and Ontario face capacity challenges. It's hard to fund new studio spaces in the costly real estate markets of the Lower Mainland and Toronto, and outdoor locations and trained personnel are limited, he said.
However, he said the situation has improved, noting that there's now roughly three million square feet of studio space in the Lower Mainland, up 50 per cent from five years ago.
The report says the film and television industries generated 24,120 direct full-time jobs in B.C. — only 40 more than Ontario — while it created 14,540 such jobs in Quebec.
The boom is good for the entire economy, said Phil Klapwyk, business representative of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 891. The union represents more than 8,000 entertainment industry workers in B.C.
"There's more work for middle-class British Columbians, and they're able to buy more groceries and more diapers and spend more on gas and buy more forest products," said Klapwyk.
The report does caution about the Canadian industry. Though the country has policies to support local content, capturing more than three per cent of domestic box office for Canadian films remains elusive, it says.
"There is much to celebrate this year ... But, among these big numbers are some emerging trends that require attention," said Reynolds Mastin, president and CEO of the association in a statement.
"As our industry continues to adapt to evolving technologies and changing consumer behaviours, we must ensure that growth benefits our entire sector, including productions that showcase Canadian stories for audiences at home and around the world."
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