The Push to Grow Alberta’s Film and Television Industry

Leaders in the film and television industry in Alberta say the Western province is a rising star when it comes to productions. Many argue Alberta has the greatest potential to substantially increase the number of productions filmed there each year when compared to other Canadian provinces – if a tax credit is introduced.

Luke Azevedo, Calgary’s Film, Television and Creative Industries Commissioner, is one of those people who believe in Alberta’s production future. He’s been marketing the Calgary area and Alberta to the world in his current role for the last five years. “We’re already pretty well-known globally because of the productions that have come through here,” he says. However, he adds, there’s room to grow.

The pitch: Alberta’s diverse landscape

Alberta currently sits in fourth place in Canada in terms of the total volume of productions each year. Officials like Azevedo and Edmonton Screen Industries Office CEO Josh Miller want to kick it up a notch.

Both men are working together, alongside others, to bring in a range of productions to the province. But to do so, they need to sell Alberta to international industry leaders. They’ve already been doing this in a variety of ways, including working with location scouts and visiting industry leaders in Los Angeles and New York.

But how do Alberta’s experts market their product?

One way is by selling what viewers can see on camera. “In a three-hour radius, you have the Prairies, the Badlands, the mountains and two municipalities with over two million people each, Azevedo says. Globally, that’s pretty unique, so that’s important.”

So far, it’s an angle that has worked out well for the province, Azevedo adds. Television shows like Heartland and Wynonna Earp have recently been filmed in Alberta’s diverse landscape, along with blockbuster films The Revenant and Interstellar, to name a few.

Over the past year, over 130 productions were filmed in the province, which created over 3,200 jobs and added more than $250 million to Alberta’s economy, according to Mark Ham, Alberta’s Film Commissioner.

The total volume of productions in Alberta has been steadily climbing from $231 million in 2015-2016 to more than $255 million in 2017-2018, according to a 2018 Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA) report.

However, the increasing success in attracting productions to Alberta isn’t solely attributable to the province’s landscapes. “You need three things to attract productions to your area: incentives; how many crews you have and how many productions you can do at a time; and infrastructure,” Azevedo says.

Alberta’s largest cities, Calgary and Edmonton, have different approaches when it comes to crews and infrastructure. In Calgary, the Calgary Film Centre welcomes larger productions, whereas smaller soundstages are prominent in Edmonton, says Miller.

In Calgary and area, many of the film crews have experience with larger productions thanks to the area’s filming history. “We have some of the most lauded crews anywhere, people who can work in -30 to +30-degree weather, who can work in extreme scenarios, who are efficient, productive and can create great projects,” says Azevedo.

That’s not to say this kind of infrastructure doesn’t exist in Edmonton. Right now, the city’s industry office is focusing on rebuilding its crews after several years when there was no film commissioner to attract productions to the city, Miller says.

A scene from the movie Ditched, which was filmed in Edmonton. Credit: Edmonton Screen Industries Office

“While there’s always a rivalry between Edmonton and Calgary, I don’t think we’re competing for the same business right now, he adds. Going back and looking at what’s been filmed [in Edmonton], they’re all low to medium-budget projects, so we’re going to paddle our canoe in that direction. We’re going to market to those kinds of genres and low budgets because that’s what we can support right now. As we get more and more productions and build our crew base back up, we’re going to go for higher budget projects.”

The need for a provincial incentive

Both Miller and Azevedo agree that the number of productions in Alberta will only grow to a limited extent until the provincial government introduces a tax credit. “We have seen growth in this province on a consistent basis, but it is nowhere near the volume that has been experienced in the provinces around us, Azevedo says of B.C., Ontario and Manitoba. Up to this point, these provinces have had a much more competitive incentive to welcome productions into their territory.”

Source: CMPA 2018 Profile report

Calgary and Edmonton’s production leaders have called upon Alberta’s new provincial government to introduce a tax credit or other incentives similar to those found in B.C., Quebec or Ontario.

Alberta currently has a grant-based system, Azevedo says. However, he, along with others, wants the province to transition to a tax credit for film and television productions. Such a credit would allow Alberta to compete for big-budget productions. “We compete against every jurisdiction and, yes, the majority of them have a tax credit or tax rebate system, Azevedo points out. It’s difficult. We are competitive up to a certain level of production and, after that, we work very hard to try and attract larger projects. Sometimes we’re not successful because we can’t be competitive.”

The Commissioner adds: “We feel we have a great opportunity to bring to light a sector that is growing, that has the ability to expand significantly, that creates a significant number of jobs and has a significant economic impact.”

In Edmonton, Miller agrees. “We’re doing well because everyone is doing well, he says. Still, we — as Alberta, as a whole — can double the numbers. If we have a provincial incentive similar to what you can get in other jurisdictions that would make our locations more appealing in terms of cost, we’ll be able to attract more business.”

No word yet on whether Alberta’s new government will introduce a tax credit or not.

In an emailed statement, Ham said the provincial government “recognizes the value of the sector” and “has a goal to grow Alberta’s cultural industries by 25 per cent, or $1.5 billion, over the next decade”. Azevedo says a tax credit would help achieve that goal, thanks to the possibility of bringing in major, multi-million dollar productions.

“Alberta represents about 3% of the total production in Canada, so our ability to grow and develop is pretty significant, he says. Given such an opportunity, we could see significant growth in this industry.”

Stephanie Dubois
Stephanie Dubois is an award-winning freelance journalist and writer with almost two decades of journalism experience. She is currently a reporter and associate producer with CBC News Edmonton. Her past reporter experience includes CTV News, Metro News Canada, Yellow Pages and various other print and online publications. She also volunteers her time as the social media coordinator for the Alberta and Northwest Territories branch of Crohn's and Colitis Canada.
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