Film in­dus­try anx­ious to get rolling

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - ERIC VOLMERS

There is no firm start date as to when cam­eras may start rolling again in Al­berta’s film and tele­vi­sion in­dus­try, but Cal­gary’s film com­mis­sioner says he is con­fi­dent the sec­tor will re­bound and play a role in the eco­nomic re­cov­ery of the prov­ince and coun­try as safety pro­to­cols are put in place.

In other ju­ris­dic­tions, in­clud­ing Bri­tish Columbia and Man­i­toba, film and tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tion has of­fi­cially been worked into dif­fer­ent stages of eco­nomic re­open­ing.

Man­i­toba has iden­ti­fied June 1 as the official start of re­open­ing the sec­tor as part of Phase 2 of its eco­nomic re­launch. Bri­tish Columbia has lumped its film and TV pro­duc­tion, which em­ploys 70,000 and con­trib­utes al­most $3 bil­lion to its econ­omy, into Phase 3 of its four-phase restart plan, which is also ex­pected to kick off in June if COVID -19 in­fec­tion rates re­main low in that prov­ince.

There has been no official start date given to Al­berta’s film and TV in­dus­try, al­though the prov­ince’s film of­fice has re­mained ac­tive field­ing calls from pro­duc­ers and dis­cussing pro­to­cols with stake­hold­ers in Al­berta and across the coun­try, said Luke Azevedo, com­mis­sioner of film, tele­vi­sion and cre­ative in­dus­tries at Cal­gary Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment.

Azevedo said dis­cus­sions are on­go­ing with the Al­berta govern­ment to iden­tify in what phase of the re­launch film and TV pro­duc­tion would fit. Al­berta has tabled a three-stage re­launch of the econ­omy. Only the first stage, which be­gan May 14, has been given a spe­cific date. Mean­while, stake­hold­ers and film com­mis­sions across the coun­try and con­ti­nent con­tinue to meet and form task forces to for­mu­late a stan­dard set of pro­to­cols.

“You have the pro­to­cols that are set by Canada, and then you have pro­to­cols set by Al­berta and you have pro­to­cols set by the city and ob­vi­ously there are pro­to­cols that are go­ing to be set by stu­dios and then, of course, our unions, guilds and as­so­ci­a­tions,” said Azevedo.

“First and fore­most, it’s all about safety. It’s in­ter­est­ing these days. When we are speak­ing with stu­dios and in­de­pen­dents and peo­ple are in­quir­ing about our op­por­tu­ni­ties and our tim­ing, the ques­tions used to be, ‘What are your in­cen­tives, what is your crew base, what is your in­fra­struc­ture?’ Now the ques­tions are, ‘How safe is your area, what has hap­pened there?’”

As in ev­ery ju­ris­dic­tion, film and TV pro­duc­tions in Cal­gary shut down in mid-march. That in­cluded Sea­son 4 of the su­per­nat­u­ral western Wynonna Earp and Sea­son 2 of the Net­flix zom­bie se­ries Black Sum­mer. Outer Range, a big-bud­get Ama­zon se­ries pro­duced by Brad Pitt and star­ring Josh Brolin, was set to be­gin film­ing on April 28 but pulled out of the prov­ince due to de­lays caused by the pan­demic.

Ac­cord­ing to the Al­berta Screen In­dus­try Ac­tion Com­mit­tee, the in­dus­try di­rectly em­ployed 1,850 peo­ple in 2017-18 and gen­er­ated 5,350 spinoff jobs.

The film and TV in­dus­try has spe­cific is­sues re­lated to the COVID -19 pan­demic that com­pli­cates a quick restart. That in­cludes the num­ber of peo­ple em­ployed on pro­duc­tions and the va­ri­ety of jobs per­formed, from makeup to food ser­vices to set build­ing, that will all need sep­a­rate safety guide­lines and per­haps even newly ap­pointed COVID su­per­vi­sors.

There are also larger is­sues, in­clud­ing the abil­ity of pro­duc­tions to get in­surance and the ef­fect of closed borders, a ma­jor com­pli­ca­tion for pro­duc­tions that hire U.S. per­form­ers or crew mem­bers.

Damian Petti, pres­i­dent of the film work­ers union IATSE 212, said new pro­to­cols are still be­ing dis­cussed around the world but pointed to a white pa­per be­ing de­vel­oped in the U.S. by a task force made up of rep­re­sen­ta­tives of var­i­ous guilds and unions, such as IATSE, and ma­jor stu­dios.

IATSE and other in­dus­try unions and guilds have hired epi­demi­ol­o­gists to help develop safety pro­to­cols for its mem­bers. An early draft of the white pa­per was ob­tained by Indiewire last week. Ac­cord­ing to the sub­se­quent ar­ti­cle, the 30-page doc­u­ment is aimed at U.S. state gov­er­nors, specif­i­cally Cal­i­for­nia gov­er­nor Gavin New­som and New York gov­er­nor An­drew Cuomo.

But Petti said he sus­pects it will of­fer guid­ance to the in­dus­try through­out North Amer­ica. The early draft of the white pa­per in­cludes guide­lines about vir­tual lo­ca­tion scouts, fewer mi­nor per­form­ers, one-time COVID -19 test­ing, the elim­i­na­tion of large groups of back­ground per­form­ers and dis­cour­ag­ing set vis­i­tors and live au­di­ences, ac­cord­ing to Indiewire.

Petti said rep­re­sen­ta­tives of IATSE and other unions and guilds met with of­fi­cials from Al­berta’s Min­istry of Cul­ture last week to dis­cuss restart­ing the in­dus­try lo­cally. He said the restart should be gov­erned by in­dus­try-wide guide­lines such as those be­ing de­vel­oped in the U.S.

“Our mem­bers are very sup­port­ive of this ap­proach,” he said. “They are very much want­ing to make sure that pro­to­cols have been de­vel­oped. All those is­sues of test­ing and COVID su­per­vi­sors and how food is man­aged, those are all still be­ing de­vel­oped.”

Al­berta is be­hind only Bri­tish Columbia, On­tario and Que­bec in terms of film and TV pro­duc­tion, gen­er­at­ing $255 mil­lion in busi­ness in 2017-18. In com­par­i­son, B.C.’S screen in­dus­try gen­er­ated $3.5 bil­lion. Even be­fore the pan­demic, in­dus­try in­sid­ers had long urged the govern­ment to make changes to its in­cen­tives so Al­berta could com­pete with other ju­ris­dic­tions. As re­cently as Fe­bru­ary, labour lead­ers and in­dus­try work­ers were lob­by­ing the Al­berta govern­ment to scrap an­nual and per-project caps on in­cen­tives since com­pet­ing ju­ris­dic­tions such as On­tario, B.C., Man­i­toba and oth­ers do not have caps.

But Azevedo said pro­duc­ers and stu­dios con­tinue to call his of­fice look­ing for in­for­ma­tion.

“We have been talk­ing about what op­por­tu­ni­ties we have and talk­ing about ev­ery­thing we were talk­ing about prior to (COVID -19),” he said. “It’s just now about look­ing a lit­tle fur­ther ahead in when the en­gage­ment can hap­pen and how. I sus­pect the next layer is go­ing to be around (whether we can) ac­com­mo­date the safety pro­to­cols that are be­ing put in place. The an­swer is go­ing to be yes. We will ad­dress all of those is­sues and then have those con­ver­sa­tions and en­sure we are able to adapt to what this new re­al­ity is for us in our in­dus­try.”


On the set of the sec­ond sea­son of Net­flix’s Black Sum­mer, filmed in Al­berta. TV and film pro­duc­tion in Al­berta gen­er­ated $255 mil­lion in busi­ness in 2017-18.


Me­lanie Scro­fano stars in he su­per­nat­u­ral western Wynonna Earp, filmed in Al­berta.

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