PAUSE IN PRODUCTION
Film industry anxious to get rolling
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.