Vancouver area film schools enjoy local industry boom

As the film industry continues its rise in the Vancouver area, local film schools are enjoying demand from both prospective students and industry.

2016 has been another record-breaking year for the local film industry

A sign points to a nearby film set in North Vancouver. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The film industry around Vancouver continues to boom, and as productions roll, local film schools are enjoying plenty of demand — both from prospective students and from the industry looking to hire workers.

"Our film production program has never been more popular than it is today. We've been sold out — and we do cap our film classes — we've been sold out for the last year and we're sold out halfway into 2017 at this point," said Ted Gervan, director of education at Vancouver Film School.

The public colleges and universities are also finding it easy to fill classes.

"Our application levels are always high.... We interview a lot more than we can accept," said Michael Thoma, chair of the School of Motion Picture Arts at Capilano University. "We're very busy and we could expand, but in terms of the school, we keep our classes small."

Michael Thoma, chair of Capilano University's School of Motion Picture Arts, takes notes during a fourth year student presentation. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

According to Thoma, the industry around Vancouver has increased every year over the last couple of decades, despite hiccups, like the decline around 2012 and 2013 when the industry rose up with cries to "Save B.C. Film."

Plenty of work

Phil Klapwyk is the business representative for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 891, which represents a large portion of the people who work in the Vancouver film industry — about 7,000 members.

"We've added about a thousand new members this year alone and we're in an up cycle right now," he said.

According to Klapwyk, 2016 has broken previous records for film production in town. IATSE 891 tracks the number of hours its members work each month. In January 2013 the union recorded 18,000 person-hours. The same month in 2016 reached 59,000 person-hours of work.

Vancouver's film industry is feeling a resources crunch when it comes to workers and film locations as business booms. (CBC)

Klapwyk said the summer months are always busier, and this past July surpassed previous records, with 109,000 person-hours. 

The union rep credits demand from new streaming services and a low Canadian dollar for the rise in production. But Klapwyk added that the city's increase in content creators and skilled crews makes it an attractive place to shoot a production.

Klapwyk is very optimistic about the next year in the industry, but he acknowledges that the business tends to be cyclical, and students could do well to protect themselves in slow times with a range of relevant skills.

"A well rounded education in all of the crafts will equip them to be a better filmmaker in whatever career path they choose," he said.

Second year Capilano University costuming student Katie Dueckman demonstrates her half scale representation of a 1630s Queen Henrietta Maria gown. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Studying and working

Schools like Capilano University and Vancouver Film School offer a range of film-related programs — beyond directing, screen writing and producing.

Capiliano fourth year film student Max Pearce, 26, ultimately hopes to find himself in the director's chair, but he's finding huge demand for his technical services, well before he graduates.

He was getting some locations work before he enrolled in the film program, but last summer he made the jump to the grip department, where he worked on a few short films. Soon, the connections he was making led to more and more work.

Fourth year Capilano University film student Max Pearce is getting plenty of film work while he continues his studies. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"I started working on getting day calls on movies-of-the-week and non-union shows and from there I started getting day calls and ASAP calls for union shows because it was so busy," said Pearce.

Before he knew it, Pearce was upgraded to dolly grip.

"To upgrade that quickly is just unheard of, that's just how busy the industry is and how desperate — how much they need people," he said. "Normally it takes guys a couple years to upgrade like that, and I did it in the span of a summer."

Film school flexibility?

But as the industry ebbs and flows, the capacity at local film schools stays relatively stable.

Capilano University launched its program in 2011 when business was slower, and it was expanded when a new building was built on campus in 2013. But many of the school keep their admissions numbers fixed.

The Bosa building was aded to the Capilano University campus in 2013 to house the school of Motion Picture Arts. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"This year, we actually have four or five people waiting on the wait list for this year, and that's the first time that's happened," said Garwin Sanford, head of the film department at Langara College, where the 8-month certificate program accepts 36 students.

Sanford said the actual number of applications — about 100 — hasn't dramatically changed as the industry thrives, but the quality of applicants has gone up.

And his students are feeling the demand from industry.

"The unions are putting out calls regularly right now saying, 'Please come, we're waiving the entrance fees,' because they need people.

"That's what it used to like in the early to mid '90s," said Sanford. "It was booming like crazy."

But in terms of expanding the Langara program to meet that demand, the only conversation is about adding another four months to the program — not increasing enrolment.

Vancouver Film School has increased capacity, but that has been focused on the post production side, specifically animation. According to Thoma, that's the only area where expansion is now being considered at Capilano University, too.

But as Gervan puts it, the success of the industry right now is reflected in the popularity of the schools.

"Business is good. Yes, business is good."

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