British Columbia

'It's been very challenging': movie productions vying for space and staff in Vancouver

70 film, TV and commercial productions are shooting in Vancouver this month, squeezing resources.

70 film, TV and commercial productions are shooting in Vancouver this month, squeezing resources.

Crew members work on set for the television series, The Arrangement in downtown Vancouver in August, 2017. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Tara Cowell-Plain has been working in film production in Vancouver for about 22 years, but she says this summer has been one of the most difficult of her career when it comes to finding suitable crew members and scene locations.

"It's been very challenging," said Cowell-Plain, currently a line producer on Dragged Across Concrete, an upcoming film starring Mel Gibson, Jennifer Carpenter and Vince Vaughn.

"Everything from trying to find crew who have experience, to working with local city officials, in terms of shooting downtown with other productions and their schedules, and obviously the efficiencies the city needs to maintain for residents."

The City of Vancouver says there are 70 film, television and commercial shoots taking place on city streets in August alone — and Dragged Across Concrete has to compete with all of them.

"For instance, Deadpool is shooting quite a lot of sequences downtown and we've had to work with their schedule," said Cowell-Plain.

'At capacity right now'

According to the union that represents many of the people who work in the B.C. film industry, last summer's production demands broke records — but this year appears to be even more intense.

"We're a significant margin — probably about 10 per cent higher than we were last year," said Phil Klapwyk, business representative for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 891.

"We're actually at capacity right now," added Klapwyk, whose union represents everyone from artists and carpenters to people working in hair and makeup departments.

A sign directs the crew to the set of The Arrangement, a TV series being shot in Vancouver. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

He partly credits the boom to the surge of online streaming platforms, like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon.

"This is the cycle we go through every time a big push for content is put on, like we experienced the same situation back when HBO first came into existence," he said. "We expanded rapidly at that point as well."

IATSE has added more than 1,600 people to its membership list in the past year, swelling the organization to 7,600 members, along with about 6,000 people who work as permittees. 

'Not as experienced as we'd like'

For Cowell-Plain, the movie has to be made regardless of hurdles, but the pressure from so many productions forces hard choices to be made.

"Some of the people on the crew are not as experienced as we'd like. I kind of look at all films as a great training ground for people that are coming into the industry, and we need those people in the industry so there's a responsibility there," she said.

Cowell-Plain said the positions are mostly being filled, but rather than 10 candidates, she's choosing from just one or two in some cases.

Piles of cable and film gear are a common sight around downtown Vancouver all year round — but especially during the summer months. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"I would say that, considering the size of movie this is and the level of cast we have, I was expecting it to be quite a bit easier to find people to work on the film. That was a surprise to me."

In addition, she's also had to choose shooting locations farther from downtown Vancouver, including Surrey.

"Prices for things have risen dramatically. What people are expecting you pay for, rentals of locations, rentals of parking ... has risen quite a bit," she said. "It's been dramatic. Over the last five to ten years, it's just gone up, up, up."

And Klapwyk doesn't have good news for anyone hoping a downturn might ease up production resources in the next little while.

"I don't anticipate any immediate slowdowns. It's looking like we're going to have a strong fall … it's looking pretty good."

Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker


Rafferty Baker is a video journalist with CBC News, based in Vancouver. You can find his stories on CBC Radio, television, and online at