Lights, camera, action in Alberta: Film industry readies for booming year

A combination of safe COVID-19 protocols, the Canadian dollar exchange rate and tax incentives make Alberta appealing to film and television studios, says Damian Petti, president of IATSE Local 212.

'The season ahead is something I've not seen before,' says film union president

A scene from Season 14 of CBC's Heartland. Season 15 may be shot in Alberta this year. (Rescued Horse Season 14 Inc.)

Alberta's film and TV industry is gearing up for an unprecedented production season that promises jobs and a cash injection for the economy as major U.S. studios look north for locations due to COVID-19 slowdowns, says Damian Petti, local president of a union for film and stage technicians.

"The season ahead is something I've not seen before," Petti told the Calgary Eyeopener on Friday.

"We've not seen this level of scouting and shows that are already greenlit in January — ever. I've been doing this 22 years and this is shaping up to be the most robust season ever."

Petti, president of Local 212 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), says there are 19 projects in the works within Alberta, but even more are being scouted and greenlighted each day.

These include a series called Guilty Party with Kate Beckinsale, a Fraggle Rock series reboot and another season of Jann with Alberta's own Jann Arden. 

He says it's also likely that Season 15 of CBC's Heartland will shoot this year in Alberta.

Industry giants Disney, NBC Universal and HBO are scouting projects in Alberta too, Petti says.

The draw

Petti points to three reasons for the boom in interest: the exchange rate of the Canadian dollar, federal and provincial incentives and Canada's management of the pandemic.

Investors are interested in getting more bang for their buck in Canada, says Petti.

One American dollar is worth around $1.28 Canadian, according to recent data from the Bank of Canada.

There are also several tax credits eligible to companies who shoot in Alberta.

Within Alberta, there is a film and television tax credit of up to $10 million per production for eligible Alberta production and labour costs incurred by companies that make films and television series in the province.

The federal film or video production services tax credit encourages foreign-based producers to hire Canadians by offering a tax credit for Canadian labour.

In terms of COVID-19 safety, Petti says major studios and streaming platforms have negotiated protocols over the summer.

"We're in a good position to actually work safely. And the studios acknowledge that," he said.

In Los Angeles, the epicentre of the film industry, COVID-19 has overwhelmed hospitals and funeral homes, which Petti says has led to a slowdown in production.

Job creation

Despite common misunderstanding on hiring, most of the film production labour in Alberta is hired within the province, says Petti.

"There's a common misconception among the public that these crews are actually coming in from outside of the province," he said.

"On a big Netflix of Apple project, 97 per cent or more of the shooting crew is actually hired locally."

He says small businesses that produce things needed on set, like costumes and props, "thrive on the industry."

"We hope to do $400 million in production this year," he said. "That would make it our best year ever."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.


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