Alberta pursues cinema giants in effort to brand province as film hub

Alberta isn't the first place that comes to mind when you think of the film industry, but the provincial government wants to change that.

Quarantine program at Calgary airport a big draw for production teams in U.S., Canada

Alberta is looking to boost its presence in the film industry by branding itself as a place to film during the challenges of COVID-19. (Leven Creative)

Alberta isn't the first place that comes to mind when you think of the film industry, but the provincial government wants to change that.

It's working to attract film giants in Canada and the United States to produce more movies and TV shows in Alberta, rather than defaulting to places like Toronto and Vancouver.  

Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer has already had several meetings with studios and production teams — and those conversations are continuing. 

"Some studios have simply inquired, others have pursued location scouting, and still others have committed to filming in the province (or in the process of committing)," the minister's office said. Those negotiations also involve Alberta Film, which is part of the government. 

Netflix, other studios and the Motion Picture Association's Canadian chapter have been active in discussions about increasing their presence in Alberta.

The province's new travel program is a prominent part of the pitch, as it's currently the only place in Canada able to facilitate a shortened quarantine. 

Eligible travellers arriving in Canada have the option to take a voluntary COVID-19 test. They quarantine until they receive their results, approximately 48 hours later, and then can exit isolation so long as they take a followup test a week after arrival.

That new federal-provincial pilot could allow film crews to go from an airport in California to a movie set in Alberta in as little as two days, instead of the typical 14 days. 

"The GOA (Government of Alberta) has received very positive feedback from the film and television sector about the pilot," Schweitzer's office said. 

They added that several individuals from the industry have already gone through the shortened quarantine process. This push for more filming comes as many jurisdictions are facing economic downturns and record-setting COVID-19 infections. 

Projects underway and set to begin

Four productions are already underway or beginning shortly in the province, with one shoot lasting up to 87 days. Several animated projects are also underway, equalling several months of production time each. 

Netflix is filming Black Summer and a few other projects near Calgary, and Syfy's Wynonna Earp recently wrapped filming.

Netflix and the Motion Picture Association did not provide comment when asked. 

Several Calgary producers and directors say this could be an opportunity to inject millions into Alberta's economy. 

"It's really just saying that production is open and we want to diversify Alberta, bringing and attracting business," said Janet Hamley, co-executive producer of the TV show Tribal.

Matt Watterworth, another producer, agreed.

"The idea of Alberta becoming a production hub is amazing and something that so many of us in the industry really want to see happen."

Alberta has already been home to prominent films like Brokeback Mountain, Inception and The Revenant.

Watterworth also noted that improving the tax credits available to the industry would keep Alberta competitive with other locations. 

The government has recently been talking more about diversification, specifically technology and innovation. The global pandemic has battered the traditional contributors to Alberta's economy (like oil and gas), and unemployment sat at 11.7 per cent in September. 

Last year, the UCP government cut the pre-existing NDP film tax credit from 30 per cent to 22 per cent. 

A few months later, it introduced two new tax credits of 22 and 30 per cent to cover production and labour costs. The different rates are applied based on meeting certain criteria (like a local producer) and are capped at $10 million per production.

With files from Julie Debeljak.


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