Rolling on: Manitoba film industry restarts under new COVID-19 rules

Commercials and smaller documentaries are already shooting just three weeks after getting the go-ahead, with several feature films set to start up in July.

Commercials, small documentaries already shooting 3 weeks after getting go-ahead

Nicole Matiation, executive director of On Screen Manitoba, helped developed guidelines for film crews working during COVID-19. They include COVID-19 screening, increased sanitation, and the suggestion that larger crews work in bubbles. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Manitoba's film industry is coming back to life — slowly.

Commercials and smaller documentaries are already shooting just three weeks after getting the go-ahead, according to On Screen Manitoba's Nicole Matiation.

"All of these current productions have smaller teams," said Matiation, whose association represents the media production industry. 

"So you're looking at two to five people maximum. It's relatively easy to get organized around social distancing and introduce some of these new measures."

After COVID-19 all but shut down film and TV production across the country, the Manitoba government gave it the green light to start up again June 1, under new rules.

Those include taking "all reasonable steps" to ensure cast and crew can maintain a two-metre separation, except for brief exchanges, limiting face-to-face interactions where possible, and ensuring all shared equipment is cleaned and disinfected frequently.

Matiation said along with commercials and documentaries already underway, there are three or four feature films on track to start in July.

Larger productions might take longer to start up, Matiation said, especially if they have to bring in talent from out of province, who may be subject to self-isolation restrictions.

People arriving from Western Canada are now exempt from the province's 14-day self-isolation requirement. Those coming from elsewhere in Canada to work in the film industry are also exempt, as long as they self-isolated for 14 days before coming to Manitoba.

Those coming from outside Canada still need to follow federal quarantine rules.

New guidelines suggest large crews work in bubbles

To help crews follow the new provincial rules, On Screen Manitoba has put out a set of guidelines, after consulting with several production companies and unions.

They recommend measures like COVID-19 screening questionnaires, increased sanitation, and optional temperature checks.

Matiation said larger crews could be asked to separate and work in smaller groups, creating bubbles to limit the potential of an outbreak.

Once bigger productions start back up, it will be up to each production to figure out how it will follow the provincial rules, she said.

For example, "there isn't just one person looking through the viewfinder [of a camera] to check the composition of a shot," she said.

"You've got multiple people checking that, and then coming in and re-checking that throughout the process. So you're going to need to have a protocol around making sure that the viewfinder is kept clean."

WATCH | Manitoba's film industry is coming back to life:

Cameras are rolling again in Manitoba

1 year ago
Manitoba's film industry is coming back to life slowly with new guidelines to keep crews safe. 2:41

Union hopes for consistency across sets

IATSE — the union that represents everyone from lighting and sound technicians to costume, set, and makeup artists — is waiting to see just how the guidelines will be applied.

"We'll see what comes out of the big studios. They may have very different, more strict guidelines," said Nicolas Phillips, president of International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 856.

"Until we really get onto set and actually start shooting, there are a lot of questions right now. But we're at the point where we have to actually start working and put these things into practice."

Phillips said the goal is consistency in the safety measures across sets.

"For crews going from production to production, it makes it easier to know what to expect," he said.

There will be costs associated with the new measures, Matiation said, adding that many new productions may find it more expensive to get an insurance policy during a global pandemic.

On Screen Manitoba is working with groups across the country to push the federal government to create a special pot of money that could be pulled from if productions are impacted by COVID-19.

Before the pandemic, Manitoba was seeing major growth in its film industry, backed by tax incentives that Matiation said are the best in the country.

In the 2019-20 filming season, the industry brought in a lucrative $300 million, and this season was lining up to be similar before COVID-19 hit.


Marina von Stackelberg is a CBC journalist based in Winnipeg. She previously worked for CBC in Halifax and Sudbury. Connect with her @CBCMarina or


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