The Momoa effect: N.L.'s growing film industry funnels millions into province, says report

About $63 million has been added to the provincial economy thanks to TV series Frontier, according to a new report — and one industry insider says it's only going to get better.

Industry report says $63M pumped into provincial economy thanks to TV series Frontier

Three seasons of fur-trading TV drama Frontier have been a boon to N.L.'s economy, according to a report from the Canadian Media Producers Association. (Newswire)

Jason Momoa might be an outlaw trapper obsessed with murdering company fat cats in the 18th-century drama series Frontier, but he's actually making modern Newfoundland and Labrador quite a lot of money, according to a new economic impact report. 

The Canadian Media Producers Association, which issued the report, selects film productions across the country and conducts analyses of where the cash goes and who it helps.

It laid out a rosy picture of Frontier's effect on Newfoundland and Labrador.

Over three seasons of filming, $41 million has been spent on goods and services as diverse as after-work pints to homes for the show's producers, while hundreds of crew members and actors are nabbing gigs on the series — 539 full-time equivalent positions in N.L. alone, by the report's count.

The report estimates economic output from the show at more than $63 million, while production spending in the first season was equivalent to nearly a quarter-million cruise ship passengers.

At least one business — a snowmobile rental shop — also saw a tourism uptick thanks to Frontier, which often films on the northeast Avalon and near Gros Morne National Park. 

Rob Blackie, right, co-creator of Frontier, says money from the production pays for everything from parking spots to pints to real estate around the province. (CBC)

"Money gets run through the economy a couple times," executive producer and co-creator Rob Blackie told On the Go host Ted Blades.

Blackie says there's good reason to keep producing the show, which airs on Netflix and Discovery Canada, on Newfoundland soil.

"There's so much production value," Blackie said.

The "sheer cinematic quality" of locations such as the west coast's Tablelands, plus the growing experience of a crew that got its start with the CBC private-eye series Republic of Doyle, means the show is able to thrive here, he added.

New frontiers thanks to Frontier, filmmaker says

There could be even more money coming in, says St. John's-based filmmaker Justin A. Foley, who started off as a self-described "meat popsicle" on the set of Doyle and ended up as the assistant locations manager for Frontier.

It was Republic of Doyle, Foley says, that kickstarted big-picture production in the province.

"The industry here is growing like a wildfire," Foley said."Frontier changed the scope of that a lot too. We went from something that was the biggest thing we'd ever seen, to, 'OK, this is the biggest thing we've ever seen.'

"Through that, there's been a lot more productions coming here."

Foley says there are challenges to building a booming industry here, but is optimistic about the future of film in the province. (Supplied by Justin Foley)

Foley pointed out that Frontier led directly to Jason Momoa bringing the upcoming Aquaman production to the province for a few days of shooting.

"Newfoundland is part of what's going to become one of the biggest cinematic spectacles coming out this Christmas," he said.

There are dry spells, Foley added, calling the local industry a "feast or famine kind of thing." Unlike bigger markets in Toronto or Vancouver, the province doesn't have the infrastructure to support multiple major productions simultaneously.

For instance, there's only one studio, he said.

But for its size, Newfoundland is holding its own, Foley says — and it's why, despite once entertaining thoughts of leaving, he's now looking to get his own production off the ground.

"The fact that we're making a go of it, and we're doing this well with it, is incredible," he said. "I see a great potential for the film industry becoming one of our top industries, along with tourism."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from On the Go