Nova Scotia

'Quite a blow': Amazon series pulls out of N.S. due to COVID-19 restrictions

The coming-of-age series, The Summer I Turned Pretty, was due to start production around July on the South Shore, but will now be shot in the U.S. where COVID-19 restrictions have eased.

Film union rep Shelley Bibby says it means millions of dollars in lost wages

Many working in the film industry say they are being tested for COVID-19 once or twice a week and wearing masks whenever possible. (CBC)

A new Amazon Studios series expected to film this summer in Nova Scotia has become a multimillion-dollar casualty of the pandemic's third wave in the province.

The coming-of-age series, The Summer I Turned Pretty, was due to start production around July on the South Shore, but Amazon said this week it will now be shot in the U.S. where COVID-19 restrictions have eased.

"It's quite a blow, it really shocked quite a few people," said Shelley Bibby, a business agent with Local 849 of IATSE, the union representing technicians and artists in the film and TV industry.

"I think we've proven we're able to function safely with strong protocols." 

With the production heading south of the border, Bibby estimated losses of about $7.5 million in local labour, and as high as $11.5 million if workers came from outside the province. She said crews in Nova Scotia are required to be tested for COVID-19 between three and five times a week.

Series expected to have multiple seasons

The Summer I Turned Pretty is based on a trilogy of young adult romance novels by American author Jenny Han. The novels focus on Isabel (Belly) Conklin and her experiences spending summers at a family friend's beach house.

Han also penned the popular To All the Boys series, which was adapted into a trio of teen romantic comedy films on Netflix.

The Summer I Turned Pretty TV series is set to have multiple seasons, meaning the production crew would have needed to film in Nova Scotia multiple times a year.

"It would have been an opportunity for continued work for our locals," said Bibby. "It would have given an opportunity for lots of our less experienced people to step up into more senior positions."

Laura Mackenzie is the executive director of Screen Nova Scotia, the industry association in the province. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Laura Mackenzie, executive director of Screen Nova Scotia, said the province's travel restrictions were critical as to why Amazon Studios chose to film outside of Nova Scotia.

"The timing of this production was so that they really had to shoot in the summer," she said. "Because of the travel restrictions, it would have pushed them into November and nobody wants to film a beach show in November."

Economy missing out

Aside from lost wages, Bibby said businesses around the province will lose out on revenue, too.

"I understand there would have been almost $14 million in what we call hard costs, so hotel rentals, car rentals, lumber and things like that," she said. 

"I think it's underestimated what is contributed [by the film industry] to the economy."

Although there are multiple productions happening throughout the province, Bibby said most of them are done hiring new people.

'We are hopeful this is temporary'

Mikaela Etchegary, a spokesperson for the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage, said the province recognizes that various industries are being impacted not only by the pandemic, but by public health restrictions.

"We are hopeful this is temporary, as we recognize the challenges this pandemic has created for our sectors," she said in an emailed statement.

"Keeping Nova Scotians healthy and safe is our main concern, and we look forward to continue growing the province's film industry when it is safer to do so." 

Industry remains encouraged

Despite the loss of the Amazon series, Mackenzie said the local film industry is still thriving.

"We've turned a corner in the industry here and we're busy again and people are looking our way," she said. "People want to come here so we're all still feeling really encouraged."

She said the province is equipped to handle another large-scale production, though she is keeping mum on the details.

"We've got a busy year. No spoilers yet," she said. "It'll be similar in size and scope, for sure."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Feleshia Chandler is a journalist based in Halifax. She loves helping people tell their stories and has interests in issues surrounding LGBTQ+ people as well as Black, Indigenous and people of colour. You can reach her at feleshia.chandler@cbc.ca

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