Margaret Judge

Esquimalt production studio could bring hundreds of jobs

When Margaret Judge pulled up to the warehouse on Viewfield Road in Esquimalt, she looked at it and saw possibility.

When Margaret Judge pulled up to the warehouse on Viewfield Road in Esquimalt, she looked at it and saw possibility.

Now, that possibility is becoming a reality, as Judge is getting set to open a permanent film and TV production studio in the 60,000-square-foot space — the first of its kind on Vancouver Island.

Judge, the owner of Pretty Clever Entertainment, an entertainment company that works with short reels, documentaries and reality TV, recently made an offer to lease the Capital Regional District (CRD)-owned building at 836 Viewfield Rd.

The building, which was formerly purchased for the sewage treatment program but subsequently turned down, will have space for every facet of the industry, including a soundstage and office space. The space can also be adapted to fit the needs of each production that comes in.

Three productions are already slated to use the studio, with the first one potentially beginning in fall 2017.

“They’re big and it’s super exciting,” Judge said, noting the productions are coming from Los Angeles, one of which could bring as many as 300 jobs to the region.

“This is going to bring lots of jobs. This building can easily contain more than one show at a time. The job potential is awesome for the city.”

Barb Desjardins, mayor of Esquimalt and chair of the CRD board, said in the past people have inquired about using the buildings on Viewfield Road as potential sites for a production studio or soundstage, but this is the first time a deal is actually inching closer to fruition.

She believes Esquimalt is the perfect place for a studio because it’s central to the region.

“It can be huge. It can be very significant. The film industry, all you need to do is see what happens when some filming is happening and there are many spinoff industries that go along with the actual cameras and the acting and those are everything from more business for caterers to coffee shops, to accommodations to all of the support systems like extras, makeup people, lighting,” Desjardins said.

Last year was a record-breaking year for Victoria’s film industry with 24 productions coming to the area, which brought in an estimated $18 million to the local economy.

Other smaller studios have also opened up the past few years to serve Victoria’s growing film industry. In January, Finerty Film Studios launched a studio on Bridge Street with a lounge for casting calls, a business centre, a theatre screening room and visual FX stage.

Kathleen Gilbert, film commissioner with the Vancouver Island South Film and Media Commission, said the studio won’t be the big break the local film industry has been looking for, but will be useful as a testing ground for productions to see what can and can’t be done in the studio, specifically regarding sound limitations and the height of the ceiling.

“I’m certain it’s going to help us sell Victoria to more productions. It’s going to increase production, I would think, next year for sure,” Gilbert said.

“I’m certainly excited. I think we’re going in the right direction with this for sure. I think this is going to be a bit of a testing ground, which is why it’s so important for us to get it right the first time.”