Work is underway to finally build a proper film studio in Greater Victoria.
The demand for a film studio has been around for years, almost as long as the rumours, said Kathleen Gilbert, commissioner of the Vancouver Island South Film and Media Commission.
“We get calls on a regular basis from shows, from studios, looking for the kind of studio space we can’t provide, and we’ve definitely lost shows because of that in the past.”
Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes pledged during his 2018 election campaign that he would work to bring a long-rumoured film studio into the region, if not Saanich.
It’s all part of a multi-pronged approach to expand Saanich’s economic base, said Haynes.
“It’s about creating a high knowledge-, culture- and sports-based economy. To do this we can look at opportunities for film studios, a velodrome, a new ice hockey surface, hotels, an IT hub and an entertainment-Casino complex.”
Saanich staff confirmed five locations are currently being considered, though a studio could also go elsewhere.
“With regard to the film studio we are already seeing considerable interest from investors, land holders and the creative and digital communities,” Haynes said.
Gilbert expects that a film studio could be up and running by 2020.
“There are a number of groups crunching numbers, looking for land, whether it’s a retrofit building, or a new purpose-built. One of those groups will be successful,” Gilbert said. “Production companies struggle to use it. We need a purpose-built studio.”
Without a proper studio the Roundhouse in Vic West has likely hosted more shows than it would have as it has electrical, heat and hydro issues. In the late 1990s film crews shot in what Gilbert called “an oversized shed” on DND property.
Over the last year at least three different film companies have used the vacant Canadian Tire space off Douglas Street but it’s nowhere near adequate, Gilbert said.
Ideally, a studio would be located within range of the airport and ferries but also close enough to five star restaurants and hotels for the liking of marquee talent.
“If big stars are coming to live in your region for years at a time they’ll want hotels and restaurants to go to and to take their families to,” Gilbert said. “A lot goes into the location. For one thing, you can’t have actors stuck in traffic, so you want the best package overall.”
Gilbert and representatives from the commission are heading to L.A. to line up tenants for the new studio.
“When we go, we are trying to find a company that is looking for a place to call home such as Netflix, or Disney, who has a good television series that will employ people for eight months of the year.”
The way a studio would work can vary. There are family-run studios on the Lower Mainland that started with retro-fit warehouses, while there is also the 15-acre Bridge Studio outside Vancouver that the province built and ran until it sold privately in 2007.