The regional commissioner cannot guarantee more Hollywood films will come to region if Saanich or any other Greater Victoria municipality helps to build a film studio.
But Kathleen Gilbert with the Vancouver Island South Film and Media Commission said she supports Saanich mayor-elect Fred Haynes’ idea to help bring a film studio to the region.
Victoria possesses two out of the three conditions that make it an attractive production destinations: tax credits and crews, she said. But it currently lacks a studio, she added.
The region currently draws television productions and smaller budget features with budgets sometimes reaching into the tens of millions, she said. But a film studio could help the region attract productions with values topping $100 million, she said.
While the commission would not build such a studio itself, it has been trying to identify a suitable location for at least the last two years, said Gilbert, adding that the region has received serious inquiries from private parties in the past, only to see them fall short for a number of reasons, including size and cost.
Any future studio would have to stand on a lot that would be large enough to host a 20,000 square-foot studio with room to grow, she said. Such a lot would also have to include plenty of space for crew and equipment parking, and be near enough major transport nodes (such as Victoria International Airport and Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal) as well as high-end hotels, she said. Communities capable of fulfilling those requirements are Saanich, Sidney and Langford, once crews have completed work on the McKenzie interchange.
While more affordable land would be available north of the Greater Victoria area, the Malahat Highway would pose a transportation problem, she added.
Any future push for a film studio would also raise a number of political questions, key among them: would space for a film studio not deny space for housing?
Gilbert said that presents a false choice. “Do we have to choose [between a film studio and housing]?” she asked
Notwithstanding the first year of the financial crisis in 2008, the film industry has been growing every year, she said.
According to Creative B.C., the provincial agency responsible for promotion and growth of the creative industries in British Columbia, 450 productions contributed $3.4 billion to B.C.’s economy during the fiscal year 2017-2017. Overall, the industry supported the employment of 60,000 people.
These are high-paying, green jobs that any community in the Greater Victoria region would welcome, she said. A prosperous film industry also promises to increase the region’s global recognition.
Greater Victoria received a taste of that action last year, when Canadian-born star Ryan Reynolds posted a photo of himself as his Deadpool character in front of Hatley Castle on Royal Roads University campus. Observers also spotted Pirates of the Caribbean star Johnny Depp filming scenes for his upcoming movie, Richard says Goodbye, at that same location.
Against this backdrop, it is no wonder that communities across British Columbia are making a pitch to get a slice of that business, and Saanich has joined that list as Haynes has identified a film studio as an economic development tool for Saanich.
So what would be the cost of a film studio?
An estimate made three years ago pegged costs for a studio with three sound stages at around $30 million, said Gilbert, adding that the costs have likely gone up since this initial estimate.
In short, no small amount of money, and any private investor would likely look for some public assistance. Such support would have to earn political support. Local opposition to Haynes’ idea has already emerged.
Victoria resident Christina Mitchell, who has worked as a costume designer in both the United Kingdom and Canada and also served as a former campaign manger of Haynes’ mayoral opponent Rob Wickson, said she would like to see the local film industry succeed, but questions its sustainability. The local industry goes through feast and famine cycles, making it difficult to retain crews, she said.
The film industry also faces other challenges, she said. Tax incentives that support the film industry in British Columbia may be here today, but gone tomorrow, and British Columbia is just one of many jurisdictions across North America that offers such incentives, she added. Fluctuations in the value of the Canadian dollar could also cut down business, she said.
Finally, she points to the Okanagan, where the region’s first full service film and TV studio closed in early 2018, after opening its doors in November 2016.
The building had undergone extensive renovations, but failed to generate sufficient business.
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Industry experts including Gilbert have argued that the building was not ideal because of its height, and the region continues to attract additional investment.
But this failure is also a warning that not everything in the silver screen industry turns golden.