Netflix effect: B.C. struggles to keep up with studio demand
Published Monday, February 8, 2016 6:02PM PST
Last Updated Monday, February 8, 2016 6:04PM PST
Just three years after the “Save BC Film” campaign lobbied the government for help, the film industry is so hot local companies can’t keep up.
"All available studio space plus additional warehouse space is full,” said Crawford Hawkins, executive director of the Directors Guild of Canada.
"Pirates of the Caribbean is coming here to re-shoot some scenes. I don't know where we're going to put them"
Most of Metro Vancouver’s bookings are made by Directors Guild members so the group is able to keep a reliable tally of work done in B.C., which has grown exponentially since the dry spell of 2013.
"In 2015, 409 scripted dramas were produced [in North America] and that's in contrast with 2012 when there were 285 scripted dramas. It’s all because of the proliferation of delivery vehicles right now - I'm talking about Amazon, Netflix and Hulu and Crave TV," said Hawkins.
"They all want original programming to hype themselves and their particular service, which is what's causing the glut."
Local companies have been scrambling to meet demand, but it takes time to get new facilities shoot-ready.
Pete Mitchel, Vancouver Film Studios chief, tells CTV News his company has tripled its filming since 2006, now offering 60,000 square feet over 12 stages, but it’s still not enough.
“The low dollar definitely amplifies the demand, but the reality is we’re at our capacity limit as a community,” Mitchel said.
Several warehouses across Metro Vancouver have been repurposed into sound stages, Mitchel said, and even though the other big studios have also expanded to try and keep up, every available space is booked solid.
That kind of demand is also prompting more unorthodox spaces to double as temporary studios. For example, the old Canada Post mail sorting facility in downtown Vancouver is being leased for productions by commercial management company, Bentall Kennedy, while the new owners finalize long-term plans for the site.
In Maple Ridge, film production veteran John Wittmayer took over an old bingo hall on 224th Street and started marketing it as The Ridge Studios in March of last year.
“We’ve been extremely busy. Last year we had 18 movies,” he told CTV News. “I’ve had calls almost every day since Christmas and I have to turn them down because we landed another show which is going to take us to July.”
Wittmayer plans to expand his 23,000 square feet of production space by another 30,000 square feet within the next 18 months. He says a further six percent labour tax credit on productions outside of Vancouver help spread the work around and make more rural locations like his attractive to producers, especially those with tighter budgets.
Hawkins says while small-budget and independent productions are drawn to B.C. by the weak dollar and tax credits, our stable of experienced personnel and top-notch studios are what keep the Hollywood blockbusters coming back.
"These companies would be here with a hundred cent dollar, it's the fact we have in excess of a billion dollar in real, hard assets dedicated to the business."
And while critics might argue there’s no need to incentivize with tax credits or perks a time when there’s a dearth of studio space across North America, Hawkins believes the “Netflix effect” won’t last forever, and it may not be long until the industry once again cycles back to tough times.
“I think you'll see, we'll probably go back to 285 scripted dramas rather than 409 scripted dramas. Right now companies are hydrating their product to get subscribers and in order to build a base where these people will turn to. There’s no guarantee that’ll last."