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Keep rolling: How Calgary’s film and television momentum avoids the cutting room floor

News last week of content streaming giant Netflix opening a Canadian office is just another sign Canada’s film industry is taking off, and Calgary is positioned to benefit.

Calgary Film Commissioner Luke Azevedo said Netflix has done more than $2 billion in Canadian productions over the past three years, so they’re not a new player. They’ve been working here a while – since 2012. Productions like Hold the Dark, Damnation and Black Summer are some of the recent Netflix originals shot in the Calgary area.

But, after last week’s announcement by Netflix Co-CEO and Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos, Azevedo said it’s confirmation of a partnership that’s going to grow.

“Canada is an amazingly diverse country and growing our presence locally will help us share more authentically Canadian stories with the world, whether through the development of original content or through co-production and licensing opportunities,” Sarandos wrote.

It’s great news for the country’s film and television scene, said Azevedo.

“I think it’s a big deal for the production community across the country,” Azevedo told LiveWire Calgary.

Could the Netflix office end up here in Calgary? There’s hope. Azevedo said the experiences working with Netflix have been positive.

“Of course, we would absolutely be interested in having an opportunity, and we’ve expressed our interest in having more engagement with Netflix,” said Azevedo.

“If this was a possibility, Alberta would be very happy to engage.”

Economic impact of film production

It could be a banner year for film and television production in Calgary. While direct film revenues have been steady at around $250 million annually since 2015, there are projections of nearly $400 million in activity for 2021.

Coun. Jeff Davison, who sits on the Calgary Film Centre board (and who has a creative background we’ll explore in the future), said given more tools, this could be a billion-dollar industry in Alberta.

That would have a direct benefit to Calgary.

“I’ve been lobbying over the past couple of years with the provincial government to remind them that this isn’t funding the arts, this is economic development – and I say that for a reason,” Davison said.

The film industry has been in the Calgary area for decades. And while tech certainly gets the lion’s share of economic diversity headlines in the city, Davison said film and television is a big part moving forward.

Davison said right now we’re riding a wave in film and television production.

“Our job right now is to build consistency and quality in our offering, so that it doesn’t become a wave, it becomes a consistent,” Davison said.

“I think that’s where we will have a much better impact in terms of – quote, unquote – diversifying the economy.”

Film incentives, infrastructure

Incentives are one of the top drivers of film and television production to an area, Azevedo said.

Alberta redid its film and TV tax credit in January 2020. It replaced a tax program brought in by the Alberta NDP in 2017, though there were edits along the way.

Azevedo said the province is realizing what it takes to keep the industry globally competitive.

“I think our government sees this as an opportunity,” he said.

“The interesting part is that right now, we’re in a position where people see this as a growth area. Not just folks that are in Alberta, but those that are from the outside looking in.”

Film crews are busy; Azevedo said local unions are trying to attract and retain even more talent locally. They’re working with post-secondary schools to deliver a workforce that can meet the needs moving forward. Those with transferable skills in other industries are being recruited – like electricians, Azevedo said.

 Calgary’s Film Centre is at or near capacity. It has been for a while and expects to be for the next two years.  As it stays full, Azevedo said there are ongoing conversations with the real estate community and developers to retrofit warehouses for production. They’re also investing in space for equipment distribution.

“There is also talk of the next phases of purpose-built facilities,” he said.

Staying in focus

Dan Aykroyd popped out of filming Ghostbusters 3 in Crossfield (in 2019) for a quick picture. Photo Courtesy of Calgary Ghostbusters.

While there’s a buzz around the city’s film and television industry, Davison said, right now keeping everything in focus is important.

He said making a movie is a multiple-month process – from pre-production to shooting and then post-production. Crews may not want to spend months editing a film in Calgary after months shooting it here, he said. Many want to go home after that time.  

The key is to take advantage of what we have: the Calgary area is an amazing shooting location.

“We have to recognize that we can’t be all things to industry,” Davison said.  

“What we want to be is a favorable shooting jurisdiction, with the appropriate infrastructure to meet the needs of film and television creation.”

Azevedo said Calgary continues to have a lot going for it. Even now, with COVID-19 still present, Calgary has strong health and safety protocols that allow for film and television production. That’s given productions peace of mind knowing they can begin and end a production in the city.

All the ingredients are in place for Calgary to continue moving forward with film and television and other content creation. The potential for a Netflix office in Canada – or even in Calgary – is more positive momentum.

“We feel that we have an opportunity across the entertainment field; it’s not just film and television. It’s gaming, it’s interactive digital media, it’s technology,” said Azevedo.

“It’s about creating an infrastructure here that has sustainability and long term capacity.”