North Shore's film industry enjoys record year

For all the hue and cry over the impending death of B.C.’s film industry this time last year, 2013 turned out to be one of the busiest for film shoots in recent record on the North Shore.

The City of North Vancouver, which is home to North Shore Studios, issued 50 permits for feature films, TV series, commercials and other media projects, compared to 40 in 2012 and only 27 in 2008.

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The District of North Vancouver had 90 film productions last year, resulting in $511,000 in permit revenues compared to 86 in 2012 and 44 in 2012.

Among the more high-profile movies that might feature familiar backgrounds in 2014: The Interview, starring James Franco and Seth Rogen, Tim Burton’s Big Eyes, as well as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Robocop, both featuring Gary Oldman. Lower Lonsdale was atwitter in February when North Shore Studios was filming some of the final scenes of titillating guilty pleasure Fifty Shades of Grey.

The 2013 provincial election campaign was partly coloured by the emergence of Save B.C. Film, a movement of workers in the creative industry calling for more generous tax breaks to stop the outflow of film production to Ontario and southern U.S. states.

The Liberals stood fast on their position that the tax credit regime had gone far enough, and later won the election.

While Ontario and Quebec still offer more robust credits, it’s the falling Canadian dollar that is currently fueling the industry.

“Business is good right now. The dollar is our friend these days,” said Peter Leitch, president of North Shore Studios. “It was one of the worst times in terms of film production that we’ve seen here in the past 20 years at the beginning of last year. . . . When the dollar was around par last year in January, we were seeing some work going to other jurisdictions that had more aggressive incentives and it was a real cause for alarm.”

With fewer productions coming to Canada, it left Ontario and B.C. to fight over a smaller slice of the “Hollywood North” pie. Film industry professionals predicted the dollar would remain high, but it soon began a slow and steady tumble that still hasn’t bottomed out with the dollar now below US 90 cents.

And while Ontario’s tax incentives still offer a better deal for U.S. productions, it isn’t necessarily winning their studios more work.

“Yeah, (their taxes are lower) but with the dollar at this level, we’re certainly attracting more Los Angeles business than they are,” Leitch said. “The tax credits become a lot more critical in terms of being competitive or being the same as other jurisdictions when the dollar becomes a challenge for us.”

Local talent and infrastructure are also to the point where producers may choose to film here, regardless of tax credits or dollar value, said Richard Brownsey, president of Creative B.C., the agency formed by the government in April 2013 to promote and market creative industries.

“I would hate to think our industry is solely dependent on the dollar,” Brownsey said. “When they compare it to what they can get in British Columbia in terms of the quality of the production, the reliability of the crews and talent, the infrastructure that we have in the province, it’s very compelling. When the dollar falls, that just adds one more element to it.”

Tax credits amounted to about $352 million from B.C. last year, according to North Vancouver-Seymour MLA Jane Thornthwaite, who praised the success of B.C.’s thriving film industry in the Legislature on March 10.

Production companies spent about $1.37 billion over 2013, she told her fellow MLAs before taking a dig at the eastern provinces and southern states trying to lure the industry away with bigger tax incentives.

“Unlike other jurisdictions, who have not been as fiscally responsible like ours, their film supports have been reduced, offering instability and unpredictability for their industries,” she said.

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