Local film industry gets a big boost from a low loonie

COLOURFUL CHARACTERS | Production on the new Power Rangers movie began in January

B.C.’s film industry benefits from a lower Canadian dollar, but there’s more to the story

For those who want to see the expression “time is money” in action, consider Shirt.

Shirt—code name for the new Power Rangers movie—was one of 269 productions shooting in the province as of October 2015. From the time Shirt’s producers started thinking about filming in B.C. to the point when they made the call, over a million dollars was saved—not because the company tightened its budget, but because it was spending in U.S. dollars.

Twilight Zone

Top 5 U.S. productions shot in B.C.*

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn 2 (2011)
Budget: $120 million
Worldwide box office: $829,746,820

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn 1 (2011)
Budget: $110 million
Worldwide box office: $712,205,856

The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009)
Budget: $50 million
Worldwide box office: $709,711,008

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2009)
Budget: $ 68 million
Worldwide box office: $698,491,347

Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol (2010)
Budget: $145 million
Worldwide box office: $694,713,380

*in U.S. dollars
Source: Boxofficemojo.com

These are heady days for B.C.’s industry, with direct spending on film and television production totalling more than $2 billion in 2014—up from $943 million in 2007. Over $1.6 billion of that activity is what’s known as foreign location and service productions (FLS)—which, like Shirt, are feature movies and television programs filmed in Canada by non-Canadian producers. And these days, FLS productions are benefiting mightily from a slumping Canadian dollar—down to $0.75 by late November from a high of $1.06 in 2011.

“Clearly a huge portion of our business is export to the U.S. marketplace,” says Peter Leitch, chair of the Motion Picture Production Industry Association of B.C. “By making it easier for our clients to do business here, it’s a net positive.” And he says everyone benefits, from multimillion-dollar movies to small independents.

Leitch adds that the low dollar is just part of the story—that even when the loonie was at par, B.C. was doing decent business thanks to “fantastic talent in both cast and crew, some of the best infrastructure in terms of studio space, animation and post-production facilities, and some of the largest visual effects capability in the world.” 

While many factors contribute to the success of B.C.’s industry—warm weather, proximity to L.A. and tax credits (33 per cent if they use B.C. labour)—film production is a hugely competitive business. While FLS production is up in B.C. in recent years, it’s down from its 10-year high in 2010/11, largely thanks to competition from the southern U.S. According to Cecil O’Connor, production manager for Shirt, Atlanta and Louisiana are emerging as major film centres—and likely alternatives to B.C. should the loonie rise dramatically. 

Some industry observers argue that one way to hedge against the dollar’s ups and downs is to strengthen B.C.’s capacity for indigenous production.That’s the perspective of Vancouver filmmakers Kate Twa and Ronan Reinart, who have just finished shooting their indie film The Orchard in B.C. for under $1 million. Reinart thinks the time is right for independent B.C. filmmakers. “Our drone got us footage that even six years ago would have cost us $30,000 per set-up for a 120-foot techno crane,” he says. “All the technology you need to make really powerful, beautiful cinema has never been better or stronger or cheaper than now.”