Lunch with Vancouver’s first film commissioner David Shepheard

Vancouver's first film commissioner is out to expand the city's billion-dollar industry

Credit: Pooya Nabei

Seasoned veteran of London’s film scene aims to ensure that the city stays in the pictures

For the fourth time in his 20-year career, David Shepheard has set up a film commission office from scratch. The British transplant landed in Vancouver from London in late 2016 as one of only 350 film commissioners worldwide, to promote the city’s ability to do it all, from script to post-production. Where once Shepheard might just have shown off a place’s good looks, now it’s much more about economics. With the Vancouver International Film Festival kicking off this month, he enthuses over a 42,000-strong local workforce across movies, animation and video games, among other related fields.

This much I know…

“Vancouver is a pretty easy sell all round, and I was quick to say yes to becoming its first film commissioner. There aren’t many places that can compete with London’s scale and reputation, so I only considered a few cities to move to, and Vancouver was almost a no-brainer. We’re also an outdoorsy family who love skiing and canoeing—now living in Deep Cove, we feel our boats have returned home—and having lived in the Middle East, we had already done that scary stuff of moving internationally, so it wasn’t as daunting.”

“The film business here has grown exponentially recently, built up over 30 to 40 years. Yet Vancouver is an anomaly, being the size that it is and not already having a commissioner—a dedicated voice promoting the city. It’s one of those laid-back places that could rest on its laurels, and in this industry, which is such a fickle beast, there are new restrictions popping up every week: a bigger incentive, or something that’s a bit more shiny, elsewhere. Being part of the Vancouver Economic Commission, we’re very much about business development and attracting new investment into the infrastructure here.”

“When I started as a com­missioner, I used to show pretty pictures of locations—seriously—to a director, and that would sell the place. Now you have to know the mechanics of the business, the financing, why they could film here or whether to partner with another jurisdiction. The Vancouver Economic Commission’s recent research into our economy aimed at getting a deeper dive into the true value of our industry here—in 2017, it was $3.8 billion. Investors always want to know the future, and that’s our biggest challenge. All we can say is that there are new players coming into the marketplace demanding more content. In recognition of the Vancouver International Film Festival’s prominent role in Vancouver’s celebration of film and culture, we have sponsored and collaborated with them in the past, including planning some business initiatives to coincide with the festival. Last year we hosted a roundtable in partnership with VIFF called Leading Cities for Sustainable Production. We invited several of my counterparts from around the world who are setting policies and strategies with regard to sustainable film production.”

The Deets

Position: Director of the Vancouver Film Commission

Age: 50
Previous Roles: Senior inward investment manager at Film London; first director of the Abu Dhabi Film Commission; film commissioner at South West Screen in Bristol and at Screen East in Norwich, both U.K.
School: Master of arts administration from Anglia University (now Anglia Ruskin University) in Cambridge, U.K.
Kudos: Board member of the Association of Film Commissioners International
Lunch: Mushroom orecchiette pasta at Chambar Restaurant, Vancouver

Fun fact: “Vancouver is seen in so many film and TV projects, but it always doubles as somewhere else. That’s good because we’re almost a blank canvas, but then you don’t get the city as a character, and that’s something we are keen to see increase. I want to turn local production companies from contractors to suppliers—then they have something to sell globally. People will automatically think that Toronto is the biggest production centre in Canada; it’s not, but it’s got a louder voice.”