Island North film studio plan catches moviemakers’ attention

 

Joan Miller said the phones at Vancouver Island North Film Commission haven’t stopped ringing since plans were unveiled outside of Parksville on Thursday night for a full-service film studio in the region.

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“We’ve been inundated with calls from producers for

18 hours,” said Miller on Friday before boarding a plane bound for Los Angeles to attend the annual Association of Film Commissioners International Cineposium.

Miller, who was chairperson for the annual event for years, said she will have plenty to talk about between workshops about everything from creating winning location packages to tips on how to be more film-friendly.

“This wasn’t a case of ‘if you build it they will come,’ ” said the Campbell River-based film commissioner, reacting to developer Ron Chiovetti’s announcement that his Vancouver Island Film Studios, located northwest of Parksville, while unfinished, is already open for business.

“The industry is already coming. This is another part of the big picture, thanks to this person who had the wherewithal to do it. With this kind of infrastructure, it should bring even more people over.”

Once complete, the 32,000-square-foot facility will include three sound stages, offices, construction areas and prop shops, Chiovetti told a crowd of local crews, business leaders and government officials.

“For the past two years, I have been providing services to the television series Chesapeake Shores,” he said, referring to the Hallmark Channel series that filmed its first and second seasons in Oceanside.

He said he recognized an opportunity to expand his business model and take advantage of recent growth in the film and television production sector.

The late Tom Harris was the founding partner on the project that got off the ground at Guy Garages, Chiovetti’s massive storage facility for RVs, boats and automobiles at 1240 Valley Rd., and began to take off after he lent studio space to INFilm. The studio, which complements his other nearby business — Isle Golf Cars, 921 Fairdowne Rd. — is “an exciting new project for my company,” Chiovetti said.

“It’s not an area I imagined myself expanding into at this time, but you never know what fate has in store for you.”

A small, functional studio is already open for business, with an expanded purpose-built facility expected to be operational by 2018.

Chesapeake Shores producer Matt Drake told the crowd it was reassuring to know that there were potential partners such as Chiovetti and other local vendors who were “able to build on the infrastructure that we needed and we know we could really rely on here and [know] what we could actually spend here to make sure we had everything we needed.”

The Hallmark series starring Victoria native Meghan Ory and Jesse Metcalfe has injected

$5 million into the local economy so far, said Oura Giakoumakis, past chairperson of the Qualicum Beach Chamber of Commerce.

Beyond inquiries about locations, one of the first questions producers who are considering shooting in the region ask is whether there is a local crew base and infrastructure, Miller said.

“Soon there will be,” she said, noting a purpose-built facility is “the icing on the cake” that complements other pieces of the industry growth such as a TV series that could potentially shoot a third season there, unique locations, a film-friendly community, favourable tax incentives and a pilot local crew training initiative.

She was referring to the North Island College pilot film training initiative that began last week with the first of eight new courses at the Campbell River campus that will later be repeated in Port Alberni.

In March, Michelle Stilwell, MLA for Parksville-Qualicum Beach, announced provincial government training funds to help local students get the skills needed to work in the high-demand production industry.

In the first season of Chesapeake Shores, 38 per cent of crews were hired locally, jumping to 50 per cent when the series filmed season two in Oceanside this year.

If the series gets a third-season, Drake says he hopes to increase that number even farther beyond 50 per cent as part of attempts to achieve a higher ratio each year.

Other projects that been filmed in whole or in part in the mid- and north Island include Godzilla, War for the Planet of the Apes, Superman and the History Channel series Alone.

According to Creative B.C., film and TV production expenditures in B.C. are estimated to top $2.6 billion this fiscal year.

mreid@timescolonist.com

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