Southern Vancouver Island could have its first sound stages for film productions by the end of the year.
Strand, the company behind redevelopment of the former Western Speedway land in Langford, plans two 20,000-square-foot sound stages, and council is expected to say “action” on a building permit following a public hearing on May 6. “Langford really wants this … there won’t be any roadblocks; it will be a red-carpet roll-out,” Langford Mayor Stew Young said in an interview.
Young said the Langford studios will bring increased spending for local businesses and more jobs. “We have a young demographic and skilled tradespeople that the film industry can tap into,” he said. “This isn’t only great for Langford, but the whole region.”
The Langford studios would be the first of several potentially being built in the region. Camosun College is planning three sound-stage buildings at its Interurban Campus with an education component, and the Malahat First Nation is exploring film studios on its land.
Construction could start in Langford by June, and the buildings could be operating by year end, according to Strand, which is developing the 81-acre site with Bastion Development as industrial, office and retail spaces.
Sound stages are not complicated — they’re big soundproof boxes that allow movie makers to create sets inside, said Victoria film commissioner Kathleen Gilbert. And they will be “game-changers” for the local industry, she said. “We can always attract the $10-million productions here, but to get the $100-million to $200-million shows here, you need sound stages.”
Vancouver Island Film Studios near Parksville, with six sound stages and the only one operating on the Island, said it is booked until January 2024.
The local scene has relied on warehouses for sound stages for decades.
During production of the Netflix series Maid, crews used the empty Home Outfitters store in Tillicum shopping centre as a sound stage, said Gilbert. “It was a great space, but a lot of these places aren’t available forever.”
Gilbert said the rise of film studios that attract big-budget productions will bring economic benefits for everyone from lumberyards and hotels to restaurants, rental companies and other suppliers.
Camosun College has completed a business case for sound stages. It said it will soon invite developers to submit proposals to build three 18,000-square-foot studios, as well as an education building where students take courses on film production.
Geoff Wilmshurst, vice-president of partnerships at Camosun College, said the studios would be built on five acres behind the PISE sports field on the southeast corner of the campus. It currently has older buildings that would be demolished. The plan is for Camosun to invite developers to build the studios on a long-term land lease.
The sizes and designs of the sound stages — and construction timelines — would depend on potential builders, said Wilmshurst, who estimates it could take up to two years before studios are operational, and longer for the educational component.
Wilmshurst said the business case, funded by the province, told Camosun sound stages are in high demand on the Island and there is a need for educated workers in the film industry. Camosun wants to supply both.
As part of an economic development plan in 2019, Camosun was brought into discussions with the Victoria Film Commission, Creative B.C. and Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes to develop a plan for film studios.
Camosun already provides courses in carpentry, metal and electrical work — backbone skills of the film industry.
The college is developing a centre for film and digital media, which would include sound and digital editing facilities, green screens, classrooms, production offices and workshops for wardrobe, carpentry and props.
“When completed, purpose-built sound stages will provide hundreds of well-paid jobs for the graduates trained on-site,” the college said. “Ultimately, students can be trained to work in all ancillary areas of film production, from metalwork for in-camera special effects to work in digital post-production.”
A $300-million film studio with six sound stages and a commercial complex proposed on Malahat Nation land near Mill Bay is still in the feasibility stages. Plans announced in December 2020 called for film studios on an 80-acre parcel that would also include a business and industrial park, a 120-room hotel, a shopping village and a technical academy for film apprenticeships and skills training.