Film, TV industry booms in Victoria; 10 projects planned by April

A surge in local film and TV production is bringing economic benefits, with 10 productions expected to be filmed here by late April.

“We have never seen numbers like this,” said Victoria film commissioner Kathleen Gilbert.

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The Vancouver Island South Film and Media Commission is working with six companies on a growing number of productions, Gilbert said. She said at the current rate, this year is shaping up to beat 2006, the capital region’s best year yet, when 12 productions generated $18 million in revenue.

A weaker loonie and a six per cent distant location provincial tax credit are among key factors in the surge, she said.

Just weeks after production wrapped here on The Devout and the Lifetime movie Perfect High, filming began on the Netflix-bound comedy Monkey Up.

Two more pictures start shooting next week — Gourmet Detective 2: A Healthy Place to Die and The Boy, director William Brent Bell’s psychological thriller starring The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan as a nanny who encounters strange goings-on in the English countryside.

Other projects in pre-production include the Hallmark movies Playdate and The Last Resort.

The downside is a shortage of trained local crews.

While there’s a crew base of about 60 here, 200 are required with four shows overlapping, said Gilbert. Many underemployed locals relocated to Vancouver or “took jobs in the real world” several years ago when production slowed. “We need to identify people in the community with experience in film, or lighting, wardrobe and makeup for theatre,” said Gilbert, who is inviting skilled locals to email resumés to admin@filmvictoria.com.

People aged eight to 45 can become extras on Monkey Up by showing up at the Parkside Hotel Sunday between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. or emailing monkeyupextras@gmail.com.

“I don’t believe we’ve ever been so busy,” said Allen Lewis, vice-president of production for Front Street Pictures. The Metchosin-based producer, whose crews filmed the first in a series of Gourmet Detective movies for Hallmark here in November, has the advantage of familiarity, having frequently worked in the region.

“Now everyone seems to have woken up to what we’ve learned Victoria has to offer.”

Richard Brownsey, CEO of Creative B.C., the agency responsible for promoting creative industries in the province, said the surge has as much to do with B.C.’s reputation as a production centre as the exchange rate or tax incentives.

“The dilemmas that come with being so busy are better to deal with than the dilemmas that come with not being busy,” he said.

Paul Russell, the Duncan-born location manager on Gourmet Detective 2 and Playdate, and assistant location manager on Gracepoint, said the boom inspired him to move back to the capital region from Vancouver.

“It’s quite a thing,” said Russell, while scouting at Dominion Astrophysical Observatory. “We just have to make sure we’re not getting on top of each other with five shows going on at the same time.”

Another challenge is securing enough longer-term accommodation on short notice for visiting crews. “Most hotels are already getting busy,” said Harbour Towers manager Hazel Thalakkat, who has booked 669 room nights for crews in March and April.

Monkey Up director Robert Vince said he has noticed “Victoria has become much more cosmopolitan” since he filmed The Duke here in 1998. “I’m impressed by how logistically easy it is to get around,” said the Malibu, California-based filmmaker.

He said he has only one complaint in trying to pass Victoria off as New Jersey from October through Christmas. “If any more of these blossoms come out, I’m in big trouble.”

mreid@timescolonist.com

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