NDP calls 'action' on Camosun film studio; funding to develop a business plan

The provincial NDP is planning to inject some cash and life into the Island’s film industry if it gets re-elected.

During a campaign stop at Camosun College’s Lansdowne campus on Friday, local NDP candidates Murray Rankin, Rob Fleming and Lana Popham pledged to provide $150,000 to develop the business case for a state-of-the-art film studio at the school.

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“We have the skilled people and the stunning locations to attract international productions to the South Island,” said Rankin. “The only thing holding us back is that we don’t have the competitive sound stages.

“A John Horgan government will accelerate the business case for this Camosun project so we can start moving down the path to becoming a prime destination for production companies.”

Rankin said the financial commitment is new money available as soon as possible, but he said the party is making no commitment at this point on any future funding towards what is expected to be a $30-million studio project.

“[A further commitment] is yet to be determined,” he said, adding they may look into what kind of partnership may be possible once the business case has been presented.

Initial estimates suggest a studio could mean more than 600 local jobs in the film/TV and post-secondary sectors, spur up to $20 million in regional economic activity, and boost local creative, hospitality and tech businesses.

Last year there were 384 major productions in B.C., contributing $3.2 billion to the province’s economy.

However, according to the NDP, Victoria sees less than one per cent of that work because it doesn’t have sound stages that can accommodate large productions.

Under the preliminary plan drawn up by Camosun, the project would include two 20,000-square-foot sound stages and one 15,000-square-foot sound stage, along with sound and editing facilities, green screen facilities, and production offices, plus 20,000 square feet of classrooms.

It would be located on land that is undeveloped at the college’s Interurban campus.

Camosun vice-president Geoff Wilmhurst said a studio would create a variety of educational opportunities for carpentry and electrical trades students, and could spur on new diploma and certificate programs such as digital animation.

“Programming would align with high-demand jobs in a booming industry that employs tens of thousands of people in B.C.,” he said.

Kathleen Gilbert, film commissioner with the Vancouver Island South Film and Media Commission, said the studio would be a game-changer.

“Not only will it create hundreds of new good-paying green jobs, but it will also bring tens of millions of new dollars into the local economy every year,” she said. “Currently, without a studio, we are only able to attract lower-budget projects to our region.

“A studio with multiple sound stages would attract big-budget feature films and television series,” she said. It is estimated a studio would mean the direct spend from film productions on the Island would go from $25 million a year to something in the range of $80 million to $100 million, Gilbert said.

She said she has seen small proposals for studios over the years, but none came with business cases attached.

A proposal for a large downtown studio was scrapped in the 1990s due to timeline and cost of demolition and remediation of a city block.

Gilbert said the Island film scene is fairly healthy. There have been 10 shows at work during the pandemic and four are currently filming in the region.

According to Creative B.C., there is the Netflix series Maid, two Ruby Landry shows and a Christmas movie being filmed, while Air Bud Entertainment has a show in pre-production in Victoria.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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