Since its first steps in the 1970s, the B.C. film industry has grown so much that it stands alongside traditional resource sectors like forestry and mining when it comes to economic benefits
In January 2015, when Postmedia closed its Kennedy Heights printing plant in Surrey, which produced the Vancouver Sun and The Province, the cost-cutting measure was a blatant sign of the troubles facing the newspaper industry. Enter Skydance Media, the producer of Star Trek and Mission: Impossible, which moved into the 220,000-square-foot facility and opened Skydance Studios this past September.
Film studios have been taking over industrial spaces since the late 1970s, when crews filmed in unused parts of the closed-up Dominion Bridge steel plant in Burnaby. By 1979, when Hollywood began to decentralize production and the exchange rate favoured Canadian locations, B.C. hit a “breakthrough,” according to Hollywood North author Mike Gasher. That year, the province was the backdrop for 16 films that created $50 million in direct spending. Just a few years later, B.C. was dubbed Hollywood North when productions starring some of Tinseltown’s biggest names, such as Sylvester Stallone and Mariel Hemingway, set up camp.
Today B.C.'s creative sector, which includes film, television, interactive media, music, magazine and book publishing, generates $4 billion in annual GDP and supports 85,000 jobs. CreativeBC has declared that the industry is now shoulder-to-shoulder with other industrial sectors such as mining, agriculture and forestry.
The new Surrey studio is expected to generate 400 jobs and inject $100 million into the local economy. As for Skydance Media, the facility will play a key role in the company’s plans for new film and television production, CEO David Ellison said in a statement: “We are incredibly excited about putting down new roots in Surrey and becoming a part of the community’s future growth.”
This story has been corrected to acknowledge that B.C.'s entire creative sector, not the film industry alone, generates $4 billion in annual GDP and supports 85,000 jobs.
The creation of Bridge Studios in the former Dominion Bridge plant was the result of lobbying efforts by film unions, guilds and suppliers. Under pressure, the B.C. government agreed to renovate the site to create a permanent studio facility. Larco Investments bought the property from the province in 2007 for $40 million.
Facilities: 11 stages from 9,000 to 40,000 square feet
Credits: Star Trek 3, 50 Shades of Grey and Tomorrowland
Formerly Lions Gate Studios, North Shore Studios rebranded after Bosa Development Corp. bought it in 2006. Industry veterans credit the original founder, the late U.S. writer and producer Stephen J. Cannell, for transforming B.C. into a popular production centre. “He was the first to prove that a quality product could be made here,” says Vancouver producer Joseph Finn. “When he opened North Shore Studios in 1989, it triggered a domino effect: his productions such as 21 Jump Street and Wiseguy were major prime time successes.” (BCBusiness)
Facilities: Eight stages from 11,000 to 21,000 square feet
Credits: Deadpool, iZombie and The X-Files
Northstar International Studios was bought and rebranded as Vancouver Film Studios by the McLean Group of Companies. In June 2016, VFS launched its own production company, 50° North Productions, with Los Angeles-based EveryWhere Studios.
Facilities: 12 stages from 12,000 to 21,000 square feet
Credits: Bates Motel, Arrow and Night at the Museum
Branded as studios “built for producers by producers,” the Canadian Motion Picture Park was born out of necessity, when owner and former producer Alec Fatalevich ran into difficult times financially as a producer. The studio’s big break came with the production of I, Robot, Fatalevich says. “That movie gave us an incredible push with credibility… after that, we figured we did something right, said, ‘Let’s look at the bigger picture,’ and I moved from being a producer to a developer.” (Burnaby Now)
Facilities: 11 stages from 5,500 to 36,000 square feet
Credits: Godzilla, Mission: Impossible–Ghost Protocol and I, Robot
Mammoth Studios, also owned by Bosa Development, is home to one of the largest stages in the Lower Mainland, at 123,000 square feet. It’s able to house an entire street scene and a replica of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
Facilities: Three stages from 37,000 to 123,000 square feet
Credits: X-Men, The Revenant and Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
Welcome Home and Family for Christmas
Formerly concentrated near Vancouver, film production facilities now extend as far as the Ridge Studios in Maple Ridge. Owner and manager John Wittmayer says the three studios are popular among lower-budget television shows and movies broadcast on the Hallmark Channel, UPtv and the Lifetime channel. Productions in Maple Ridge receive an additional six per cent regional tax incentive for Canadian and foreign productions on top of the province’s 28 per cent tax credit.
Facilities: Two studios from 21,000 to 25,000 square feet
Credits: Radio Hype, Welcome Home and Family for Christmas
Crews looking to film in Metro Vancouver studios will have one more option to consider with the recent opening of Surrey’s Skydance Studios, owned by parent company Skydance Media. The studio is expected to create 400 jobs and contribute $100 million to the nearby economy.
Facilities: Five stages from 2,600 to 22,000 square feet
Credits: Altered Carbon
Dollars and Scenes: B.C.'s Film Business by the Numbers