You’ve no doubt heard Vancouver called Hollywood North – it’s an affectionate nickname, with some real truth to it.
2015 was a record-breaking year for the city, with 353 productions filmed -up from 235 productions the year before, according to the municipal government.
That bumper year accounted for more than $2-billion being spent in the province, provided $143-million in paid wages to Vancouver residents, and generated $710,000 in municipal revenue.
To learn more about what makes Vancouver a leader in the film industry we caught up with Prem Gill, CEO of Creative BC.
“We have a long reputation here in Vancouver of 30 plus years of growing a vibrant, dynamic, television, film, and motion picture industry,” says Gill.
Part of that reputation, she says, is a skilled workforce 20,000 strong and a hefty slice of supporting infrastructure: nearly two million square feet of studio space, along with cutting edge shops geared to Hollywood’s 21st century needs.
“We have visual effects and post production facilities that are world class. So I think all of that combined with provincial tax incentives has created a really great environment and location for especially the Los Angeles industry to really see this as a key destination and part of the ecosystem of the production world,” she says.
Gill says that success has positioned the city in a leadership role within Canada when it comes to the American film industry.
“We are probably the third largest destination in terms of jurisdictions after New York and Los Angeles,” she says. “We kind of rival with Toronto in terms of another production centre in North America.”
That’s not just the purpose built studios and deep talent pool, she says, but also comes from keeping a sharp eye on Hollywood’s changing needs.
“We have an industry that is constantly growing and developing with creating new training and developing new talent, attracting new businesses here to operate out of Vancouver,” she says.
“The municipalities are all very supportive of trying to be very proactive in supporting the industry when it comes to using city streets in productions. It’s a big part of our offer: the ease of doing business here.”
But getting to that position wasn’t easy. It took years of work.
Gill says the success came from the industry, the unions, and the provincial government taking a collaborative approach.
“That comes to looking at the types of tax incentives that are created, how we’re training people, to actually investing in infrastructure so we actually have individuals who have invested in building that infrastructure here,” she says.
Gill says it’s meant working to build strong relationships with the industry in L.A.
“So this week, for example, the Motion Picture Industry Association and Creative BC are in Los Angeles together, there are 20 people down there, who are meeting with all the studios and producers and basically our customers in B.C., and just saying ‘Hey, thanks for your business! Here is what’s happening up there. Here is where further opportunities are,'” she says.
It’s a full-time marketing job, according to Gill, one that’s ensured B.C. and its products are well known, and that’s resulted in confidence south of the border that clients coming to north will get world class results.
She says that approach is now being expanded to cover Asia, China, and India too – with early success and the hope to build a similar relationship to that with L.A.
But Gill is just one voice in the choir that sings the city’s praises when it comes to film production. Another is indie film darling Kevin Smith, who rose to prominence in 1994 with the comedy film Clerks.
Before all of his success, Smith was a student at the Vancouver Film School, and says the city will always hold a special place in his heart.
“For the world of film and TV it gives you endless different looks,” he says.
“You have an incredible cast and crew base right there in the city, a bunch of performers and entertainers, people who know how to do this professionally. I think there are more shows shooting in Vancouver than any other single city in the rest of the world.”
Smith says spending his formative years in the industry has left an indelible mark on him as a filmmaker, and that feeling is something that always draws him back.
“I came out there in 1992 to learn how to make films. Ironically, 24 years later at this point, I have returned to Vancouver twice in the span of a month to do an episode of Flash and then to do an episode of Supergirl. So I know the area insanely well, but it will always represent to me the moment where I was like, ‘you know, maybe I would like to try this stuff’ and the only way I’m going to be able to do that is to get an education,” Smith says.
What’s more, Smith represents the kind of success story Vancouver is becoming known for – a breeding ground for talent capable of leaving a mark on Hollywood.
“So whenever I think of Vancouver, man, like you know, I love the Pacific Northwest, it’s beautiful and stuff. Trees and whales, it’s great. But I think of it as that’s where I was kind of reborn. That was the pathway to everything that I would do for the rest of my life started in Vancouver.”