Film and TV productions generated $3.4 billion for BC's economy in 2020

Oct 6 2021, 7:35 pm

The spending by the film and television production industry in British Columbia’s economy in 2020 remained impressive, despite the challenging economic and restrictive workplace conditions as a result of the pandemic.

A total of $3.4 billion was directly spent in BC by the local film, television, post-production, and animation industries, based on Vancouver Economic Commission’s (VEC) newly released annual report on Hollywood North’s economic spinoffs.

Productions came to a halt in Spring 2020, but by Fall 2020 — due to pent-up demand and BC’s relatively low coronavirus case count at the time compared to other jurisdictions in North America — they had fully ramped up to levels that were busier than before the pandemic.

The total spinoffs for 2020 amounts to a 16.6% year-over-year decrease from the all-time record of $4.1 billion in 2019, but VEC said this level exceeded the industry’s most optimistic expectations. This was also only lower than 2017’s total, within a decade-long trajectory of upward growth.

vancouver bc film television production industry hollywood north

Historical spending by the film and television production industry in British Columbia. (Vancouver Economic Commission)

The industry also paid more than $1.9 billion in local wages in 2020, and was one of the few sectors of the BC economy that was in full swing over the latter half of the year. It provided employment for a total of 65,000 people across the province.

“There’s no doubt that the industry has been a lifeline to many British Columbians during the pandemic, but we can’t forget that BC talent, creatives and workers have in turn been a lifeline for the industry as a whole, particularly with so many disruptions in other global film hubs,” said Geoff Teoli, Vancouver’s acting film commissioner under VEC, in a statement.

For live-action scripted TV series in 2020, BC saw a total of 48 in 2020, representing a year-over-year increase of 30%. However, Ontario’s increasingly highly competitive industry is catching up, with a total of 25 scripted series in 2020, representing a 67% increase year-over-year.

According to VEC, the animation sub-sector of the industry remained largely afloat throughout the worst of the pandemic’s shutdown last year, with visual effects and animation companies transitioning thousands of their workers to a temporary work-from-home model almost immediately.

BC’s industry has also been one of the main global benefactors of the increased spending on productions by streaming giants Netflix, Disney+, Apple TV+, and Amazon Prime. Their analysis cites Film LA research in 2020, which found that BC accounted for two-thirds of all new streaming projects in Canada.

During the pandemic, these streaming giants also further established their physical presence in Metro Vancouver.

In August 2021, Walt Disney Animation Studios announced it will open a major production hub in Vancouver in early 2022, with its work focusing on long-form series work and special projects for Disney+, starting with a feature-quality musical series, Moana. This would be Disney’s only animation studio in the world outside of Burbank.

During the same month, global visual effects and animation giant Double Negative announced it will be adding 150 new positions in the animation division of its Vancouver office.


The crew of To All The Boys inside of Kerrisdale’s Point Grey Secondary School. (Netflix)

Both Vancouver and Toronto were seriously contemplated by Netflix for its coveted Canadian headquarters office, with the streamer ultimately deciding in April 2021 it had chosen Toronto.

But Netflix will continue to have a major and growing presence in BC. Just months earlier in September 2020, Netflix announced it had signed a long-term lease for about 178,000 sq ft of production facilities at Canadian Motion Picture Park in South Burnaby, including seven sound stages. This matches investments in production spaces made by Netflix in Toronto in 2019.

“The outlook is encouraging — demand for crews, talent and filming has not slowed down in the region,” continued Teoli. “We must ensure that support at all levels for this crucial industry remains steady as the economy reopens and we ramp up activity.”

Over the short- and long-term, Metro Vancouver is in need of major new additional production facilities in order to remain competitive with the industries in Ontario, Georgia, and California. Studio production capacity in Toronto continues to grow, allowing Ontario’s industry to take up more of the Hollywood market share.

The shortage of major production spaces in Metro Vancouver has been an ongoing challenge, with studios resorting to converting traditional warehouses and other industrial buildings for use.

But even conversions are becoming increasingly challenging, with the region’s industrial shortage space issues. According to CBRE’s third quarter 2021 report, Metro Vancouver has effectively run out of industrial space, with overall availability dipping to a record low of 0.9%, which is also pushing up rents. Much of this shortage is focused on larger spaces that would be suitable for studios, competing with other high-demand uses for logistics and warehousing.

Always Be My Maybe

Netflix’s Always Be My Maybe filming at the Vancouver Art Gallery. (Netflix)

Although there is currently 6.3 million sq ft of industrial space under construction, nearly three quarters is already pre-leased, with over half of the remaining space in some stage of negotiation.

A number of converted and new purpose-built studio facilities are planned in Metro Vancouver, but they are still likely years away.

Bridge Studios is planning a new additional production hub for the 19-acre site at 3131 Lake City Way, next to SkyTrain’s Lake City Way Station, currently occupied by a large warehouse building.

A smaller facility is also planned by Bridge Studios for 7705 Griffiths Drive — a five-acre property located just north of SkyTrain’s Edmonds operations and maintenance centre. The existing Maple Leaf Self Storage structures on the site will be demolished for a new purpose-built facility.

Early in 2021, the City of Burnaby initiated a procurement process for the long-term lease and sale of a 17-acre, city-owned vacant light industrial parcel in the Big Bend industrial district. The municipal government is specifically seeking proposals that propel job generation, namely offices, and film and television production studios. This process for the land was triggered by Keltic Canada Development’s interest in developing the site into a “world-class studio.”

In September 2019, Martini Film Studios (MFS) announced its expansion plans to build Canada’s largest film production studio on 25 acres of 216 Business Park near the 216th Street interchange on Highway 1 in Langley. It will have 600,000 sq. ft. of sound stages, offices, and production support buildings, with at least half of this floor area used as sound stages.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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