VANCOUVER — Film and TV flight from Hollywood to Canada has become so acute that the Canadian labor force can’t keep up with it.
As a result, Hollywood technicians are now flocking to Canada — at the rate of about 100 per month — to find temporary work in the booming film, television and commercial industry here, according to IATSE Local 891 in Vancouver.
The local also estimates about 250 American technicians are currently working legally in British Columbia. A significant number is also sneaking across the border to find work, primarily on commercials.
Canadian film officials claim Vancouver is able to provide qualified crew for about 35 productions, but more than 40 union and nonunion productions are now under way, including nine feature films, 11 TV movies and 14 television series.
Toronto, Montreal and Calgary are also working at capacity and are also becoming destination points for job-seekers from the depressed U.S. production industry.
Out of this world
About 100 American technicians are working on “Mission to Mars,” a sci-fi feature that is being produced in Vancouver, IATSE Local 891 business gent Elmar Theissen told Daily Variety.
His local was involved in the consultation process leading to the approval of 45 permits to American technicians last month. These are formally issued by the federal government in one week or less.
But the formal process is often ignored completely if a producer urgently needs a key technician from the United States for a few days.
“It’s well known in Hollywood that we share the world’s longest undefended border,” one filmmaker said. “It’s easy to take a working vacation trip to Canada.”
The labor arrangements for the production industry agreed upon between Canada and the United States are complicated and pliable. For example, producers can normally import up to six technical staff, but, if there are not enough experienced Canadians, a higher number can be readily negotiated.
There is no doubt the talent pool for Canadian crews is shallow. Theissen said membership in his Vancouver local has jumped from 2,200 members at the beginning of 1998 to 3,100 today. And other craft unions across Canada have grown.
While Canadian production staff workers have developed an international reputation for their skill and professionalism, even Canadian filmmakers said such explosive growth is resulting in some being moved into key positions before they are ready.
“It’s important to note that we require 60 days of work to become a member of the union,” Theissen said. “In Los Angeles, the requirement is only 30 days.”
Canadian unions are busy developing training courses, and some, such as IATSE Local 891, are offering Saturday classes for workers in the industry.
The high demand for crew has resulted in fattened paychecks for experienced Canadian technicians. On the other side of the coin, the payouts are less for American and Canadian film producers, because in many cases they’re paying salary, expense and per diems in Canadian dollars, currently about 67¢ to $1 American.
“It’s capitalism,” said Theissen.