Shooting in Canada takes upswing despite equal dollars

Montreal– Some of the stereotypes about Canada and Canadians may be helping the country attract more Hollywood filmmakers. The cliched common wisdom on Canadians is that they’re polite and predictable — and these appear to be qualities that appeal to American film producers.

There has been an upswing in Hollywood shooting in Canada over the past 18 months, with the Canadian Media Production Assn. reporting that American filming in Canada was up 4.4% in 2009-10 to $1.5 billion, compared with $1.4 billion a year earlier. And the big production centers — Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal — all report that U.S. film activity has continued its boom over the past few months.

The odd wrinkle is that this U.S. filming upsurge north of the border has come at the same time the Canadian dollar has been at or near parity with the U.S. buck, and with ferocious competition from many of the U.S. states who are offering very lucrative tax credits to entice producers to stay home.

Canada’s predictability, though, has proven to be an asset. The country pioneered film tax credits, long before individual states got into the tax-credit game, so American producers know exactly what they’re getting when they shoot in Canada.

“I think Canada is recognized for predictability, honesty and stability,” says British Columbia film commissioner Susan Croome. “It’s a low-risk, high-value proposition in all of Canada.”

British Columbia has been the primary beneficiary of this Hollywood upswing. American filming in the West Coast province surged from $245 million in 2008-09 to $485 million in 2009-10, though it is still well below the high of $662 million in 2007-08.

The province has traditionally hosted the most U.S. filming of any location in Canada, and it’s gaining more ground on the other provinces. British Columbia accounted for 72% of all American filming in Canada for 2009-10, up from 62% a year earlier.

The West Coast province has certain natural advantages over Ontario and Quebec, says Shawn Williamson from Vancouver-based production company Brighlight Pictures.

“It’s easier to shoot year-round, we’re two hours (by plane) from L.A. and in the same time-zone,” Williamson notes.

In recent months, B.C. has hosted “Mission: Impossible 4,” “Alvin and the Chipmunk 3: Chipwrecked” and “Apollo 18.”

Toronto is a much less popular site for Hollywood production but it makes up for that by landing far more Canadian film and TV shoots than Vancouver. There were a few Hollywood movies lensed in Toronto last year, including “Red,” “Dream House” and “The Thing.”

Pinewood Toronto Studios managing director Edith Myers says the rising Canadian dollar has not dampened U.S. enthusiasm for shooting in Canada, in large part because the main three provinces have increased their tax credits in the past couple of years.

There was a big increase in U.S. production in Quebec last year, with Hollywood filming reaching $215 million, up from just $81 million the previous year. Films shot in la belle province in 2010 included “Source Code,” “Upside Down” and “Immortals.”

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