MONTREAL — For the first time this year, folks toiling in the Canuck biz have something to be mildly positive about. The Canadian dollar — known as the loonie — has been in freefall for the past few weeks and that’s great news for the film scene in Canada.
Last week, the Canadian dollar was trading at just under 80 U.S. cents, the first time that’s happened since 2005. Just a few weeks earlier, the two currencies were close to parity.
American shoots in the country have almost disappeared this year in part because Hollywood producers were no longer making any savings on the exchange rate. Until a few years ago, the Canadian dollar was trading well below the U.S. buck, often in the 65-cent range and that translated into boffo business for the location biz in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.
“Hollywood North was created by the 65-cent dollar,” is how Quebec film commissioner Hans Fraikin puts it.
Fraikin and everyone else in the service industry here are pleased to see the Canuck buck in the doldrums.
All report the phone has been ringing a lot more than usual in the past few weeks, as American producers explore the possibility of setting up shoots in Canada for early 2009.
“It’s definitely generated a lot more interest,” says Ken Ferguson, prexy of Filmport Studios, a major facility that opened on the Toronto waterfront in August.
The timing of the Filmport opening couldn’t have been any worse. Due to the stronger Canadian dollar (at the time), the labor strife in Hollywood and the new lucrative credits in so many U.S. states, there have been fewer Americans shooting in Canada this year and Filmport has yet to host a major Hollywood production.
Ferguson hopes the dollar’s slide will help turn his studio — and the industry’s fortunes — around.
“It’s a really big deal,” he says. “If the dollar falls 15%, it’s 15% off of every single thing that you pay for.”
The problem is that no one — economists or studio bosses — has any idea why the Canadian dollar dropped so quickly and even less of an idea as to whether it is likely to stay at the 80-cent level. Most in the industry believe American filmmakers will come as long as the Canuck dollar stays below 88 U.S cents.
Vancouver producer Shawn Williamson from Brightlight Pictures saw his company’s service work dry up this year — thanks to the double-whammy of the more robust Canadian dollar and the financial crunch facing the indie production sector around the world. Like everyone in the biz, Williamson is happy to see the Canadian buck trading at around 80 cents but he will only go as far as to say he is “cautiously optimistic.”
“It provides us an opportunity to compete better internationally than we could three weeks ago,” he says. “But the advantages could fade if the dollar recorrects itself higher and if the dollar goes to 70 cents, we could have a mass influx of American films. As filmmakers, we have no control over the dollar. But we’re happy to go along for the ride.”