British Columbia lures big productions

Region set for stellar '09 as Olympics approach

British Columbia, aka Hollywood North, had a great year in 2008. That’s when the scenic northwest Canadian province garnered more than $2.1 billion in production coin, up almost 30% over 2007.

This year appears to be equally active: As of mid-April, 10 features were lensing in the region. Summit Entertainment’s teen vampire follow-up “Twilight: New Moon” and Disney’s “Tron 2.0” top the list of high-profile projects. Two miniseries and seven episodic dramas are also in production.

“We’re the best value for a producer’s dollar in these tough economic times,” says B.C. film commish Susan Croome. “There’s no uncertainty associated with production here.”

The dollar-to-loonie exchange rate helps: Canada’s currency is now 80¢ to the greenback.

Since 1978, when the B.C. government first moved to attract production via incentives and a proactive film commission, the region has become “steady and certain” as a production hub, augmented by “predictable and bankable tax credits,” says Croome.

Now third in production days after L.A. and New York, B.C. gets 75% of its projects from the U.S. — and most of those are from Hollywood. The remaining 25% are typically Canadian or European-Canadian co-productions.

“For us, L.A. is the center of the universe,” Croome says. B.C.’s lack of a time-zone difference with L.A., the relatively short flight time to LAX, the town’s low-key vibe and showbiz savvy all help create a comfort zone for producers.

“They have great crews in abundance, ample vendors and stage space, helpful administration and a very efficient infrastructure,” says Andi Isaacs, Summit’s exec VP and head of physical production.

“New Moon” is now lensing in and around Vancouver. Isaacs says the combination of B.C. and national Canadian incentives, plus the favorable currency exchange rate, “enable us to … concentrate on putting the money on the screen.”

Vancouver’s varied locations — an urban core, misty rain forests, mountains — also influenced Summit’s decision to shoot the second installment of “The Twilight Saga” in B.C., as the pics are based on a series of tomes set in the Pacific Northwest.

Increasingly, producers are opting to stay in Vancouver for post-production as well. Post and vfx houses are expanding to meet those demands.

London’s Moving Picture Co. (MPC) recently set up shop in Technicolor’s Homer Street facility — an end result of its digital vfx work on “Watchmen” that included 250 shots for key sequences in Zack Snyder’s vfx-laden pic.

“It’s been great for client relationships and working practices,” says Christian Roberton, MPC’s managing director of film. Roberton aims to enlarge the facility from 55 to 100 artists’ seats by the end of the year.

The 2010 Winter Olympics (Feb. 12-28) is the only dark spot on B.C.’s filming horizon because the event will temporarily reduce hotel-room inventory available for producers.

To earn the mega-sporting event, Vancouver hoteliers agreed to cede 75% of their rooms to the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the duration of the games. Plus, downtown locations will be effectively off-limits due to street closures and volumes of spectators.

During the Olympics, Croome predicts, “B.C. will definitely be open for business but not business as usual.” Nevertheless, the event will bring other benefits, including an improved transit system that will whisk passengers in 25 minutes from the airport to downtown Vancouver and the trendy Yaletown district.

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