Movies go where the money is.
For a long time, producers have answered Vancouver’s appealing siren call — in the form of tax incentives. In recent years, however, it has been out-incentivized by states including Louisiana, Georgia and Ontario province. If Vancouver wants to keep its film biz afloat, it needs to prove to producers that it has something to offer beyond the tax incentives of its competitors.
According to Peter Leitch of the Motion Picture Production Industry Assn. of British Columbia, the province’s tax credits are still “attractive and bankable and there’s a really fast turn-around” and they are only part of what Vancouver has to offer.
Still, he concedes, producers are “going to shop four or five jurisdictions and as long as they’ve got the creative elements to make the movie, their decisions are quite often going to be based on cost. It’s quite bottom-line driven.”
B.C. film commissioner Susan Croome says, “Every place has got its own offerings to the marketplace.” B.C. offers a diverse range of geographic looks and climatic offerings from oceans to deserts, to temperate rainforests — even locations that can stand in for Antarctica, she says. She adds that Vancouver has an established infrastructure, large studio spaces and excellent film crews, all within a 2 1/2-hour flight from L.A.
“Of course the money is important but we also need to meet the creative needs of productions,” Croome says. “We’re competing on a global level but what we’re offering is different.”
L.A. producers seem to agree. “Tax incentives aren’t the be all and end all, they are a huge factor but a specific film always drives the decision,” says Callum Greene, who had considered shooting both Guillermo Del Toro’s “At the Mountains of Madness” and “Pacific Rim” in Vancouver. It didn’t work out, but not because of incentives elsewhere.
“Pacific Rim,” for example, had trouble finding available stages. The pic ended up at Pinewood Studios in Toronto where it took over the entire facility, plus two more stages outside Pinewood.
Not that tax incentives don’t matter. “First and foremost the drive is to capitalize on every dollar that you spend,” Greene says. “So anywhere with a tax incentive is going to come out on top.”
Greene says he always looks at tax-incentivized places first and considers Vancouver a strong candidate.
Vancouver’s proximity to L.A. is also attractive to producers because they feel they have more control and can minimize the costs of bringing people unto a location.
“Add to that strong crews and then it just depends on the project. But yes, absolutely, it would be one of the first places I’d look at on any project that we do,” Greene says.
Ultimately, though, the movie is the deciding factor.
Producer Charlotte Huggins, whose “Metallica 3D” pic is shooting entirely in Vancouver (she even opted to do visual effects locally) looked at every venue that could accommodate the elaborate concert stage the pic required. She narrowed it down to about 30 cities and looked at the quality of film crews, support and tax incentive, rating them on a scale 1-10. Vancouver came out on top.
“But we didn’t just look at tax incentives, that was the trick,” she says. “Incentives are important to us but they are ultimately as good as the crew and team and creative. We feel like we have an A-team and that there is an incentive that comes with, that is icing on the cake.”
Producers also perceive Vancouver’s production community as having more experience with tentpole productions.
Gary Foster had recently considered shooting “Emperor” there and had done some scouting, but by the time they were ready to go to camera, the rainy weather would have made it impossible: “Each project has its issues and that one needed sunshine.”
Still, according to Foster, who had previously shot pics like “Elektra,” and “The Amazing Panda” in Vancouver, the city is always in discussions, particularly given the crews’ experience with big vfx and action-driven movies. “It may be a little bit more expensive, but you’re going to save money in the end because you have people who know how to do the job and how to do it efficiently and effectively.”
And, he adds, for the few hours he has off, it’s a great place to live.