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British Columbia and Vancouver Live Up to the Name ‘Hollywood North’

There's a lot of production action just two-and-a-half hours north of Los Angeles

Walk or drive around Vancouver these days and you’ll see parked production trucks, trailers, and craft-services stations everywhere. That’s not new — the city has long been a film and TV production haven favored by execs and talent for its relative proximity to L.A., well-trained crews, solid infrastructure, plus urban and natural locations — but the trend seems to be accelerating.

Money talks, of course, and the generous, stable, and predictable tax incentives, in addition to the low value of the Canadian dollar, have gone a long way in luring Hollywood to British Columbia’s largest city — often dubbed Hollywood North.

“It’s a great value proposition,” says Robert Wong, acting film commissioner of British Columbia and VP of Creative BC. “They know they can come here for great value, great exchange rate, and get triple-A production value.”

Tax credits are a good business and economic tool for drawing in productions, says Vancouver’s film commissioner David Shepheard. “[They] attract many more investments into the localities where they’re offered — there’s much more economic impact coming into the jurisdiction than is actually paid out in tax [incentives].”

But, he says, no matter the tax incentives or exchange rates, ultimately it comes down to the quality of the services. “Film projects only go to the locations where they are confident about the talent they can pick up and get their productions made … it’s a complete balance of all the factors.”

Even the recent production services tax credit decrease, from 33% to 28%, “didn’t stop the demand coming from global productions,” Shepheard says.

Vancouver has been a popular destination for CW’s slate of superhero shows such as “Supergirl” and “The Flash,” and will see the return of series including Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle” and Netflix’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” in addition to its new show, “Altered Carbon.”

On the feature side, “Deadpool” is returning to Vancouver for its next installment, and the sequel of 1987’s “Predator” is in production, as is action pic “Hard Powder,” starring Liam Neeson. Then there are the slew of TV movies and pilots. In fact, when it comes to pilots, Vancouver is one of the busiest of all regions — even overtaking Los Angeles.

“All indications are that it will be another record year,” Shepheard says.

Some of the most popular locations include the Gastown neighborhood (“Arrow,” “I, Robot”), the UBC Endowment Lands, the former mental hospital at Riverview (“High Castle,” “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency”), the Vancouver Art Gallery (“The Killing,” “Night at the Museum”) and the Yaletown area.

With some locations being in high demand, productions are getting increasingly creative in figuring out how to dress them up to create different looks. The old post office in Downtown, for example, is being used by two different productions simultaneously.

“It’s a very healthy industry,” says Wong, “We’re seeing growth in all [areas].” Crews are consistently working, stage space is occupied, fresh investment is pouring into new soundstage facilities. Plus there is the expansion of visual effects, animation and post companies.

“It’s really a supply-and-demand equation,” says Wong. “The demand has been great for the last few years so there’s definitely a need for more crews and more stages.”

It’s been working so well, in fact, that the rest of British Columbia is seeing a trickle-down effect as Vancouver approaches capacity. “B.C. is so popular for production right now that all parts of the province are being utilized,” says Wong. Vancouver Island has seen a spike in production (“War of the Planet of the Apes,” “Superman: Man of Steel”), as have interior areas.

The island, a 1½-hour ferry ride or 30-minute flight from Vancouver, offers waterfalls, mountains, pristine lakes and rivers, sandy beaches and lush old-growth forests — and cheaper locations fees.

The inland Okanagan region, which recently got its own film studio, has also grown into an attractive destination for pics such as Casey Affleck’s “Light of My Life” and TV series “Lost in Space.” According to its film commissioner, Jon Summerland, it’s on a track to have a record-breaking year. It doesn’t hurt that the Okanagan has four distinct seasons, a variety of looks ranging from California to Washington state to New Mexico, and appropriate infrastructure. “The coolest new location is the area’s new high-tech prison in Oliver, B.C.,” says Summerland.

B.C.’s regions tend to offer incentives on top of the basic ones available in Vancouver to offset the costs of transportation, accommodation and per diems. “They have been particularly successful in attracting modestly budgeted indie productions,” says Vancouver Island North Film Commission’s Tanya Price.

“The tax credits have been a fantastic asset to the region and without them we would not have grown to where we are so quickly,” says Summerland.

(Pictured: “Deadpool” and “Deadpool 2” were filmed in Vancouver and surrounding areas.)

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