Three provinces — Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia — account for the lion’s share of Canadian film and television production. Their respective largest cities — Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver — and by now iconic landscapes are familiar terrain to millions of moviegoers and TV fans around the world.
But there’s more to Canada than these big three, and producers in the U.S. looking for something fresh are taking note. Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and even the Yukon are getting some of Hollywood love by offering unique and far less-exposed locations. And as producers flock to these locations, the jurisdictions continue to develop their infrastructure and hand out competitive tax incentives to reel in business.
As Canada’s fourth-largest filming jurisdiction, Calgary is no stranger to seeing crews in the area. Most recently the city and province attracted major projects such as “The Revenant,” all three seasons of “Fargo” and the upcoming series “Tin Star” from U.K.-based Kudos. Scenery such as the Rocky Mountains, prairies and badlands is most commonly associated with the region, but its geography and cityscapes are diverse enough to stand in for anything ranging from the untamed U.S. West to a trendy Beverly Hills restaurant.
There are 15 municipalities in the region — from Banff to Strathmore, Crossfield to Nanton — and thousands of square kilometers of varied landscape and multiple standing sets.
Calgary brings in about C$150 million ($112 million) annually in film, television and digital production. The industry in Alberta employs more than 3,000 people and offers a 25% to 30% production incentive.
“We take pride in being a film-friendly jurisdiction, working closely with representatives from the provincial and municipal governments, [and] the business community in delivering locations and services,” says Luke Azevedo, film and television commissioner at Calgary Economic Development.
Manitoba has well-established infrastructure and talent to draw from on both sides of the camera, and more than 40 active production companies led by service producers who have a wealth of international experience, having worked with such companies as Fox, MGM, Sony, Warner Bros. and NBCUniversal.
Additionally, Manitoba has the most competitive labor-based tax credit in Canada — up to 65% on eligible Manitoba labor (a base rate of 45%, plus eligible bonuses: a 10% frequent filming bonus, a 5% rural bonus and a 5% Manitoba producer bonus) or an all-spend tax credit of 30% on eligible local expenditures including labor.
The tax credit was introduced in 1997, when production activity accounted for about C$17 million, or about $12.8 million in U.S. currency at today’s conversion rate, annually. Within a year, it had climbed to $37.3 million in U.S. currency. With no annual cap in place, over the past 10 years Manitoba has attracted about $746 million in production activity in U.S. currency. It now averages well over $75 million U.S. per year, with more than half of the money remaining in the province.
“We are able to deliver great value for money to producers,” says Carole Vivier, CEO and film commissioner of Manitoba Film & Music. “The inward investment that comes from production delivers great value for money to the province, as well as opportunities for talent on both sides of the camera.”
Manitoba’s most popular locations include Winnipeg’s turn-of-the-century Exchange District and contemporary skyline, quaint rural towns such as Selkirk and Stonewall, Lake Winnipeg and assorted prairies, hills and tundra. The lake, while far north of the U.S.-Canada border, has stood in for warm beaches.
Recent and upcoming productions include “A Dog’s Purpose,” “Cult of Chucky,” “Nomis,” “Break My Heart 1000 Times” and several TV shows.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Located on Canada’s Atlantic Coast, Nova Scotia excels at capturing a small-town ambiance alongside miles of unspoiled coastline. Halifax, its capital, has played some far more sophisticated urban locations. Other places in he province have a historic appeal. Screen Nova Scotia, the film office, assists productions with finding the right spot to match their script.
Producers are able to receive incentive funding of 25% of eligible costs, up to a maximum of 32% of all spending in Nova Scotia, including labor, goods and services. On April 6, the Film and Television Production Incentive Fund got a boost of C$6.9 million, or about $5.16 million in U.S. currency, bringing the total budget up to C$16.9 million as a response to increasing demand in the region.
In the past year Nova Scotia has hosted the new Spike TV series “The Mist,” Netflix’s “Trailer Park Boys,” as well as Canadian series including “This Hour Has 22 Minutes” and CBC’s “Pure.” The office has also worked co-production with Spain’s “The Healer” and the South Africa/Canada miniseries “Book of Negroes.”
“The Yukon is fresh,” says Iris Merritt of the Yukon Film & Sound Commission. “It can offer small town cityscapes, harsh high-altitude environments, glaciers, deserts, expansive forests, tundra, jagged peaks, spectacular lakes, and one of the most iconic rivers of the late 19th and 20th centuries.” Recent shoots include “Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn 2” and Fox’s “The Big Year.”
Whitehorse, the capital of the far-north jurisdiction, has all the comforts you’d expect such as coffee shops, restaurants and live-music venues — yet also offers stunning wilderness within a 20-minute drive. And while you probably won’t strike actual gold in the Yukon, the region’s incentive program might offset some of that disappointment.
For non-local projects, the program provides a rebate for 25% of the below-the-line Yukon spend, returned to the production as cash within eight weeks.
(Pictured: Shooting Lifetime’s “Sea Change” in Nova Scotia)