“Alberta has arrived,” Luke Azevedo, commissioner for Film, Television and Creative Industries of Calgary Economic Development, tells Variety.
With productions scouting for new locations to help maximize their budgets and fit their creative vision, the removal of the $10 million-per-project cap on March 26 is a game-changer for the region, making Alberta nationally and globally competitive in the film and TV marketplace. The Film and Television Tax Credit (FTTC) currently sits at 22%, offering a refundable Alberta tax credit certificate on eligible goods, services and labor costs to corporations that produce films, television series and other eligible screen-based productions in the province.
“The government saw an opportunity to really grow a sector that was that was on the cusp of exponential growth,” Azevedo says.
The impact has been immediate. “The removal of the cap means that we can now go and have meaningful conversations with the studios and the streamers about the larger projects and how we can be competitive and bringing them into our marketplace,” he says.
In 2019, Alberta did $255 million worth of production. This year, the province is well over the $400 million mark — and expects to likely reach half a billion dollars by year’s end.
“We anticipate with the growth that we’re seeing that we can be a billion-dollar industry legitimately in the next five years,” Azevedo says.
With that financial support in place, the focus has turned to establishing an infrastructure that can accommodate this growth. Stage space, of course, is a critical part of that equation. There’s now a capacity of more than 500,000 square-feet (5,381,955 square-feet) that’s been absorbed and transitioned into long-term use by national and international owner-operators within the film and TV space. That includes William F. White Intl., which has taken over as an anchor tenant at the Calgary Film Center.
Azevedo sees tremendous growth potential: “Five months ago, we had the Film Center, and that was it. Now the growth has been quite substantial and there’s already commitments to look at adding more purpose-built spaces.”
Studios have flocked to the area, with projects including “Fraggle Rock” from the Jim Henson Co., Apple, CBS’ “Guilty Party,” as well as projects from Paramount TV, MGM, HBO and others.
As the sector grows, unions, guilds and associations have ramped up education programs significantly over the past year to help ensure that there’s access to well-trained crews. Mount Royal University is adjusting its curriculum to meet industry needs, and one post-secondary institution even created a film accounting program. The recently opened Bow Valley College Centre for Entertainment Arts will provide training for those heading for careers in gaming and interactive digital media, as well as television design.
As the local industry booms, skilled crew that had left the area for other regions with more consistent and larger production work opportunities, such as Ontario and British Columbia, returned. Alberta has seen a 15%-20% increase in crew base since 2018, based on the greenlit projects for the area. It’s are also beginning to attract people from outside Alberta who might come in to work on projects, and fall in love enough with the lifestyle and environment to stay.
“We want them to stay, and then become part of our Alberta ecosystem,” Azevedo says.
Speaking of an ecosystem, what Alberta offers productions is a wide variety of unique looks without having to venture far. There are mountains, badlands, prairies, foothills and two municipalities — all within a short period of travel.
Above all, insists Azevedo, in Alberta productions have a truly film-friendly environment.
“That means that if you’re asking the film commission to close down roads and to have access to buildings, the city [Calgary] has to be heavily involved and supportive. And we have a city here that is engaged right now with us in the revamping of our film-friendly policy. And it is amazing, that level of support. And that in itself is one of the attributes that’s necessary to grow the sector. Our relationship as a civic partner, and our capacity to really make it feasible for folks to produce at the level of these large budgets. And the city has made it very feasible for us to do.”