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Burnaby a hidden hero in Vancouver film industry, study finds

The BC Liberals are promising to work with industry partners to attract more business from the U.S. and Asia, while the NDP is proposing to extend production-sector tax credits to the work of B.C. writers.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Although Hollywood refers to Vancouver as its go-to Canadian production centre on the West Coast, a new study says Burnaby is the site of a booming trade in the industrial real estate where films and TV series are actually being produced.

The B.C. Film Industry and Industrial Real Estate study, prepared by the Colliers International Group and released Tuesday, found that 48 per cent of the 2.1 million square feet of Metro Vancouver studio space – a mix of purpose-built studios and former industrial spaces – is actually in Burnaby, to the east of Vancouver. Just 19 per cent is in the city of Vancouver.

The new study from the global real-estate services company offers a rare overview of how industrial real estate is being used for productions, largely funded by Hollywood, in an industry that employs more than 20,000 British Columbians.

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And it comes in the midst of a provincial election campaign in which both the Liberals and the NDP have offered policies to sustain and expand the production boom.

In their election platform, the Liberals are tallying the prosperity that occurred on their watch and promising, without providing specifics, to work with industry partners to attract more business from the United States and Asia.

The NDP is proposing to extend production-sector tax credits to the work of B.C. writers. Currently the tax credits apply to more traditional production workers, with producers getting back 28 per cent of such costs.

The writers on Hollywood films and series, which are the backbone of most made-in-B.C. productions, tend to be American. Spencer Chandra Herbert, the NDP spokesman for film and TV, said in an interview Monday that his party wants to encourage producers to hire more local talent. He said the provincial industry as a whole will benefit as the range of services it can provide broadens.

He also said the NDP is hoping to ensure that producers in B.C. get an unspecified "fair share" of investments from Telefilm and other federal programs to fund made-in-B.C. productions.

The sector has had its ups and downs in B.C. but is now in a boom linked to a low Canadian dollar that allows Hollywood to stretch its budgets.

It's also in the same time zone as decision makers in Los Angeles, who appreciate the industrial spaces.

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Also, there's the "Netflix effect," as streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu commission billions of dollars in productions.

All of this has led to the production of such feature films as Star Trek Beyond, Deadpool and its pending sequel, as well as such TV series as Riverdale, The 100 and Once Upon a Time.

The Colliers study is based on figures from the Creative BC provincial agency that nurtures the production sector. It says producers' use of industrial space is a tiny slice of the total 45 million square feet of industrial space in the region, but Roy Pat of Colliers says it's a dynamic sector in which landlords are coming around to embracing production.

"It's a non-traditional industrial use that is taking up a portion of our industrial inventory, but it contributes significantly to the job base of Metro Vancouver," said Mr. Pat, an associate in Colliers' industrial division, adding that buildings used for production tend to have far more staff on site than buildings used for most industrial uses.

He said landlords were once wary about the film-related use of their industrial space because production companies were only looking at short-term use. By doing business with production companies, the landlords feared they would miss out on longer-term leases.

But that view is changing as more local companies lease industrial space to varied production companies, Mr. Pat said.

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Producers are looking for minimum 24-foot clear ceiling heights – "the higher the better" – with ample parking and either soundproof construction or the ability to soundproof. Also, there is a demand for spaces that can be easily reached from Vancouver, "avoiding bridges and tunnels," said Mr. Pat because contracts set terms on moving actors to set briskly. "It can't be too far afield from where they are staying.

"When [producers] know what they want, they move very quickly. A traditional industrial business does not really do that."

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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