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Hollywood executive makes commitment to Surrey

David Ellison, CEO of Skydance Media, says he ‘absolutely’ hopes to bring other projects into a newly opened Surrey studio.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

The high-profile Hollywood executive behind the coming Netflix science-fiction series Altered Carbon says a newly opened studio in Surrey will also be used for other projects beyond the expensive production, suggesting a larger, more durable commitment to the boom employing thousands of B.C. workers.

However, David Ellison, CEO of Skydance Media, says it is too early to say whether the next instalment in the Star Trek feature film franchise, for which he is executive producer, will return to British Columbia, where the most recent one, Star Trek Beyond, was shot in 2015.

Mr. Ellison's comments on Tuesday, as he helped cut the ribbon at the official opening of the studio in the former Pacific Newspaper Group printing-press building, were rare remarks from one of the decision makers in Hollywood who are key to production in the province, where TV series such as The Flash and Supergirl and feature films including Fifty Shades of Grey and Deadpool have been produced.

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The new complex in Surrey, recycled from its 19-year-old role in the newspaper industry, now includes five sound stages, one of which will feature a San Francisco street five centuries in the future. One of the stages allows the creation of interior rain storms.

Based on a 2002 cyberpunk novel by Richard Morgan, Altered Carbon is set 500 years in the future and stars Joel Kinnaman, featured in this summer's feature film Suicide Squad and the former filmed-in-Vancouver TV series The Killing, as an elite warrior trying to solve a murder.

"We hope that Altered Carbon will be in this space for a very, very long time," said Mr. Ellison, whose company also produces the Mission: Impossible and Jack Reacher films, both starring Tom Cruise.

During a news conference, he added that he "absolutely" hopes to bring other projects into the Surrey studio – a key priority for the municipal government in the city southeast of Vancouver, which has long been interested in such a key piece of infrastructure for the production sector.

"In regards to Star Trek, the script is in the development process at this point in time so the production conversations that would normally dictate around where you shoot the movie are premature to have, given the stage that we're in," he said.

Over 78 days of filming that began in June, 2015, the Star Trek Beyond production spent more than $69-million in B.C., including about $40-million on local cast, crew and extras, according to the Motion Picture Association – Canada, representing international producers and distributors. An association assessment released in July suggested the production created about 3,900 jobs in B.C. as it was shot in Vancouver and in Squamish.

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Mr. Ellison said he is bullish on shooting in B.C., referencing Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, which was shot in the province.

"The cast and crew and overall talent in all of British Columbia is second to nowhere in the world, so we absolutely have loved everything we have gotten to shoot here and look forward to a very long history," he told reporters.

He said Altered Carbon was approved while his team was working on Star Trek Beyond about 18 months ago, so they began looking for a production space in the province and came upon the former Pacific Press complex, which offers more than 75,000 feet of space.

One of his executives, Mr. Ellison said, made the case for the Surrey site and Mr. Ellison came up from the United States to check it out. "We walked out and said, 'Let's do it.'"

The City of Surrey said on Tuesday that the Altered Carbon production will employ at least 400 people – a figure Mr. Ellison agreed with. He said production will be under way for at least six months, and an air date will be announced soon.

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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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