B.C. at your service

Clarification: The subhead to this story was truncated. It should have read: ‘B.C.’s service industry is picking up, though feature work still down 50% from last year’

After a slow start to the year, B.C.’s service industry is picking up speed with several big-budgeted pictures landing in the province.

Fox 2000 is currently shooting The Big Year starring Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black through to the end of July. Directed by David Frankel, the comedy follows a trio of bird watchers who try to one-up each other in a competition to see who can spot the rarest birds in North America.

Twentieth Century Fox’s Planet of the Apes prequel, Caesar: Rise of The Apes, is in prep for a July to September shoot helmed by director Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist).

The Girl with the Red Riding Hood, from Warner Bros., shoots July through September. The movie is a gothic retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood fable starring Amanda Seyfried as a teen involved in a love triangle in a medieval town that is haunted by a werewolf.

B.C. Film Commissioner Susan Croome says feature work is down by about half in comparison to this time last year.

‘We had a slow start for the first quarter of the year due to the Olympics,’ says Croome. ‘We are off our game on the feature side but looking forward I think we will see things pick up.’

Pete Mitchell, president and CEO of Vancouver Film Studios, says the winter games meant that big feature projects couldn’t set up in the province early in the year so they went elsewhere. He predicts this summer will be quieter in BC than last year as a result.

In 2009, service spending in the province was $1.1 billion, up from $841 million in 2008. The majority of the activity was in foreign feature film production, which was worth $641 million.

B.C.’s labor-based Production Services tax credit was increased in February from 25% to 33%; with the qualified labor expenditure cap rising from 48% to 60%. While the incentive is not as lucrative as the wide-ranging 25% credits in Ontario and Quebec, the studios continue to land their big budgeted projects in the province.

‘For productions that are spending north of $150 million, price is a consideration but just as important is the risk factor,’ explains Mitchell. ‘Vancouver is a low risk production centre because of the facilities and skilled crew so we get the big series and features. That has become our niche.’

However, the province is losing out on independent feature work, which is going to other jurisdictions with deeper incentives.

A high Canadian dollar is also having an impact on indie movies, which are very price sensitive and go wherever they get the best deal.

For example, B.C. hosted the filming of the first three movies in the Twilight franchise but the next two installments are expected to go to Louisiana, although some second unit location shooting is likely to take place in B.C.

‘We have talked to Summit Entertainment and they are picking up an additional $15 million in tax credits in Louisiana,’ says Crawford Hawkins, executive director of the Directors Guild of Canada B.C. District Council. ‘You can’t turn down money like that.’

Mitchell says the Southern U.S. is B.C.’s biggest competitor right now for indie features.

‘We are getting hurt by the incentives offered in the Southern US and the high Canadian dollar,’ says Mitchell.

On the TV side, B.C. is busy with returning American series Eureka, Psych, and Stargate: Universe all in production. Also shooting is the first season of the USA Network drama Facing Kate (starring Sarah Shahi as a lawyer turned mediator) and a live action series for Cartoon Network titled Tower Prep, following a rebellious teen (Drew Van Acker), who wakes up to find himself trapped at a mysterious prep school that offers no escape.

Fox’s Fringe and The CW series Supernatural and Smallville are also returning to Vancouver this summer.

Hawkins notes that Vancouver landed ten pilots earlier this year so depending on what shows get picked up, series work could get a lot busier in the coming months.

Thursday: BC at home: The state of indigenous production