Alberta bound for recovery

Alberta’s production community weathered a tough 2009 but the industry is optimistic that the forecast is brighter for this summer.

‘Last year was disastrous for our company,’ admits Nomadic Pictures co-founder Chad Oakes, saying 2009 was the worst he’s seen in his prodco’s 15 year history.

‘It was the perfect storm of a dollar at par, competition from other Canadian and U.S. jurisdictions with large tax incentives and North American broadcasters not writing as many licenses due to the recession,’ explains Oakes.

Furthermore, private equity for indie features was harder to come by and there were smaller advances from foreign companies, he adds.

While production activity in the province is holding steady at $89 million for 2009/10 — a slight increase over the $85 million tally for the previous year, Minister of Culture Lindsay Blackett says Alberta was hit hard because fewer MOWs are being made, and they have typically been the province’s bread and butter work. Also, other jurisdictions such as New Mexico have been aggressive in attracting Alberta’s other claim to fame, western movies.

But the summer is expected to be busier.

Season four of Heartland (Dynamo Films/Seven 24 Films) is currently shooting and the Alberta Film Commission reports another five productions – a mix of indigenous and service shoots – are expected to land in the province.

‘Our industry is starting to feel some momentum,’ says Blackett.

Oakes says 2010 could end up being Nomadic’s best year ever. The company has three MOWs, a couple TV series and two features in the $5 to $15 million range on their radar for potential shooting this summer and fall.

Nomadic also just wrapped the MTV movie The Truth Below, a teen horror flick starring Reid Ewing (Modern Family) and Gillian Zinser (90210) and recently sold The Last Rites of Ransom Pride starring Scott Speedman, Dwight Yoakam, Kris Kristofferson and Jason Priestly to Screen Media, which took world rights outside Canada.

‘American broadcasters are cutting back on some of their reality shows and returning to scripted long-form MOWs so we are cautiously optimistic,’ says Oakes.

Alberta has made improvements in its grant program over the past year to boost its competitive edge. Productions are currently eligible to receive 20% to 29% of their Alberta spend – including hotel, travel, post VFX and rental costs – capped at $5 million per project.

This is equivalent to a 40% labor-based tax credit, and is particularly competitive for projects budgeted under $30 million that don’t hit the cap.

‘Alberta now has one of the best incentive programs in Canada and this has helped our province get back into sight,’ says Oakes. ‘The only province in Canada that beats us is Manitoba.’

The Alberta government faced across-the-board budget cuts in February with the film program rolled back from $20 million to $17 million but Blackett managed to find extra money bump up the fund to $19.5 million for this fiscal year.

The province also announced that a broadcast license or theatrical distributor will no longer be required to receive the funds, opening the doors to digital projects. Money is also being made available to support projects at the development phase, through an export development fund, and an Alberta Stories stream. Guidelines on these new funding options will be available this summer.

Blackett reports that an Alberta Film Advisory Group has been set up to look at ways to make the province’s industry more competitive and innovative.

Plans for a $26 million purpose-built studio complex in Calgary continue to move forward. A request for proposals has been sent out to the private sector with the aim of securing 49% of the financing from private investors.

Blackett says the complex will include a 45,000 square foot facility to house post-production and animation facilities and offices for the creative industries sector.

The studio will be located on 10 to 15 acres of land in Northwest Calgary’s Canada Olympic Park.