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B.C. retakes Hollywood North crown as sector generates $3.3b in 2021

Film, TV production still trails pre-pandemic levels
Film and TV production activity jumped in B.C. last year but still trails pre-pandemic levels | Rob Kruyt, BIV

B.C. was home to just enough “lights, camera, action” this past year to edge out Ontario and retake the title of Hollywood North even as the film industry navigated COVID-19.

Production volume for B.C.’s film and TV sector reached $3.3 billion in the 2020-21 fiscal year – up 13 per cent from the previous year’s $2.9 billion, according to the Canadian Media Producers Association’s (CMPA) Profile 2021 report released Tuesday. 

That was enough to overtake Ontario’s $3.2 billion after the central Canadian province outperformed the West Coast by a much larger margin a year earlier.

By sheer coincidence, the CMPA’s fiscal year represents the first full year of the pandemic from April 1, 2020 through to March 31, 2021.

Ontario, which faced tighter restrictions than B.C. amid the pandemic, saw activity drop nearly 13 per cent from $3.6 billion to $3.2 billion year over year.

Despite retaking the Hollywood North crown from Ontario, production activity still trailed that of pre-pandemic levels when B.C.’s film and TV sector generated $3.5 billion in the 2018-19 fiscal year (the 2019-20 fiscal year covered only the first two weeks of the pandemic when productions were initially shut down across Canada and other countries).

The latest economic figures also come days after members of the Directors Guild of Canada, B.C. District Council (DGC BC), voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike mandate owing to a dispute over wages and benefits with the CMPA and another negotiating employer.

The CMPA and Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said last week – prior to the results of the strike mandate vote – they might be forced to reconsider launching new productions in the province amid what they described as potential “labour instability.”

“Our goal is to reach a fair agreement. We all care about this industry, so let’s roll up our sleeves, get back to the table and find a solution,” DGC BC executive director Kendrie Upton said in a statement last week. “That is the best way to ensure long-term labour stability.”

The employers have declined to make further statements since the strike mandate vote.

The vast majority of B.C.’s production activity was concentrated on foreign service work for Hollywood features and TV shows, generating $2.7 billion. That’s 52 per cent of all foreign service work done in Canada this past year.

“The statistics suggest that British Columbia was the Canadian province with the highest level of FLS [foreign location and service] in 2020-21. Its volume of FLS production actually rose by 15.9 per cent, or $372 million, in 2020-21. According to Creative BC, virtually all of this growth was concentrated in television series production,” the CMPA said in its report, referring to the non-profit agency charged with promoting the province’s film and TV sector.

As the same time activity was on the upswing in B.C., FLS activity dropped in Ontario by $115 million compared with pre-pandemic levels.

“Canada’s FLS production segment remained remarkably resilient during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the CMPA said.

“In part, this resilience can be attributed to the ability of the global studios to self-insure their projects and thereby resume production quickly – something that producers of Canadian content could not pursue without support from the federal government.”

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