Film producers' conference offers chance to raise Edmonton's profile

· The Pulse

Members of the local film industry are hoping an international conference to be held here this month will persuade more producers to consider shooting their next movie in Edmonton.

The International Quorum of Motion Picture Producers is being held in Edmonton from Sept. 18 to 24, bringing film production companies from around the world together for a week of seminars and discussion about industry developments.

Hosting the event is a chance for the city's film and TV community to take part in global conversations, and it's an opportunity to plant Edmonton in the minds of producers as a viable location for their next movie, said Kelly Service, executive director of the Film and Video Arts Society of Alberta (FAVA)

"Edmonton is often overlooked," Service said, noting that the lion's share of film production in Canada happens in Vancouver and Toronto, and within Alberta, Calgary is more often the first choice. "You get global filmmakers together to meet, to discuss challenges, to look at opportunities, and when it happens in your own backyard, that's an opportunity to network. It's an opportunity to showcase this city and what it can do in terms of supporting film production."

The economic impact of high-budget productions like The Last of Us, which turned a section of downtown Edmonton into a post-apocalyptic wasteland last summer, is felt across many sectors. For every $1 the province provided through its Film and Television Tax Credit system last year, $4 was invested in Alberta productions, according to the Ministry of Jobs, Economy, and Innovation.

But even with the tax credits and other incentives, the film industry in Edmonton is years away from competing with more established regions, said Tom Viinikka, CEO of the Edmonton Screen Industries Office.

"We're not likely to just magically, suddenly, next year have a huge slate of big movie productions, because it takes time," Viinikka said. "If you're spending that kind of money, you need to know that they have the right crew, the right resources, that they're not going to get roadblocks every way they turn. They need to know that things are going to be good."

Familiarity leads to business, he added. "If they're familiar with our region, if they're familiar with our incentives, if they're familiar with our crew, all that makes them more likely to come back."

A bus and car overgrown with vines on the production set of HBO's The Last of Us

HBO's The Last of Us made a mess of 104 Street downtown last summer, but such high-budget foreign screen productions have a role in Alberta's diversified economic future, say industry advocates. (Mack Male/Flickr)

Edmonton is on the path to establishing its reputation, Service said, and already has the infrastructure and crew to make it a desirable location for smaller independent films.

"If you have $1 million American to shoot your independent film, well, that might translate to $1.2 million in terms of funding here in Edmonton," he said.

Local crews and studios obviously benefit when foreign productions choose to set up in the city, and there is a surprising spillover effect into regional economy. In 2017-18, Alberta's screen industries directly employed 1,850 people, and created an additional 5,350 spinoff jobs, according to the Alberta Screen Industry Action Committee.

Viinikka expects that the creative industries will become a bigger part of the mix of available jobs in the coming years. The arts provide some of the most fulfilling work, he said, and are less likely to be replaced by technological advancement than other jobs have been and will continue to be.

"It also so happens that the film industry is one of the best ways to develop the creative industries in general," Viinikka said.

"If you build a fulsome film and TV industry, you're including music in that, you're including interactive digital media, for (visual effects) and for virtual production. There are talents that expand into all of these different regions and allow and help to foster growth in all those different places."