In 1989, producer Stephen J. Cannell opened the North Shore Studios to take advantage of the low Canadian dollar. The studio was home to “21 Jump Street”, “Wiseguy” and “Stingray”. It was a smart business move as the Canadian dollar would peak at $0.90 in 1991 and then drop to a low of just over $0.60 against the U.S. dollar by 1998. Even without tax breaks, Cannell was saving 40% right off the top. Also Vancouver was on the same time-zone as Los Angeles and hourly flights out of YVR made commuting easy.
Other producers followed his lead and a boom in the Vancouver film industry followed. New studios started popping up all over Vancouver and the city became known as the mecca for sci-fi television and movies of the week. “The X-Files” shot at the North Shore studios from 1993 – 2002 and was a big hit for the Fox network.
In 2007, the Vancouver shot series Stargate SG-1 surpassed The X-Files as the longest-running North American sci-fi series on TV with 10 seasons and 214 episodes. In 2011 that record was broken by Smallville (also shot in Vancouver) with 218 episodes in 10 seasons.
Those were the golden years. Aspiring actors were able to quit their day-jobs as there was enough work in the film industry. If you were a union actor, and your agent didn’t have an audition for you that day, you could go work as an extra or a stand-in on a TV series and make $200-$300 a day. Plus there was a good chance that if you were on set and looked like you knew what you were doing, you might get given a line of dialogue or asked to perform a minor stunt.
But is the party over?
The reason Vancouver became known as Hollywood North was because of our proximity to the real Hollywood and our low Canadian dollar. Our dollar is no longer low ($0.98 US$ today) and Hollywood is no longer the film capital of North America. A new report by nonprofit agency Film L.A. reports TV dramas were down 39.2% for the quarter and 27.5% for the year. Less than half of all TV dramas are now filmed in the Los Angeles area.
A July 6th article in Movie Maker magazine listed the 10 best cities to be a movie maker.
- Austin, Texas.
- New York, NY.
- Boston, MA.
- Philadelphia, PA.
- Orlando, FL.
- Las Vegas, NV.
- Los Angeles, CA.
- Portland, OR.
- Chicago, IL.
- Houston, TX.
In a March 5th article The Georgia Straight asks, “Are we still Hollywood North?” and goes on to report that Toronto has now surpassed Vancouver in Film production. With Toronto’s enhanced tax credits and BC going back to the old GST/PST tax system, it doesn’t look like we will be catching up to Toronto anytime soon.
Our Union is currently battling producers who have asked for a 30% wage cut across the board on our new contract. This at a time when there are currently only 6 TV series listed on the UBCP website (2 being kids shows and Fringe only shooting a half season). The producers argue that with more people spending time on the internet and TV viewership declining, how can they afford to pay us the same wages?
Last night I had a beer with an assistant director friend I work with. He told me he has been forced to leave his family and move to Calgary in order to work. He also told me of two other assistant directors I know leaving Vancouver this month. One is going with him to Calgary, the other moving to Toronto.
In May my own agent emailed all her clients and said that after 16 years in the business, she is closing her doors and getting out of the film industry.
These are all 40-60 year old adults in their peak money earning years who have now found themselves unemployed.
In order to thrive in life and be prosperous we have to be constantly adapting to new situations and be ready to jump at new opportunities. So, to my actor friends, how are you adapting to the new-normal that is the Vancouver film industry?
Do you think this is a temporary situation that will weed out the weak and those that hang on and stay in the business will be rewarded?
Are you planning to move to Toronto?
Do you think the film industry will earn you enough to fund a comfortable retirement, maybe buy a house and do some traveling?
Have you started a part-time job or gone back to school in order to bring in more income?
Please leave a comment.