Vancouver Film Industry Unveils China Focus With New Commissioner

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David Shepheard

U.K. transplant David Shepheard eyes more business ties and co-productions with Asia for a city already bursting with Hollywood shoots.

Incentive-friendly Vancouver, while enjoying a Hollywood production boom, is setting its sights east, to China.

"We are very focused on what's happening in Asia," newly installed Vancouver film commissioner David Shepheard, the former London Film Commission head named last month as Vancouver's first-ever film commissioner, told The Hollywood Reporter.

Tax credits, cheaper production costs and a close proximity to Los Angeles has U.S. series like Arrow, D.C. Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl, and movies like the Ryan Reynolds-starrer Deadpool and Star Trek Beyond, produced locally. And the West Coast city also has seen California VFX houses like Sony Pictures Imageworks, Industrial Light + Magic and Digital Domain move to Vancouver as that city attracts Hollywood productions.

But as China is set to become the world's biggest exhibition market in 2017 backed by cash-rich equity funds, Vancouver has hired its first film commissioner and is starting to shift its focus from Los Angeles to make inroads in Beijing and Shanghai. "The amount of [Chinese] investment being made in media companies and studios, in Los Angeles also, is changing the game. So we are very focused on what are the opportunities for a trading relationship with China," Shepheard explained.

The new commissioner is working with the Vancouver Economic Commission's Asia-Pacific Center as it targets new business opportunities in Japan, China and Korea. That includes local producers and postproduction houses seeking access to China’s growing market and the financing available there.

And local players are keen to reach out to Chinese film producers hungry for foreign talent and story ideas. "We're looking at how can we have a better relationship and do business with new players in the industry, specifically with Asian money and Asian backers," Shepheard added.

Vancouver also wants to raise the red curtain because footloose Hollywood studios, while busy in Canada now, could just as easily turn on their heels to go elsewhere. "We all know it's a transient business, and it moves around the world quite easily and freely," Shepheard cautioned.

And while Hollywood execs and talent can shoot their projects in Vancouver without jet lag, the lure of China's lucrative market could have them booking long-haul flights to the Dalian Wanda Group's $8 billion Qingdao Studio and other Chinese production destinations further offshore.

"There's going to be projects wanting to come to Vancouver, as well as those seeking production relationships with China. I don't see it as a huge competition, at the moment," Shepheard argued. That's because Vancouver's Hollywood production boom shows no signs of losing steam.

As 2016 gets set to close, provisional data from the City of Vancouver's Film Office, which oversees permitting, points to another record-breaking year. And around 1.5 million square feet of new studio space — much of it converted warehouse space outside of Vancouver — has opened its doors in the last year as the city races to keep up with growing demand for soundstages.

Skydance Media, the producer behind Star Trek Beyond and Mission: Impossible, recently opened a studio complex in Surrey, British Columbia, inside an former newspaper plant. The facility's five soundstages are already filled with productions like Netflix's Altered Carbon.

Shepheard said he aims to keep North America's third-largest production hub (behind Los Angeles and New York City) busy, where possible. "We want to ensure Vancouver is promoted well and strongly to both studios and broadcasters around the world to keep this level of business going," he said.

That effort reflects a Canadian industry that, despite calling itself Hollywood North for its ability to consistently attract major studio shoots, has battling locales like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal ever wary that any reduction or end to local tax credits will effectively send work elsewhere.

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