Canadian Seesaw Battle to Woo Hollywood Has Vancouver Booming Again

Godzilla Bryan Cranston - H 2014
Warner Bros. Pictures

Godzilla Bryan Cranston - H 2014

The West Coast city got its mojo back, thanks to an upswing in visual effects work for major studios and a low Canadian dollar.

TORONTO – A seesaw battle to woo Hollywood in a Canadian market hooked on tax credits and public subsidies has Vancouver back on top.

"There was a slower period. But for the last 18 months, it's been busy in town. People are optimistic about the business," Richard Brownsey, president and CEO of Creative B.C., told The Hollywood Reporter.

That wasn't the case in January 2013 when angry film producers and workers failed to convince the British Columbia government to match generous tax credits in Ontario and Quebec to stop a feared exodus of talent and work to eastern Canada in search of bigger subsidies.

Turns out the West Coast province, which shares a time zone with Los Angeles, had a second act after all.

Brownsey and a panel of local industry leaders on Tuesday told the Vancouver City Council that a big increase in visual effects work from Hollywood and a falling Canadian dollar, compared to the American greenback, has the province back in good times.

"I think a lot of the studios and people like [Godzilla director] Gareth Edwards have explored other centers with some of their new incentives, and discovered again that it was worth coming back to the tried and true model of Vancouver, where the tax regime is predictable, the exchange rate is favorable, and most importantly the studios in and around Vancouver provide excellent infrastructure," Vancouver Economic Commission CEO Ian McKay told the council, according to the Georgia Straight newspaper. 

Creative B.C.'s Brownsey said Vancouver has lowered barriers to Hollywood setting up locally, which helped the city snag around 1,425 shoot days in 2013.

That included U.S. network and cable series like Supernatural, Arrow and Once Upon a Time, and movies like Godzilla, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Iron Man 3 and Maleficent.

His industry panel also told the Vancouver City Council that the province saw a 36 percent increase in film, TV and digital production activity overall in the first quarter of 2014.

The upswing in digital media work in B.C. has been spurred mostly by Sony Imageworks shifting its headquarters from California to Vancouver, and Industrial Light & Magic opening a permanent studio there.

Meanwhile, it's now the turn of Montreal film workers to raise the alarm after a budget-conscious Quebec provincial government earlier this month proposed cutting by 20 percent the value of its film tax credits beyond an all-spend base rebate.

"Not only will local and foreign productions be in jeopardy, but the companies offering them a variety of services will also find themselves having to reconsider investments and, eventually, resort to employee layoffs to offset a forecasted drop in activity," an ad-hoc group of industry players wrote to Helene David, minister of culture and communications.

Those anxieties reflect a Canadian industry that, despite calling itself Hollywood North for its ability to consistently attract studio shoots, has battling provinces ever wary that any reduction or end to local tax credits will effectively send work elsewhere.

Another Achilles' heel is the Canadian dollar, which, after falling in value in the last year has trended higher in recent weeks as its American counterpart once again weakens.

"Los Angeles does look at the exchange rate. When it goes lower, it is to our advantage. But we've had fluctuations of the dollars for many years. And we have kept in business when the Canadian was well above par," Brownsey said.