Hollywood Production in Vancouver Hits New High Amid Pandemic

The sun rises on the skyline -Vancouver, Canada - Getty - H 2020
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British Columbia weathering the global COVID-19 crisis better than rival U.S. locales has producers shifting film and TV projects north.

Hollywood location shooting in British Columbia on Canada's West Coast in 2019 hit a new high of CAN$4.1 billion (US$3.1 billion) in production activity, according to a report from the Vancouver Film Commission.

But after the COVID-19 crisis shuttered all U.S. production in Vancouver in March 2020 and this summer the Americans slowly relaunched local film and TV shoots, the province has now surpassed pre-pandemic production levels in terms of the number of projects before the cameras.

"The encouraging position for us is since the restart happened, the amount of production is at a higher peak than any period we saw in 2019," Vancouver film commissioner David Shepheard tells The Hollywood Reporter.

Full-year 2020 expenditures by Hollywood film and TV shoots in and around Vancouver, while not available at this time to compare with last year, will be down compared to 2019's activity, given the downtime caused by the pandemic.

But the direction of travel is clear as the Canadian province's film, TV, visual effects and animation sectors ride out 2020 after relaunching production amid strict health and safety protocols and continuing to adjust to remote work.

B.C. has 61 entertainment projects in production this month, according to Creative B.C., which markets the province to Hollywood. That includes 22 TV series produced by CBS, Netflix, Disney, Warner Bros. and ABC, like Batwoman, DC Legends of Tomorrow, Charmed, Nancy Drew, Riverdale, The Flash and Supergirl, six feature films, 10 new media projects and 23 TV movies shooting across the province.

That compares with around 40 projects that were shooting in B.C. just before the novel coronavirus pandemic slammed into the local production sector and sent Americans back across the border to shelter at home.

"Basically the industry has come back to working at full capacity," Shepheard says. That rebound is partly explained by the Canadian province having weathered the global pandemic better than rival locales like the southern U.S. states and New York City, which had U.S. film and TV producers choosing early on to shift projects to Vancouver.

"We've been extremely fortunate in B.C. not to have the same sort of issues that other places have had in the U.S. The industry has been looking at British Columbia to see how to manage its way and those studios that are eager to get into production have been looking all around the world to where they can get into production quickly," Shepheard explains.

The Vancouver film commissioner adds that  the province never ordered the closure of the local film production sector, which allowed U.S. and local producers, unions and guilds and provincial health authorities to work out and agree on health and safety protocols that allowed the industry to turn the lights back on at local soundstages.

Of course, the B.C. production sector is far from being out of the woods. The province has seen a resurgence in COVID-19 infection cases with the fall season, as elsewhere in North America and globally.

And U.S.-based TV series location shoots in B.C. recently began to restart production after a number of popular shows were put on a short pause resulting from a shortage of rapid COVID-19 testing capacity in Vancouver.

Shepheard says the rapid-testing bottleneck has been removed. "All producers report that there are no issues in terms of tests carried out and results coming back. It was a temporary backlog," he says.

U.S. and local industry reps are also working closely with LifeLabs, a commercial lab where they contract out testing, and the B.C. Ministry of Health on longer-term options for rapid testing, which includes securing rapid COVID-19 test kits coming onto the market to help identify positive coronavirus cases without having to entirely rely on hard-pressed commercial labs.

And while B.C. tends to have a slight production lull during its winter months, Shepheard doesn't see the pandemic-era bounce back in local film and TV production by Hollywood studios and streamers losing steam any time soon.

"We all joke that we've been sitting at home for the last eight months consuming everything, so there's a passion to get new content made. People are going to be very busy for a long time," he argues.