After years of discussions, false starts and studies, Calgary’s film industry will finally be getting a state-of-the-art studio of its own.
Calgary Economic Development will oversee at $22.8-million film studio that is set to open in 2015, the provincial government announced Tuesday at a news conference at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology.
Culture Minister Heather Klimchuk confirmed that Calgary Economic Development’s proposal beat out six others and will receive $5 million in one-time funding from the Government of Alberta to push the project ahead.
“What struck me about this proposal was the partnership, the collaboration and the sustainability of this project years from now,” said Klimchuk. “Five years from now when the studio is built and growing you want to make sure it is a robust studio, you want to make sure things are happening and it’s not languishing in the dust.”
The facility is set to open in the summer of 2015, although a site has yet to be confirmed.
The announcement was good news for members of the film industry, who have long maintained that Alberta has the crews and vistas for world-class productions but often lacks the studio space, something that has cost the industry tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars over the years as projects went elsewhere.
The new facility, which will find Calgary Economic Development partnering with ComWeb Group/William F. White International, will feature 20,000 and 30,000-square-foot sound stages and 18,000 square-foot warehouse space.
Alongside the $5 million by the province, the facility will be funded by $10 million from the City of Calgary, $6.8-million from Calgary Economic Development and $1 million from William F. White.
William F. White, which supplies equipment for the film industry, will also be the anchor tenant and operate the sound stages. It has six offices throughout Canada and one in Budapest. Its chairman and CEO, Paul Bronfman, was involved in building both North Shore Studios in Vancouver and Pinewood Studios in Toronto.
The company’s Calgary offices are currently located at the Currie Barracks, which is being redeveloped.
“This is not just solving our problem of having a home, it’s going to grow the industry,” said William F. White executive vice-president and chief operating officer Paul Roscorla, saying that he hopes the studio will attract more TV series to the province.
Discussion about the need for such a facility has been going on for decades.
In 2009, then Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett announced that a $32-million Alberta Creative Hub was close to a done deal. But eventually, the Redford government refused to provide the $13.2-million over three years that the project required. In 2013, the government put out a call for proposals for a film studio in Calgary.
While studio space was never plentiful, it took a major hit in the past five years as the Currie Barracks, once the site of a makeshift film hub, were redeveloped. Tom Cox is one of the executive producers of CBC’s long-running Alberta-shot series Heartland. He said the production has had to move its offices and indoor settings at least three times during its seven-season run. It’s currently filming interior scenes at a makeshift studio at the old Farmer’s Market space in the Currie Barracks, which will also soon be redeveloped. Along with Heartland, the FX series Fargo is being shot in Calgary and Season 4 of the AMC series Hell on Wheels will begin filming in the Spring, making even makeshift studio space sparse.
“This is a great touchstone,” Cox said about Tuesday’s announcement. “But it really isn’t enough if we want to grow the industry. This allows us to maintain current capacity and maybe expand it a little bit. But, as you’ve seen with Heartland, Hell on Wheels, Fargo — we need more of these. And we hope the private sector will step up and follow suit and we’d love to see more studio projects announced in the coming years. But this one, obviously, is key.”
Currently, Fargo — which stars Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman — is using a warehouse off Edmonton Trail for its interior shots. The independent film Painkillers, starring Colm Feore and Erica Durance, has been shooting at a small warehouse in an industrial area off of Barlow Trail.
“It’s almost comical if you look at the spaces that have been used,” said Damian Petti, chair of the Association of Alberta Motion Picture and Television Unions. “I remember (the 2001 comedy) Rat Race was in an old school gym at CFB. While the carpenters made it look like a legitimate sound stage, it is kind of laughable when you think of all the warehouses that have been inadequate for the type of productions we have been doing.”
Petti says the new facility should not only bring production to the province, but also convince workers to stay in the jurisdiction rather than leave for Vancouver or other areas.
“Clearly the business will expand when this is built,” Petti says.
Luke Azevedo, commissioner of film, television and creative industries for Calgary Economic Development, said work is underway to find a location for the studio.
“At the end of the day, there’s a variety of factors that play into it and we’ve identified throughout the city that have that capacity,” he said. “At this point, it’s just ensuring we have the best location for the price that we can get.”
In the past five years, Alberta’s film and television and digital media industry has generated over $400 million in economic activity, according to the provincial government, which says every dollar it invests in film and television results in six dollars of economic growth.
“What everybody needs to know is that we’re not giving money to big Hollywood films,” Azevedo says. “The money that is being utilized as Alberta incentive money is spent in Alberta. We are very unique in that way. We don’t incentivize things that aren’t here. It’s infrastructure usage. It’s people. These are people who buy homes and pay taxes here. The money is invested back in the province. It is a driver. It’s at a point where we see a huge value and huge economic diversification opportunity with film and television.”
Source: Calgary Herald