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British Columbia’s production sector, which includes TV, feature films and visual effects, accounted for a record $4.1-billion in spending in the province in 2019, but a months-long production shutdown from the pandemic is likely to result in bleaker numbers when figures are calculated for this year.

The numbers are detailed in newly released research by the Vancouver Economic Commission, which says that $3.1-billion of last year’s total was spent on physical production – work on sound stages and locations.

As the industry celebrates last year’s unprecedented boom, it’s struggling through an unmatched turmoil, with COVID-19 sidelining production for much of this year. Work has recently resumed with new rules to manage the pandemic for the industry, which employs 70,000 B.C. residents. But it remains uncertain how long it will take to get back to peak levels – and whether Saturday’s election results will play a role in making that happen.

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The figures cover spending on TV series and movies, feature films, visual effects and animation in B.C., North America’s third-busiest production centre. The sector here is largely sustained by Hollywood studios lured by the stock of sound stages, experienced crews and a setting in the same time zone as decision-makers in California.

David Shepheard, the Vancouver film commissioner, said 41 productions were in progress when the pandemic shut everything down in March. There are now 60 productions in various stages of activity, but Mr. Shepheard said it won’t be enough to make up for the months of loss during the pandemic once the numbers for 2020 are calculated.

The projects are a mix of shows that had previously been shot in B.C., and new series such as Superman & Lois and The Big Sky, a thriller from the creator of the classic 1990s dramedy Ally McBeal that is set in Montana. The show was to shoot in New Mexico and Nevada, but relocated to Vancouver.

Other projects under way include Riverdale, a reboot of the 1970s series Kung Fu, The Good Doctor and Lost in Space.

Asked about the forecast for 2020 numbers, Mr. Shepheard said there will be a “significant reduction” because of the months where no production was happening.

“What is encouraging is seeing the amounts of production that have restarted,” Mr. Shepheard said. “Not only has production resumed, but more production has chosen to locate here in B.C.”

During the pandemic, BC NDP Leader John Horgan had repeatedly suggested that B.C.'s management of the situation would encourage Hollywood to restart in the province earlier than in other jurisdictions.

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Although work has resumed, there was recently a shutdown of some series because of a backlog in testing for COVID-19 by the private lab doing that work.

Mr. Shepheard said disruptions linked to the pandemic could occur again, but he has confidence in new production protocols based on global best practices.

“We hope that will continue to keep the production sector safe,” he said. “We hope and pray that it stays in a good place.”

Amidst the provincial election campaign, the BC NDP was the only party with an explicit promise to the industry included in the text of its platform.

The party said it would “keep film and TV production competitive during this difficult time” with the re-establishment of a government-film sector task force to recommend the size and term of a new visual-effects tax credit based on production costs.

Other parties were not as explicit in their platforms but said, through spokespeople, that they were interested in the fortunes of the industry.

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Carlie Pochynok, speaking for the BC Liberals, said the party’s promise to eliminate the 7-per-cent provincial sales tax for a year, and then set it at 3 per cent would provide a boost to film and TV production in the province.

Jillian Oliver of the BC Greens said the film industry would qualify for the party’s proposed innovation fund – $1-billion to support business innovations that are in sync with provincial goals, with an emphasis on innovations that help the shift to a zero-carbon economy.

“This funding would go towards advancements in made-in-B.C. solutions and technologies that provide stable long-term employment in the film industry, such as in post production, animation and special effects,” she said in a statement.

Mr. Shepheard said that the industry has had support from across the B.C. political spectrum, and he hopes that continues with the next government.

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.

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