Filming of TV pilots has soared in British Columbia with Vancouver ranking right behind Hollywood and New York as the preferred locations of such productions, according to a California study.
TV pilots have multimillion-dollar budgets and each one can employ more than 100 crew, creating jobs and economic spinoffs that can be more sustained if the pilot persuades a network to carry on with an ongoing series.
FilmL.A. Inc., a California production-industry association, this week released a report that says pilot production in Vancouver increased from 16 projects in 2014-15 to 25 in 2015-16. (In comparison, 79 projects were filmed in the L.A. region in 2015-16, a 13-per-cent drop from the previous year.)
While the report acknowledges pilot production in Toronto, which saw 12 pilots in 2015-16, it underlines Vancouver as a key centre for production.
"In terms of Vancouver, the main takeaway from the report is that production nearly doubled from one year to the next as it pertains to certain areas of the pilot production industry," Philip Sokoloski, communications vice-president for FilmL.A. Inc., said in an interview.
He said more drama pilots are now being produced in Vancouver than in New York. While drama pilots are a key slice of the production pie, pilots are also produced for comedies and digital programming defined as online services such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, which have been a boon for Vancouver.
Mr. Sokoloski said Vancouver is benefiting from a Canadian dollar lower than its U.S. counterpart, which allows producers to get 20- to 25-per-cent more in B.C. for their budgets as well as tax incentives provided to the industry by the B.C. government.
In consultation with the industry, the B.C. government has recently trimmed tax credits because they were deemed to be costing the province too much. For example, a production services tax credit for film and television was forecast to cost B.C. about $500-million in 2015-16, an increase from an average of $313-million over the past three years.
Mr. Sokoloski also said that Vancouver's experienced crews also help. "The ability to attract numerous pilot projects requires that that crew base be fairly deep. So the fact that Vancouver has invested for as many years as it has to attract this business and has local infrastructure certainly helps you be a better competitor to Los Angeles."
However, he said he expects Vancouver could lose its edge if there's an increase in the Canadian dollar or a notable adjustment in tax breaks.
The study says New York and Vancouver "have established themselves as strong competitors" for the "lucrative" Hollywood pilot tradition that sees test-run series produced between January and April for review and programming decisions in May.
Mr. Sokoloski said production workers in Hollywood see Vancouver as a "Northern competitor" and would like to see some companies in Los Angeles and California better compete for the projects in B.C.
Pilots shot in Vancouver include the series Beyond, Mech-X4, My So Called Wife, Frequency and Timeless.
Bob Wong, vice-president and acting film commissioner for the Creative BC agency that encourages production and other creative sectors, said the report was a "pleasant surprise."
He said the numbers were a bit different from Creative BC's. FilmL.A., he said, counts all first episodes as pilots. However, Creative BC does not count first episodes as pilots when networks decide to go straight to a series without requiring a pilot.
Still, Mr. Wong says he has always been impressed by the "very good research" of FilmL.A.
According to the study, pilots for a comedy series now cost an average of about $2-million (U.S.) to produce and between $6-million and $9-million for dramas.
Mr. Wong said pilots are becoming a "big-dollar endeavour" as TV becomes a more "high-end product," which means more spending on crews, sound stages, location fees and accommodation spinning off into the economy.
Asked about the study, the Ontario Film Commissioner Justin Cutler said in a statement that TV pilots in Ontario have typically stayed to film their first season such as American Gods and multiple seasons such as Reign and 12 Monkeys. And he noted that Ontario has attracted some high-profile TV projects including the new Star Trek series, Star Trek: Discovery, as well as Designated Survivor and Handmaid's Tale.