The theatrical release of Ghostbusters: Afterlife has been delayed for more than a year by the pandemic, but the Southern Alberta town of Fort Macleod will finally be rolling out the red carpet for a Canadian premiere.
The long-awaited continuation of the franchise that will see the Ecto- and Dr. Peter Venkman – and mini Stay-Puft marshmallow men – return to the big screen is set for wider release next week. Scenes that portray small-town Oklahoma were actually filmed two years ago in Alberta, including Fort Macleod, whose red-bricked Empress Theatre featured prominently in the trailers.
The sold-out $100 tickets for the Saturday-evening screening in the town of 3,000 will also serve as a key fundraiser to refurbish the century-old-plus movie house.
“It’s really about that recognition of your hometown gem, and Main Street, and celebrating with the community,” Liisa Gillingham, of the town’s administration, said of the Sony Pictures-sanctioned premiere.
“This is a big feature film. We’re really prominently showcased.”
The Alberta government and crews that work on set say this year has been one busiest periods they’ve seen. The ranks of crews are being expanded and industrial parks that previously housed industries associated with oil or construction are being converted into studio space. They say it’s in significant part owing to the March government decision to extend the province’s film and television tax credit to cover much larger productions.
The province’s United Conservative Party government began its time in office in 2019 focused on fiscal restraint, and bringing back the boom years of the oil and gas industry. But during the long months of the pandemic, the UCP has placed greater emphasis on diversifying the province’s economy.
The province’s burgeoning film industry is a part of that push. The sector is far behind film and TV production centres in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, where the vast majority of work in Canada’s $5-billion-a-year industry takes place.
But the province says the tax credit, with its per-project cap removed early this year, is a potential game-changer – one where every $1 in tax credits distributed means roughly $4 reinvested into Alberta’s economy. The government said if it runs through the $50-million budgeted for the tax credit this fiscal year, it will request more funding.
“We’ve seen an immense amount of growth and larger productions,” said Doug Schweitzer, Alberta’s Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation.
“The advice that we received was to really try to target year-over-year television series. That’s where you get the stability for the work force, as long as the show gets picked up.”
When you look at the growth trajectory of the film and television industry worldwide, streaming services in particular, it’s incumbent on Alberta to attract productions, he said. And the tens of billions of dollars being spent in a global race to create new content is “largely driven by accounting,” Mr. Schweitzer said.
“You may not become the most dominant player in the world, but there’s no reason why we can’t at least become a material player.”
There is hope that it will create a new area of growth for the province, in production studios and the streets of the province’s cities – but also in the mountains, on the Prairies and in the small towns that sometimes double for Western or Midwest America.
Mr. Schweitzer said when his government began drafting an economic recovery plan for the province in 2020, it looked at areas where they could both work to diversify the province’s job and income mix, and where there was some pre-existing infrastructure.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife, for instance, is far from being the only movie or TV production filming in the town of Fort Macleod. Key scenes in Brokeback Mountain, Passchendaele and Interstellar were done there.
But biggest of all, for Fort Macleod and for the province, is HBO’s highly anticipated The Last of Us – starring Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsay. Alberta filming for the series will last well into 2022, and crews have already worked in Edmonton, Calgary, High River and Canmore.
For its piece, Fort Macleod was transformed into postapocalyptic America for a week this summer. A crew of 400 filled the streets for much of a hot July, Ms. Gillingham said. Stores and restaurants reported more traffic, including the “looky-loos.” The old Greyhound bus station was painted teal with cactus murals, to portray a Mexican restaurant, before being painted back to its original white.
“It was massive – the amount of people who were in town, and the change to the Main Street. It was a huge production,” she said.
Damian Petti, president of International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 212 in Calgary, said the Alberta film industry has been slowly building for decades after being set back by budget cuts in the Ralph Klein era.
The larger-budget projects filming in Alberta today are many times larger than what traditionally would shoot in Alberta, all at once, he said. The Fraggle Rock series reboot and the Under the Banner of Heaven film are other key examples.
Mr. Petti said his members’ total earnings are three times greater than they were in 2019, prepandemic. “Our members are working more,” Mr. Petti said. “The production volume numbers must be similar.”
He also said the ranks of local film crew talent is growing more quickly than he’s ever seen, with both recent graduates and out-of-work Albertans taking on new roles. “The challenge for us is productions coming in don’t always want to give the newcomers a shot. They prefer people with multiple credits from other jurisdictions.”
However, Mr. Petti said the province’s tax credit is helping to encourage companies to hire workers here.
“I think Albertans are about to fall in love with the industry, just because of the projects that are about to be released – starting with Ghostbusters,” he said this week.
“They’ll be inundated with it. And then a year on, we’ll be hearing about Oscar nominations, and Golden Globes. This is very high-end stuff happening.”
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