Film industry insiders say Calgary is becoming a major player in the game

Part 2: Calgary is quickly becoming a thriving film centre thanks to several factors working in the city’s favour

By Leanne Murray | July 12, 2022 |5:00 am

Thanks to some major projects in recent years, Calgary is being looked at as a world-class location to film.

Photo: Submitted

For the last several months, streets around Calgary transformed into a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

HBO’s television adaptation of The Last of Us began filming in the city a year ago and wrapped up last month.

The highly-anticipated TV series based on the popular video game is the largest television production in Canadian history, according to the provincial government.

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 212 says more than 1,300 highly skilled Albertans were part of the show’s crew.

Creating local jobs and opportunities

Luke Azevedo works with Calgary Economic Development as the vice president of creative industries and commissioner of operations and film.

He says for local productions to get the most out of the incentive offered by the provincial government, they have to use local goods, services, and labour.

“We ensure that we put all of our assets forward so they can make a decision where they’re going to be able to maximize the incentive and stay here the longest period of time, and spend the most money they can in this province, and hire the most Albertans to do the work,” Azevedo explains.

Earlier this year, the province announced an increase in funding for the Film and Television Tax Credit program.

 

Calgary cinematographer Craig Wrobleski, right, filming in Calgary.

Investing in the industry

Now, $70 million of provincial funding is budgeted for 2022-23, and $225 million through 2024-25, with hopes of growing the Alberta film sector by $1.5 billion over the next 10 years.

Alberta launched the film and television tax credit program in January of 2020 and in March of last year, the $10-million per-project cap was removed.

Calgary cinematographer Craig Wrobleski says things really started to gain momentum with the removal of the cap.

“All of a sudden, we had more work than we knew what to do with, including The Last of Us. It just took that little government impetus,” he says.

“And within a month of the cap being lifted, I was in Toronto working and I got three calls from shows wanting me to shoot in Calgary — it just literally exploded.”

Calgary is starting to reach its potential

Wrobleski has been a director of photography for more than 30 years and he says he’s happy that Calgary and Alberta are finally living up to their potential in the film industry.

“The irony is that Calgary has more Oscar wins and nominations than any other film jurisdiction in Canada. We’ve had the highest-profile projects come here. But we’ve always lacked the government support.”

Wrobleski says Calgary has always had a lot to offer, including talented crews and incredible locations, but unfortunately, the crew base thinned out over the years due to the lack of beneficial tax credits in Alberta.

“Hopefully, we can build our crew base back so we can continue this trend that’s going on,” he adds. 

Growth factors

Azevedo says removing the per-project cap on the tax incentives is one of many reasons for the growth of TV and film productions in recent years.

He also attributes it to local equipment suppliers — William F. White, MBS Equipment, Panavision  – Alberta’s competitive infrastructure, and the calibre of projects that have been filmed in the area.

“We’ve got 100 years of history in film and television in this province,” Azevedo explains, pointing to Brokeback Mountain, Inception, Interstellar, Ghostbusters, The Revenant, and the beloved TV show Heartland, which was recently renewed for its 16th season and was the fifth most-streamed project on Netflix in 2021.

“The quality of the work that’s done here is something that’s looked at, the world-class crews and talent in front and behind the camera — absolutely core to decision making on where you’re going to go to create your projects.”

Post-apocalyptic show brings Calgary scene to life

Azevedo says The Last of Us had a major positive impact on the local film sector because it helped solidify Calgary as an A-level production centre.

“The rest of the world is looking in on us and seeing how we’re able to facilitate and work with a production of this size. And we were able to really show the world that this is a location that can do any project of any size and scope, and be able to do it with world-class production capacity.”

Doug Schweitzer, minister of jobs, economy, and innovation in Alberta says the film industry is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the province.

With each production that comes here, many direct and indirect jobs are created and there is a major impact on the economy.

Economic impact

Wrobleski says every aspect of the economy is touched by film productions, no matter their size.

Shows that come to town need hotels, restaurant space, office supplies, construction materials to build sets, vehicles, fuel, and labour.

Wrobleski likens setting up a film production to setting up a corporation for a short time.

“When a show is successful, then you have the additional benefit — which is hard to put a number on, but it’s very valuable — of the prestige that it brings to the city,” Wrobleski says, adding that positive word of mouth spreads throughout the industry and more producers will want to film here.

Spreading the word

Earlier this year, Daisy Edgar-Jones and Pedro Pascal appeared on The Late Late Show with James Corden.

The actors star in Under the Banner of Heaven and The Last of Us, respectively — both of which were filmed in the Calgary region.

During the late-night talk show appearance, the pair spoke very highly of the area and discussed their mutual love of Banff, Lake Louise, and the Calgary restaurant Model Milk.

“These stars are going back into their world, talking on talk shows, talking about our restaurants, talking about the people that are here, talking about their experience, and all of it’s extremely positive,” Azevedo says, adding that’s the kind of marketing they want to see.

“We want that experience to be of a nature that when everybody goes back to where they came from, whether it’s the producers or the talent, whether it’s across Canada, internationally, we want them to be out there touting the benefits and how great of a time and experience they had in this province, which is, at the end of the day, what’s going to help us attract the next big project.”

Attracting visitors and tourists

Azevedo says showcasing Calgary and Alberta through the film industry also has a positive impact on tourism.

“A lot of people throughout the world make decisions on where they’re going to go for vacations or where they’re going to travel based on what they’ve seen on TV or the screen, or follow their favourite actor or actress.”

Azevedo says the film sector is growing globally and is an industry that is universally looked at in a positive light, so he wants to see it continue to grow and evolve locally.

He says work is being done on the equity, diversity, inclusion, and access side of things, ensuring marginalized, underrepresented, and racialized communities have meaningful access to film and TV.

More behind-the-scenes work to do

Azevedo adds that it’s also important to work towards sustainability in the industry, lowering the carbon footprint, and ensuring local producers and storytellers continue to be supported.

“We want to make sure that those Alberta stories that are being produced at an extremely high level also have a manner in which they can get out to the world,” he says.

Wrobleski believes the best is yet to come for the film industry in Calgary.

“I’m hoping that this wave that’s happening right now can have the momentum that we need,” he says.

“So that potential can be fulfilled and you can see the city become what it’s always meant to be, which is a thriving film centre, and a place where film people can earn a living 12 months of the year.”

For more on Wrobleski’s career, read Part one: A long shot: Cinematographer enjoying successful career in Calgary against all odds

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Leanne Murray

Leanne is a Calgary Citizen reporter.

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