Local film industry back on upswing

Ron Hrynuik, general manager of Bridge Studios in Burnaby, says the film industry is now back on the upswing after increased competition and a strong Canadian dollar slowed the number of productions coming to B.C. in recent years. - Wanda Chow/NewsLeader
Ron Hrynuik, general manager of Bridge Studios in Burnaby, says the film industry is now back on the upswing after increased competition and a strong Canadian dollar slowed the number of productions coming to B.C. in recent years.
— image credit: Wanda Chow/NewsLeader

In many ways, the health of the local film industry was mirrored by the recent health scare of Ron Hrynuik.

Hrynuik, the general manager of Bridge Studios in Burnaby, was skiing at Blackcomb in February 2012 when he collapsed from a heart attack.

Luckily for him, the man skiing right behind him happened to be a doctor visiting from Seattle. The doctor performed CPR until an automated external defibrillator (AED) arrived to jumpstart his heart.

Hrynuik, 54, ended up having quadruple bypass surgery and was off work for a lengthy period recovery.

That coincided with a downturn in the local film business when productions were slow to arrive at Bridge Studios.

"They didn't miss me," the North Burnaby resident said with a laugh.

It was a far cry from 2007 and 2008 when productions were lined up for studio time one after the other. That was followed by a drop in business in 2010 when the Canadian dollar started going up, a jump in bookings in 2011 and then a really bad year in 2012.

"Nobody saw it coming," recalled Hrynuik, who also serves on the board of the Motion Picture Production Industry Association of B.C. (MPPIA)

Other jurisdictions, including South Carolina and Louisiana, started offering higher tax credits for film shoots that located there. Ontario began offering a 25 per cent tax credit on all film shoot spending.

British Columbia, meanwhile, has maintained a 33 per cent tax credit on labour costs of local shoots, which generally make up about half of a production's location shoot budget. That meant it was equivalent to 17.5 per cent of overall spending.

Concern about the slowdown led last year to calls for the provincial government to match Ontario's tax credits and a campaign dubbed "Save B.C. Film."

Burnaby is home to 62 per cent of purpose-built film studio space in the Lower Mainland, which itself has 88 per cent of all such space in the province.

According to a 2013 city staff report, the industry injected at least $408 million in direct and spinoff spending into the Burnaby economy in 2012. It directly employed at least 2,425 Burnaby residents as cast and crew, with combined earnings of more than $32.9 million.

Hrynuik stressed Burnaby city hall has been hugely supportive of the industry, knowing what a difference it makes to the economy.

Despite a highly-publicized campaign for increased tax credits, the provincial government stayed put. But Hrynuik said in the end, the local film industry is recovering based on what it has to offer Hollywood.

Film producers may have tried out other locations and their incentives, but they appear to be coming back to B.C., he said.

In addition to a favourable exchange rate, B.C. is closer to Los Angeles and in the same time zone, compared to Ontario, and the facilities and experienced local crews have a sterling reputation.

"You can film every day of the year here. In Toronto, you're not going outside in January." Film crews also like our cloudy weather as it provides more even lighting for outdoor shoots. They can even work around rain but snow, not so much.

But in general, the industry is something of a "revolving door," Hrynuik said.

While "business is brisk right now" there are spaces available for bookings. At Bridge Studios, last week four smaller productions started and one big production finished.

TV series Motive is returning to shoot a third season at Bridge Studios in Burnaby. Here, actor Brendan Penny plays Detective Lucas. Jeff Weddell / Motive Season 2

Two TV shows will be returning—Once Upon a Time for its fourth season and Motive, a Canadian co-production will be back for a third season. Those shows take up 70 per cent of the site at Bridge, he noted.

The studio will also soon host reshoots on its special effects stage for a film that originally shot here last year.

"That'll take us to mid-October and after that, we'll see."

Similarly, Paul Clausen, vice president of Mammoth Studios in Burnaby, said by email that it is currently on a break between productions there.

"Night at the Museum 3, a production which has been occupying the facility since September of last year and has just wrapped a few weeks ago. Prior to that we had Man of Steel shooting in there," Clausen said.

"There are few sound stage facilities in the world that are large enough to accommodate the size of production like Night at the Museum, Man of Steel, or Planet of the Apes; we are proud to say that Mammoth is one of them."

Clausen said Mammoth is "uncertain" what will be scheduled next but noted "20th Century Fox Features holds a long term lease on the facility which indicates their level of commitment to the province."

Burnaby-Lougheed NDP MLA Jane Shin recently hosted fellow NDP MLAs Kathy Corrigan, Raj Chouhan, George Heyman (film and TV critic) and Lana Popham (arts and culture critic) on a tour of Burnaby studios.

She said by email that the province should do more to boost the industry to help reduce the uncertainty between productions.

"While the risky Enbridge pipeline crossing 800 streams and rivers boasts 500 jobs in their YouTube ads, bringing home just one major motion picture to film in B.C. creates an average of 300 green, well-paying, local jobs," Shin said.

Hrynuik said the MPPIA is no longer calling for increased tax credits but is now seeking a full-time presence in Los Angeles to market B.C. to filmmakers.

"We need to be proactive, we need to keep our eyes on [competition from] the rest of the world."

Similarly, he advises people be proactive about their heart health and get detailed tests done, especially if heart disease runs in the family. There's now also an AED machine at the front gate of the studio.

As for his heart attack, Hrynuik said with a laugh, "My boss said it was 'really good timing. Don't let it happen again.'"

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