Local film and television production a ‘growth industry’

Insiders provide a glimmer of what’s to come in 2024

Allan Fraser (Supplied) - With the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes resolved, 2024 is expected to be a busy year for US movie and TV productions filming in Winnipeg.

If you’re a Manitoban interested in showbiz, 2024 might be your year.

The latter half of 2023 was marked with a significant withdrawal of United States productions from Canada due to the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA strikes. This impacted Canadian film and television professionals who rely on US projects for employment throughout the year.

However, here in Manitoba, things were not so dire.

“We fared much better than many other provinces in terms of continued production,” Lynne Skromeda, CEO and film commissioner at Manitoba Film and Music, says.

Largely due to an influx in locally shot Canadian productions over the past few years, Manitoba producers felt less of a sting in 2023, despite losing a few American shows.

“We had enough domestic work to keep our membership at least largely working,” Steven Foster, business agent at the Directors Guild of Canada (DGC) in Manitoba, says.

According to Foster, DGC’s membership increased by 6 per cent last year. While a handful of US-based projects fell through, he says Manitoba’s film industry maintained resilience through a mix of domestic and service productions.

“We certainly saw less wages being taken by our members (in 2023),” Nicolas Phillips, president of IATSE 856, the union representing crew, says. “However, our (membership) numbers have gone up.”

Alan Wong, president of ACTRA (Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists) Manitoba, claims the organization’s 800-plus members actually benefited during the SAG-AFTRA strike due to the amount of Canadian productions not reliant on American actors.

“Projects that were based on Canadian IP (Independent Production Agreement) were able to go ahead,” he says, like Acting Good (CTV), Don’t Even (APTN/Crave), and Francophone production Le monde de Gabriel Roy (ICI).

Additionally, certain US productions were able to move forward during the strikes under the condition that they use Canadian talent. This allowed many local actors, directors and writers to take on roles typically slated for US workers.

“This is a growth industry,” casting director Jim Heber says. He credits Manitoba tax incentives for attracting production to the area – but says local talent is also attracting attention.

“The strength of our talent pool is deepening,” Heber says, “so more and more opportunities will be presented to Manitoba artists.”

Wong expects an “abundance of opportunities” in 2024. Back in the 2021-22 fiscal year, the provincial film industry generated $365 million in production revenue.

“Many new jobs will be created, which contributes significantly to the Manitoba economy,” he says.

The DGC is more “cautiously optimistic,” as nothing is assured until the contracts are signed.

“Several different projects already have their eyes set on Manitoba,” Foster says. “But for legal reasons, we can only talk about shows that have signed our voluntary recognition agreement.”

Confirmed shoots include big-budget US feature films Bruno Penguin and the Staten Island Princess.

“Other larger shows – US shows – have had conversations,” Foster says, encouraging those interested to check the DGC website over the next few weeks to see what’s coming up.

Representatives from local entertainment unions (ACTRA, IATSE and DGC) say people interested in film-industry employment should contact their offices for more information.

“Anyone can enter the film industry, regardless of age or experience,” Philips says. “There's room for everybody.”

Published in Volume 78, Number 14 of The Uniter (January 18, 2024)

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