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Calgary mayor, officials meet with Hollywood studios lobbying more local productions

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Calgary mayor, officials meet with Hollywood studios lobbying more local productions
Film industry officials and Calgary's mayor have returned from a trade mission to Los Angeles to tout the benefits of producing film and television in Calgary. As Adam MacVicar reports, there's optimism in a strong year for the film industry in the city. – Jan 15, 2024

Calgary’s mayor, film commissioner and officials with local film unions and guilds are back from a quick trip to Los Angeles, all to entice Hollywood executives to bring more film and television productions to the city and province.

The Calgary contingent met with nine studios and streamers last week, including Disney, Fox, Apple, Amazon and Netflix Animation.

“These types of trips are absolutely critical to reaffirming Calgary’s position as a film and television city,” Mayor Jyoti Gondek said at a press conference about the trip Monday.

According to the city’s film commissioner, Luke Azevedo, the group pitched studio executives on the potential for Calgary to be a hub for studios, which would allow for multiple projects to be produced simultaneously, as well as the purpose-built infrastructure and crew capacity the city has to offer.

“We know that we’re a player in this industry, we know that the Los Angeles community is paying attention, and we’re ready to continue on and grow this sector,” Azevedo said.

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Gondek said conversations also included diversity, sustainability, tax incentives, and the city’s “film-friendly” team, which aims to make it easier for productions to use different local locations and buildings as sets.

“We spotlighted the many ways in which we have turned Calgary into a ‘no surprises’ jurisdiction where we focus on streamlining approval and getting to ‘yes’ on some pretty unusual requests at times,” the mayor noted.

According to Gondek, Hollywood productions have created 2,190 jobs and contributed $325 million to Calgary’s economy since her last trip to Los Angeles in Sept. 2022.

The trip comes after Alberta-based productions secured 31 Emmy nominations, including The Last of Us.

The HBO production was the largest television production in Calgary’s history, creating 1,490 jobs and an economic impact to the province worth $141 million.

Azevedo said he regularly gets asked questions about the production when meeting with film executives in various jurisdictions.

“How were you able to pull that off?  What did you do differently than you would with a mid-sized or lower-budget show?” Azevedo said. “We talked about this on a continuing basis. It’s creating momentum and we want that momentum to keep going.”

However, the trip also comes after a pair of strikes grinded Hollywood studios to a halt, and saw productions fall close to 80 per cent in Alberta.

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Industry advocates said the timing of the trip as studios ramp up production could be a benefit.

“Coming out of this strike, I know it’s been cold the last few days in Alberta, but Alberta in this business is blazing hot in terms of attention, and the eyeballs and the interest in creating projects in the province,” head of advocacy at Keep Alberta Rolling Brock Skretting told Global News.

Damian Petti with IATSE Local 212 also joined the Calgary contingent in California. He said the strikes left around 1,300 of his members without work, but there’s a sense of optimism for 2024, buoyed by the awards nominations.

The city’s crew base is growing thanks to programs at local post-secondaries, and IATSE also plans on opening a training centre in June to help add capacity.

“There’s a market for quality, people want to make sure that the craftspeople that they’re hiring have world-class skills so they can do the difficult things like working on a mountain or in -20 C temperatures,” Petti said. “Our crews have demonstrated time and again that we are at that level.”

Azevedo said that while it is too early to announce any major productions coming to Calgary and Alberta this year, he noted he is optimistic following last week’s meetings with studio executives.

“If these meetings that we just had in Los Angeles are any kind of a sign of what we’re going to see in ’24, I think we’re going to have a very positive year and see growth,” he told reporters.

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That’s good news for Travel Alberta, which is also trying to join in the buzz of the local film economy.

The organization has recently released a new campaign on social media as well as in the United States to attract tourists to the province.

The video showcases scenes from various Alberta-based productions over the years, and ends with the tagline: “Alberta, it’s like something out of a movie.”

“People are inspired and motivated by film and by amazing images, and then they want to travel there. We saw the economic benefit with ‘The Last of Us,'” Tannis Gaffney with Travel Alberta told Global News. “We’re trying to really inspire those travelers after they’ve seen a film to come and visit Alberta.”

Alberta’s Minister of Arts, Culture and Status of Women, Tanya Fir, also traveled to L.A. to meet with executives last week.

According to her office, she met with executives from studios including HBO, Netflix, Disney and Sony to promote Alberta’s “impressive and competitive financial incentives, world-class pre and post-production studios, trained and talented production crews and stunning backdrops.”

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