Manitoba film productions shuttered amid COVID-19 pandemic, but industry group points to future

Image from the set of Edmonton based production Hot Box. FILE/Global News

The province’s burgeoning film industry has halted production as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts the sector worldwide, leaving hundreds of local film workers out of a job in the meantime.

However, the provincially-funded corporation meant to bolster the film and music industries says Manitoba will weather the storm.

“We were one of the first industries to be completely shut down… by mid-to-late March, that was it,” said Nico Phillips, the president of IATSE Local 856, which represents over 550 film technicians plus permitted workers.

“We’re the craftsmen, the technicians that make motion pictures — film, television, you name it, we can’t work from home.”

Phillips noted screenwriters, directors and others can do preparatory work from home during the downswing — but with film sets shut down for the foreseeable future, his technical workers are out of luck.

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“There is no work… people are on [employment insurance], I hope, but there’s a whole slew who work as incorporated [companies] and may not pay into the EI system.”

Phillips said those people will have to depend on the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, recently announced by the federal government for the millions of Canadians who have lost work since the COVID-19 pandemic ripped through the economy. He noted the union at the national level is lobbying for that benefit to be increased.

The year started off strong for the province’s film industry, with numerous productions including major names like Liam Neeson and Laurence Fishburne, Manitoba Film and Music’s CEO Rachel Margolis said.

But the pandemic put some productions on hiatus — she noted the Neeson and Fishburne production finished its work in Winnipeg.

“It’s problematic for our industry — but we’re looking for what we can do now so that when we rise on the other side of it, we’re stronger,” Margolis said.

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That means MFM is in constant communication with local, national and international clients, Margolis said, to make sure the provincial industry is well-positioned to start back up in full once the pandemic eventually subsides.

Margolis also noted a recent move by local studio Tangent Animation to put $500,000 into work-from-home provisions for 100 animators — with work until 2022 on two large projects.

She pointed to a recent provincial announcement enhancing the film tax credit as evidence of the Manitoba’s film industry’s strength, despite the current lack of work.

“That’s going to be very attractive to companies dealing with post-production and visual effects and animation — another great opportunity when production resumes,” Margolis said.

MFM is also looking to create new programming to help local producers develop their work while the pandemic is ongoing, Margolis said.

“We’re going to capitalize on this downtime and really be stronger when we come out of it.”

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Freeze Frame, the International Film Festival for Kids in Winnipeg

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