B.C. film sector cautiously optimistic that Hollywood strike could be drawing to a close

Click to play video: 'Hollywood North awaits end to writers strike'
Hollywood North awaits end to writers strike
A tentative contact reached over the weekend with Hollywood writers could mean a return to the job soon for B.C. film workers. The industry is a enourmous driver of the B.C. economy, but as Aaron McArthur reports, another labour dispute still has to be settled before productions can fire up again – Sep 25, 2023

Cautious optimism is building in British Columbia’s film and television industry that a historic, months-long work stoppage could be drawing to a close.

The U.S.-based Writers Guild of America (WGA) reached a tentative agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers Sunday that could bring an end to a bitter 146-day strike.

The deal has yet to be ratified, and Hollywood actors, represented by the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) remain on strike.

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“It’s awesome,” Shawn Williamson, a Vancouver-based television producer with Brightlights Pictures, told Global News.

“Pending ratification, we’re all back to work. At least there’s light now. Likely shooting in about eight weeks.”

Williamson’s company produces upwards of 10 shows at once, including popular titles like The Good Doctor, employing up to 2,000 people.

He said all eyes are now on negotiations between actors and the the film and TV industry. If a deal is reached there, he said, Canadian production could ramp up very quickly.

“The hope is they will use the framework that came out of the writer’s guild agreement to base the new actors agreement on — there will be unique issues within it, but if they can use that and hopefully negotiate and come to terms within a few weeks you could see a very, very fast return to production,” Williamson said.

“If I have scripts, we can be shooting with working actors in less than two weeks on a typical episodic show that’s established.”

Click to play video: 'Drew Barrymore pauses return of daytime talk show amid ongoing strikes in Hollywood'
Drew Barrymore pauses return of daytime talk show amid ongoing strikes in Hollywood

That would be welcome news to British Columbia workers sidelined by the dispute, despite not actually being on strike.

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Film and television production was worth an estimated $3.6 billion to B.C.’s economy in 2022, according to industry-focused Creative BC, and supports up to 70,000 full-time and part-time jobs.

“Normally around this time of year we’d probably have between 25 and 40 productions at some level of production, whether its pre-production, post-production or actually in production,” Creative BC CEO Prem Gill said.

Currently there are about 15 productions active in B.C., she said, including two or three scripted Canadian series.

“Obviously a lot of people have been having a challenging time over the past couple of months,” she said.

“We’re still trying to understand what happens over the next few days and couple of weeks through the ratification process, what kinds of things may come back sooner, what level of things, obviously the actors are an important piece of the work, so that has to be a big part of it.”

Click to play video: 'TIFF to see fewer stars amid Hollywood strikes'
TIFF to see fewer stars amid Hollywood strikes

Some 11,500 WGA members walked off the job May 2 over issues of pay, the size of writing staffs on shows and the use of artificial intelligence in the creation of scripts. A ratification vote on the new deal, which has not been made public, is expected to take about two weeks.

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Actors, who joined the writers on strike in July, have their own issues but there have been no discussions about resuming negotiations with their union yet.

Gill said she remains optimistic that B.C. will still be a top destination for U.S. productions once the labour dispute is fully resolved.

The local industry has experience with everything from episodic TV shows to blockbuster films, and remains one of the most attractive production hubs in North America thanks to including infrastructure, skilled workers and tax breaks, she said.

“All of this in combination to our proximity to Los Angeles probably puts us in a stronger place than maybe some other jurisdictions, but again, what the models will look like a year from now … I’m not sure,” she said.

“But I do think we have such a strong industry and really 40-year-plus industry here that we remain at the top of the list of choices.”

— with files from the Associated Press. 

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