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B.C. film industry hopes to be safely, fully back in action by summer

Last Updated Jun 28, 2020 at 6:17 pm PDT

FILE - Silhouette of a production in progress on a white stage. (iStock photo)

The industry was never ordered to shut down, but thousands have been out of work since most production halted mid-March

The relative success B.C. has had flattening the curve will make it attractive to U.S. companies: union

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Film production — in and around Vancouver — is picking up with hopes of getting back up to full speed by the end of the summer.

The industry was never ordered to shut down, but 95 per cent of the 14,500 technicians and artists represented by IATSE Local 891 have been out of work since mid-March.

“We are back in the trenches in preparation for resuming physical production,” says union representative Phil Klapwyk.

“There’s been constant work going on during the intervening time. So we’ve had art departments working on preparing drawings, and we’ve had production offices and accountants working but right now we’re starting to ramp back up to devise safety plans throughout the industry so that we can resume the bulk of our work in a very safe manner.”

An industry-wide pandemic guide is in the works, but individual employers must have a separate plan approved by WorkSafeBC.

“The film industry has some of the most creative problem-solvers that you’ll meet. If anyone can tackle the logistics of figuring out how to do this in a COVID world with social distancing, it’s the professional artists and technicians that work here,” Klapwyk says.

He notes workers in the industry are used to ebbs and flows, but a months-long production shutdown is unprecedented.

“We in the film industry in British Columbia have often been in a boom and bust cycle and a lot of us plan for rainy days, and we know how to tuck stuff away and survive. But we’ve been very thankful for the assistance all levels of government have extended during this time,” he says.

The 14-day quarantine for anyone coming in from the U.S. is not proving to be a problem, according to Klapwyk.

“Key creatives coming from the U.S. face difficulties with the quarantine period but most seem to be embracing it,” he explains, adding that timelines can easily be adjusted, and people can work remotely for the first two weeks after they arrive in Canada.

“As an industry, we’re definitely seeing the border as an issue but it’s also a matter of confidence. The people coming into our province we need to be very sure that we’re not going to be introducing an element that may lead to more infections in our workplaces.”

He adds that British Columbia’s relative success at stemming the spread of COVID-19 makes it a compelling destination for U.S. productions.

“Thanks to the strong work of Dr. Bonnie Henry and all of the citizens of British Columbia and their efforts to flatten the curve, we are so attractive to U.S. studios right now that I can anticipate we’re going to be booming before you know it.”

Pete Mitchell, President of Vancouver Film Studios, says there will be some on-set challenges.

“If you’ve ever seen a film crew it’s a bunch of people — huddled around a camera, huddled around blueprints — and so everybody’s going to have to take one or two steps back,” he explains.

And physical distancing requirements could mean fewer on-screen love stories.

“In terms of the performers, there are ways that you can make people look a lot closer than they are. It’s going to compromise storylines and so on, but that’s a worldwide thig and we’ll work through it,” he says.

“There will be romantic comedies with kissing in the future, but we’re not quite there yet and I don’t know if anybody knows how that’s going to be dealt with.”