Preparing the next generation for employment in Vancouver’s entertainment industries - Republik City News
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Preparing the next generation for employment in Vancouver’s entertainment industries

Written by SuccessValley

Declaring to your parents that you want to work in film and TV production or gaming design isn’t something you say under your breath anymore. From crews to directors and screenwriters, programs are in place to produce some of the most talented employees in these growing global industries.

The demand for new content to populate streaming services is generating more entertainment industry jobs than ever in an already bustling business. The demand for workers with a wide-ranging skill set is stronger than ever. But is the next generation of workers in Hollywood North feeding an American machine with the stories it wants at the expense of telling Canadian stories?

“It’s definitely a period of changing models right now as the streamers don’t do production deals in the same way broadcasters or major studios did, and the whole idea of what rights and global licensing is are changing the traditional models,” said Creative B.C. CEO Prem Gil. “The service industry is a big, strong part of the story in British Columbia, as is the talent. Because you have to remember that all of those shows — U.S., Canadian, wherever they are from — are being touched by B.C. talent all along the way.”

Vancouver has the training infrastructure in place to put Canadians in key positions that would have likely been filled by foreigners in the past. Animation Career Review rated the Vancouver Film School the No. 1 Global Animation School and the No. 1 Canadian Animation School this year.

On a tour of the downtown campus with VFS executive producer and head of marketing Christopher Ian Bennett, the scope of training being offered to the next generation of Hollywood North employees is clear. Student productions are shooting on sound stages, including a room kitted out to resemble a “Beautiful B.C.” landscape complete with trees, shrubs and a solid rock face to climb. In another room are carefully detailed set models.


A landscape sound stage inside the Vancouver Film School. Photo: Arlen Redekop/Postmedia

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“Hit the lights and see how much work goes into these models,” said Bennett. “You use a light source to study how it plays in the room to determine film shots. What happens when a car drives up, when someone walks outside? It’s better to figure it out here than when you are rolling on a crewed-up set.”

The facility is preparing workers for the local and international market, said VFS managing director Jon Bell. Students come from Canada, Mexico, Korea, China, India and other locales to learn a wide range of industry-related skills. Film is still the most in-demand program, but the bottom line is different.

“In terms of industry demands, the global video game industry is three times the size of film and television combined,” said Bell. “The skill set and employability in visual effects is one of the best, and Vancouver has one of the biggest industries in the world now. We have revised programs to reflect the industry.”

Local crews operating in every capacity of production are regularly rated some of the best in the business.

“Our talent is in global demand and there is certainly a desired trickle-down effect that comes back to domestic productions fully owned and created here,” said Gil.

“Last year, the provincial government enhanced the film incentive B.C. tax credit to include writers, which hadn’t existed before. As that happened, Creative B.C., Netflix and the Producers Association were able to create the new Pacific Screenwriters Program focused on building writing rooms here and supporting our writing talent to be able to work on both their own content and in service writing rooms.”


Christopher Bennett, the executive producer and head of marketing at the Vancouver Film School. Photo: Arlen Redekop/Postmedia

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As Kim’s Convenience and Schitt’s Creek — both CBC programs — recently proved, there are global audiences for good stories with universal appeal. Raila Gutman at the Pacific Screenwriting Program says generating local intellectual property (IP) is often overshadowed by service bureau work. Writers wanting to develop their own projects usually have to go to Los Angeles or Toronto to get things moving. The program aims to change that.

“We’re training writers, not the emerging ones but mid-level and senior ones too, to develop their own IP in B.C.,” said Gutman. “Historically, there wasn’t a workforce here to give the industry the impression we could have writers’ rooms based here, so they set them up in L.A. Last year, we hosted a summit where we invited Netflix, CBC, Canadian and American broadcasters and major studios out to B.C. to get them engaged with the writing community.”

At the same time that the industry is being introduced, writers are being taught the ins and outs of working in a writers’ room. Gutman says the program aims to provide the tools required to work in writers’ rooms. Proof of its success will be seen in an increase in locally developed and produced intellectual property.

Kendrie Upton, the executive director at the Directors Guild of Canada, B.C. District Council, says the same situation of underutilized talent has applied in the past to locals helming productions. Programs such as the Directors Initiative provide vital training. The DGC B.C.’s Director Showcase (Sept. 6 to 8 at the Vancity Theatre and Playhouse) showcases B.C. directed work in film and TV to provide exposure and advocate to get more Canadians in the director’s chair.

It’s not that it’s not happening, Upton explains, shouting out to companies such as Nomadic Productions and programs such as Netflix’s Travellers who employed local talent. It’s just that the DGC B.C. recognizes challenges in getting its members noticed.

“Our market share has traditionally clung around the 30 per cent mark,” said Upton, a 30 year industry veteran. “That would be not be good enough anyways, but with production so much higher now it hasn’t increased with it. We did some market research recently where we reached out to our L.A. clients to say we’ve got some really talented B.C. directors you could be using on your locally shot shows and the standard return was ‘we don’t know who they are.’”


Vancouver’s first film commissioner David Shepheard with executive director of the Vancouver Film & Media Centre, Nancy Mott. Photo: Nick Procaylo/Postmedia

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Perhaps the art of the pitch should be added to industry training manuals. Done right, you get results. Vancouver film commissioner David Shepheard notes that a recent tour of Hollywood North by various members of the U.K. entertainment industries produced exciting results. From industry organizations to government bodies, establishing relationships is key to driving local IP and employment.

“A lot of good business relationships were established out of us bringing over people on that tour, including a financing deal to establish a new range of kid’s animated films using the Bear Grylls brand between Platinum Films and Burnaby-based Bron Studios animation wing,” said Shepheard. “This kind of content creation reflects the changing market where the globe becomes increasingly smaller and content reaches markets that wouldn’t have been reached in the past.”

Vancouver born-and-raised Shawn Williamson started Brightlight Pictures in 2001. In its 18 year-long history, the company has cultivated an impressive combination of local intellectual property and service work ranging from TV’s The Good Doctor to Disney’s hit Descendants properties. He echoes the sentiment on the importance of building relationships to recognize the talent base in the local industry. And he supports the proposition that the combination of service work and local intellectual property is key to keeping the industry vital and providing continuing opportunities.

“We have multiple examples of how we were able to leverage relationships developed from service work we’ve done on shows we didn’t own into creative work on ones we did,” said Williamson. “An example is an international film we did a few years ago called Horns, starring Daniel Radcliffe and directed by a French director named Alex Aja, which lead to a developing a project called the 9th Life of Louis Drax, developed within the Canadian content system.

“One of the joys with the bulk of production of shows being produced here and internationally with the demand for new content is that those who were otherwise having challenges breaking down the doors of Hollywood are being given a shot and we have a deep talent pool.”

Williamson says that they are presently crewing up something in the realm of a “thousand technicians, actors, background people, writers and so forth” on their shows.

Phil Klapwyk, the business representative at IATSE local 891 knows all about those jobs. While producers, writers, directors and actors may get the glory, but it’s often the hard-working crews that make the movie getting more work. His local represents 19 departments with 135 job titles that all work in film and television production careers.

“For every one director that lands a job, there are usually about 120 talented technicians and artists working behind them to make their vision come to fruition, and a lot of these are people are those with correlative skills in the real world, from electricians to carpenters to make up artists.” said Klapwyk.

“There is a labour market information project due to be released by the government very soon that suggests a five-per cent attrition rate throughout the industry per year up against a three to four per cent annual growth which means we need at least an eight to nine per cent workforce increase to keep up with that pace. For my 9,000 members, that means 720 jobs a year.”

Hollywood North’s future looks bright, although not without challenges keeping pace with predicted growth. Expect to see more and more outreach and educational efforts to entice young people to consider careers in the existing creative industries as well as those to come. As Christopher Hobbs of Vancouver custom software development firm TTT Studios notes, the city is well-positioned for new businesses in emerging entertainment technologies.

“Because of its proven past in film, TV, gaming and digital entertainment and the infrastructure around it, there are continuing great opportunities,” said Hobbs. “VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) are natural fits in terms of tech development, and we can become a global leader there beyond the entertainment infrastructure.”

sderdeyn@postmedia.com

twitter.com/stuartderdeyn


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