Saskatchewan films and TV still viable in growing market

With demand growing worldwide for film and television productions, Saskatchewan should jump at the chance to capitalize on Canadian-made content, an industry lobby group said.

That was the message Ken Alecxe, interim executive director at the Saskatchewan Media Production Industry Association, wanted people to take from his presentation during the Saskatchewan Economic Development Association’s annual conference on Dec. 2 when he spoke about the film industry in Saskatchewan.

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Film and television production in Canada generated $9 billion in revenue in 2019 with Saskatchewan only receiving about four per cent of the pie with about $200-400 million of revenue, Alecxe said .

Alecxe cited such programs as Wynonna Earp, which generated 1,490 full-time jobs and $90 million in just four seasons of production, and Heartland, which generated over 4,500 full-time jobs, $351 million in GDP over 11 seasons, and used 1,411 vendors in Calgary, High River, where it was shot, and other surrounding communities.

The supply chain for film and television from pre-production to post is immense, he said, and Saskatchewan communities have opportunities to fill those supply needs to their own benefit, including things like equipment rentals, construction material, hotels, catering, wardrobes and vehicles, to name a few.

“We should be doing more procurement and local value-added and we can. So I was talking to Creative Saskatchewan, the provincial government agency, about this and just saying, ‘let's sit down and talk about this’.”

The Saskatchewan film industry has been modestly successful given the challenges they have been facing over the last 10 years, Alecxe said, but there are a lot of lost opportunities with the province’s best and brightest finding work elsewhere.

Production companies are willing to shell out the money for new content. According to an article in Variety, Disney, TimeWarner and NBCUniversal will be spending $1-2 billion each for original programming in the 2020 fiscal year.

“It's a rapidly growing market. In fact, it's probably one of the few markets that's been actually making some money during COVID. They're expanding, if anything there are more streamers out there than ever before. It's a $120 billion global industry last year.”

Current work by the association is trying to fix that with plans to build an eye on Saskatchewan community-based stream programs where producers sit down with communities while they're still considering where their production is going to take them.

So how can Saskatchewan move forward? Provinces with competitive incentive programs have seen “substantial amounts of spending” and would “allow Saskatchewan to compete for a portion of the new demand anticipated to occur once new post-COVID protocols are established,” reported Alecxe in his presentation.

Alecxe said the conversation will be going to Saskatchewan Economic Development Association, the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, Municipalities of Saskatchewan, and the Saskatchewan Chambers of Commerce to find partners and collaborators on a virtual production guide for the province for the spring which will focus on getting the word out to the world about Saskatchewan talent and locations.

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