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Shooting in Canada: Things Are Looking Up, Eh?



LBB’s Liam Smith gets the lay of the land with Soft Citizen, Circle Productions, Nimble Content and more

Shooting in Canada: Things Are Looking Up, Eh?

Rocky mountains, sprawling glaciers, lush untouched forests, bustling cityscapes… When it comes to shooting locations, Canada might well have it all. Add to that a positive exchange rate between the American and Canadian dollar, then it’s no wonder US productions are consistently taking their shoots north of the border. 

Hoping to get some insight into the current production landscape, LBB’s Liam Smith caught up with some Canucks from Soft Citizen, Partners Film, Circle Productions and more to get the lay of the land.  

How’s the current production landscape?

Partners Film> Of course there’s a positive vibe, we’re Canadians after all! No, but seriously, Canada has really come into its own as a filmmaking powerhouse over the last few years. The current landscape is one of endless possibility. More big blockbuster movies, TV shows, and commercial spots are coming north of the border to capitalise on what Canada has to offer. The environment this creates is one of expectation and enthusiasm. It’s empowering, to filmmakers both novice and experienced, to see projects with international acclaim left in our hands. We’re excited about the new age of Canadian Film.

Eva Preger, MP / EP, Soft Citizen> I think the local market is very positive overall creatively. Canadian agencies are doing some really innovative work. That said, it’s also a challenging landscape because of shrinking budgets and content needs, and that’s just a fact everywhere. Bottom line, there's good work out there and some wonderful people to be collaborating with. 

In terms of service production, Canada has really ramped up in the last three years with offshore productions coming to make magic here due to the level of talent, service and attractiveness of a bigger bang for their buck.   

Chris Bowell, Managing Partner / EP, Circle Productions> Canadian ad agencies provide a consistent volume of creative projects that sustain the established Canadian production companies, who shoot these projects in or outside of Canada depending on locations etc. required for the creative. 

There are seasonal and production volume peaks and valleys, job wins and losses ongoing, but there’s generally a very positive vibe sustaining in Canada. 

Josefina Nadurata, Partner / EP, Holiday Films> Big broadcast spots are still alive and well but the competition is much stiffer. Global directors are competing for the work and the Canadian agencies have a lot of choice. Client demands are increasing and the budgets are decreasing. Those directors who can tell authentic and compelling brand stories in a variety of styles will always be busy. 

Andrew Lynch, EP, Nimble> Generally speaking, there is a positive vibe. The creative on work that we see is getting better. Brands are willing to take more chances, because they must. Stories are being told. 

How do you see things evolving in the next few years? 

Partners Film> Ask anyone in the film industry and they’ll tell you that change and uncertainty are nearly perpetual occurrences during production. So we might be used to it. Adaptation is critical. 

One major change that we can already see is the shift in dominance away from film and towards TV. This influx of talent and cash into TV has only been aided by the variety of streaming services that are now available; from Netflix to YouTube, we consume more online and less through the more traditional TV platforms than past generations grew up with. I expect both of these trends to continue.  

This creates an interesting landscape for our business personally. We produce commercials, both for broadcast and online platforms. On the one hand, a TV dominated landscape increases the demand for high quality broadcast commercials, which is fantastic for us.  On the other hand, the prevalence of streaming services does present a new challenge for advertisers to make sure their messages are heard. Already we see the trend that emphasises producing multiple micro-spots that are a perfect fit for something like YouTube; where the more traditional, longer spots fail to get their message across in time. As attention spans and patience for ads become lower, we have to adapt. We aren’t worried; adaptation is something we do every day. 

Eva Preger, MP / EP, Soft Citizen> Canada is following in the footsteps of all international markets. We are seeing a certain amount of content production go in-house as the need for low budget content – particularly for social media – is a new reality agencies need to deliver to clients. A few years ago, top production houses were trying to be everything to everyone while trying to figure out the changing landscape. That just doesn't work.   

We feel there is a growing resurgence and respect for the craft of filmmaking and directors. Agencies and brands recognise the value of what we can bring to them for content with more scope and scale and gravitas. That's what we focus on being. Knowing what you are in terms of craft and value is everything for production companies who want to succeed and not get lost chasing shadows.   

Chris Bowell, Managing Partner / EP, Circle Productions> Hmm, well the new American political landscape, and how that may affect the production service volume, appears to be a bit of a wild card at this point. But with a positive exchange rate differential, experienced and savvy executive producers and production supervisors, strong and diverse talent pool, competitive crew and talent rates, wonderful and diverse locations, and world class Canadian equipment and crew delivering a great production experience and reliably consistent high level of production, we believe the volume of work will continue to grow over the next few years. And the Canadian agencies (and their clients) are continuing to kick some serious creative butt, so that’s a good sign too. 

Josefina Nadurata, Partner / EP, Holiday Films> Eventually you’ll see a merge of both content and broadcast together. Media buys will shift, as the viewers will be watching through different experiential mediums. There will be more user-generated content and the push for more authentic experiences will resonate. 

Michael Corbiere, EP, Nimble> I think we’re well poised here for the changes. Canada has always been tasked to do more with less, compared with the US, so we certainly have the mindset to make it work. 

Many US productions have been taking their shoots to Canada in recent years – do you think this trend will continue? 

Partners Film> With the relative dominance of the US dollar a lot of productions were coming to Canada for the favourable exchange rate. I think it would be petulant to the extreme to believe that this was the only reason for this increasing trend. What major players in the US have realised is that Canadian production companies have the skill and hubris to tackle massive jobs with massive budgets. This was a matter of trust, and we’ve proven ourselves.  

So to directly answer your question: yes, we believe that this trend will continue not only due to the capabilities we’ve displayed, but also for the unique look and feel that Canada can offer. 

Eva Preger, MP / EP, Soft Citizen> Yes, this will continue based on the low Canadian dollar, high production value and amazing crews. TV and film also have great tax credit incentives.    


Chris Bowell, Managing Partner / EP, Circle Productions> Yes, Canada is right next door, on similar time zones. The price is right, there's an experienced and diverse talent pool, crew, supplier support and the service companies are world class, consistently delivering the goods at a very competitive cost. So I think the Canadian production roll will continue. That said if the Canadian dollar strengthens and the relative cost of Canadian production goes up, the service work will likely dissipate somewhat.

Michael Corbiere, EP, Nimble> I don’t see it stopping any time soon. US productions realise great value with the currency exchange between our countries (+ or – 30%), and there’s no indication that is going to change.

Andrew Lynch, EP, Nimble> As long as US production companies can realise a currency exchange benefit and the ability to buy out non-union talent, we will continue to see US productions. Canadian production teams are top tier and are very deep in talent. As Canadians, it’s in our nature to nurture. 

Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary are all popular locations to shoot. What are the lesser known gems out there the world should know about? 

Partners Film> Obviously, it all depends on what you’re trying to shoot, context is king. Toronto, Vancouver, and Calgary are popular for a reason. These cities possess a great deal of flexibility in terms of what can be captured there.  

Beyond those places there is definitely something to be said about the east coast, which is not exactly as popular as the other locations, but certainly has its own quaint charm. It carries a different vibe, one that can’t be forged in a big city. And of course the coastline is beautiful. 

To name a few others: Sudbury is perfect for northern shoots, and if you’re feeling more extreme the Yukon is the epitome of untouched, glacial perfection. We also shouldn’t forget Montreal and its more European feel. 

Eva Preger, MP / EP, Soft Citizen> Canada is filled with amazing landscapes and unique cultures. The Maritimes, Quebec, the Rockies and the North are all incredible in their own ways.    

Chris Bowell, Managing Partner / EP, Circle Productions> Those are the main production centres in Canada, along with Montreal. But the other true beauty of Canada lies outside of our urban centres, in all those wonderful and diverse landscapes across the country, and the rivers, lakes and oceans that surround us. Over the years Circle has shot in pretty much every region of the country, and needless to say, once you get off the beaten path the gems are abundant.  

Andrew Lynch, EP, Nimble> Canada has a wide range of stellar locations and options. There are lots of gems but like anywhere else, the best crews, equipment and resources are found in major hubs. Canada’s a huge place, there’s still a fascination and curiosity towards the film and TV industry, and so you find a lot of helpful people country-wide.

Bruce Mckay, Creative Strategist, Holiday/Nimble> Smaller regional cities and towns just outside the main hubs often provide fresh and authentic looking locations often for feature-based productions. 

What's the most exciting thing about shooting in Canada? 

Partners Film> The most exciting? The possibilities.

In terms of securing the ideal location for a shoot, Canada is home to such a wide range of potentials. Whether you’re trying to fake New York, Chicago, Boston, Seattle, etc., or you’re looking for a unique take on the city, the small town, the country, the wide expanses of untouched land, it’s all there for the taking. But it goes beyond that. Every facet of the film industry in Canada has spent the last few years growing and developing, so that now there is a massive pool of talent from which to draw. The possibilities are endless. 

Eva Preger, MP / EP, Soft Citizen> Our crews are top notch and our locations are extremely diverse. That’s why we service some of the leading international shops. 

Chris Bowell, Managing Partner / EP, Circle Productions> Exciting? Unique and strong creative, passionate directors who deliver the goods, experienced, talented and dedicated crew, all the right gear, and some cool locations or sets in studio.

Andrew Lynch, EP, Nimble> Having the ability to work just outside the major hubs in great locations with even greater people. 

Bruce Mckay, Creative Strategist, Holiday/Nimble> If your production is capable of shooting outside of the major cities you will find some of the most magnificent and diverse natural landforms in the world. And our population is so ethnically diverse. The on-camera talent pool has just about any nationality you need. 

And the most frustrating?

Partners Film> The weather. Overall preparedness is key. This isn’t LA where the forecast is the same every day. 

Eva Preger, MP / EP, Soft Citizen> Weather conditions can be the most frustrating part of shooting in Canada. Check the forecast before coming ;)  

Chris Bowell, Managing Partner / EP, Circle Productions> Frustrating is unforeseen foul weather, expectations of animals or babies delivering academy performances, agencies or clients arbitrarily changing the industry standard rules of fair play, and unreasonable budgets for specific creative asks.  

Andrew Lynch, EP, Nimble> Channels of delivery have increased, budgets have decreased and timelines have been compressed. Many projects do feel rushed.

Who are some exciting Canadian directors the rest of the world should be keeping an eye on?

Partners Film> It goes without saying that Denis Villeneuve is one of the biggest Canadian directors in the business after his latest Triumph ‘Arrival’, but considering the eyes of the world are already trained on him, we’ll leave it short. 

This country has an amazing and emerging body of talent. I could comprise a list of many hundreds or even thousands of notable names, but instead I’m going to talk about the talented directors that I am most familiar with. Kathi Prosser, Duane Crichton, Michael Downing, and Steve Chase are four Canadian directors that we have the pleasure of working with on a regular basis. Each has built a unique style and dug out a niche in the advertising industry, while never failing to flex their directorial muscles in other pursuits. Duane released a feature called “Saving God” in 2008, while Michael Downing and Kathi Prosser are each currently pursuing their own passion projects in film and TV respectively. 

Eva Preger, MP / EP, Soft Citizen> Co.Lab. Aircastle. Graydon Sheppard. Christopher Hutsul. Yael Staav. The Perlorian Brothers. Henry Lu.  The Solidarity Union. Leo Zuckerman.    

Chris Bowell, Managing Partner / EP, Circle Productions> Too many to mention, but the Circle roster speaks for itself.

Josefina Nadurata, EP, Holiday Films> Adam & Dave are a Canadian born and bred directing duo who came out of the sketch comedy scene. With deep ties to Second City and authentic quirk, they’ve been getting a lot of traction with larger agencies outside of Canada, from Droga5 to W+K UK. They are definitely the ones to watch. Canada will catch up with them soon enough. Ryan Gibb is a visual storytelling anomaly, from directing to DPing to editing. He can do it all. His candid visual style is engaging, energising and visceral, with camera moves to help drive the stories forward, often creating new camera tricks in the pre-production phase. 

Nimble Content is Holiday’s digital arm run by Exec Producers Andrew Lynch and Michael Corbiere and overseen by Josefina Nadurata & Derek Sewell. All the directors are 100% Canadian and it’s quickly becoming an engaging creative place to help build new Canadian directorial talent within our market place. Eventually as their Canadian content reels get stronger they’ll be working globally under the Nimble banner. It’s a special creative place representing a new breed of filmmakers that can work within any budget.

Josefina Nadurata, Partner/Exec Producer, Holiday Films> With a photojournalist background Canadian director Brent Foster is a poignant, honest storyteller with the ability to capture and weave together beautiful cinematic  stories. His ongoing global legacy project continues to inspire. This series is all about people who have spent a lifetime mastering a skill then passing that knowledge along to the next generation. We are very excited about working with Brent, he represents the new breed of film maker; directs, dop's, edits, shoots stills and can pilot a drone seamlessly! 

Any parting thoughts?

Partners Film> We actually don’t apologise as much as people believe. Sorry about that.

Eva Preger, MP / EP, Soft Citizen> We have great craft beer.

Derek Sewell, Partner/EP, Holiday Films> We have one of the most diverse talent pools I’ve seen around the world. Cast from almost all nationalities can be found here. We have virtually all equipment available anywhere in the world. 

Crew rates and cost of production are very reasonable compared to shooting in major US centres. That’s why we have so many US productions happening here. Canadian cities easily double for US locations. It’s an experienced, well-equipped, safe and civilised work environment to shoot any production. 

Josefina Nadurata, Partner / EP, Holiday Films> We’re 100% Trump free.

view more - Trends and Insight
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LBB Editorial, Fri, 31 Mar 2017 15:29:59 GMT