B.C. film industry roaring back after pandemic shutdown


In early March, Surrey was on pace to set another record for film permits issued, including a major production starring Sandra Bullock which was shooting just outside city film manager James Monk’s office.

Then the pandemic hit and all productions in the province shut down.

“In early June, the commercial film industry started to go back to work in a small capacity,” Monk said.  “It’s just been the last few weeks that the TV and film industry have gone back to work.”

Monk says things are getting busy again, and he expects September to be just about on par with where things were last year.

The industry, however, has been forced to change a great deal due to COVID-19, implementing strict health-and-safety protocols to prevent the spread of the virus.

Lorraine Carson on location for the pilot of Siren, a drama made for the U.S. Freeform channel and shot in B.C. (Lorraine Carson)

Safety on sets

WorksafeBC’s guidelines include limiting gatherings of cast and crew, shooting outdoors whenever possible and staggering departments working on set.

Lorraine Carson, who has worked in the industry for 35 years as a costume designer, says the set where she works is broken up into coloured zones, which determine where people are allowed to go and who they can interact with.

Carson says she fills out a health questionnaire every morning, wears PPE while at work and no longer lays out clothes for actors to wear.

“All garments go into a cloth bag, they’re given to the actor and they take it into their room,” she said. “You touch it, we don’t,” she said.

Creative B.C. CEO Prem Gill, whose organization aims to grow and support B.C.’s film industry, says directors and producers have found creative ways to work under the new conditions.

“Slowly but surely, we’re getting back on track,” she said. “We’ve got between 40 and 50 productions that are either in pre-production or are about to go into production in the province.”

James Monk says Surrey was on pace to set another record for film permits in 2020 before the pandemic hit. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

Work challenges

One of the challenges Carson has run into is sending shoppers to different stores that have capacity limits.

She says shoppers now spend much of their time waiting in line instead of buying garments.

“Our shoppers would be in 20 or 30 stores in a day and now they’re down to maybe five or six,” she said. “It’s more labour intensive, but we’re trying to keep everyone safe.”

Still, she’s pleased that she and many of the tens of thousands of others in B.C.’s film industry are now back at work.

Monk says the last few weeks have been extremely busy and several productions have contacted him about filming projects in the fall.

“The film industry in Surrey really saw a spike in 2016, so I  don’t think  we’ll be at the 2016 to 2019 numbers that we were seeing,” he said. “Still, quarter four will probably be on par with what we were doing last year.”

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