Reopening of Manitoba’s film industry could draw productions from across North America

Manitoba is poised to become a movie hotspot this summer as one of the first jurisdictions in Canada to reopen its film industry shuttered by COVID-19.

As part of the second phase of its reopening plan, Manitoba will allow film and television production to resume June 1.

“We are seeing a tremendous opportunity out of this terrible crisis,” said Rachel Rusen, CEO of Manitoba Film and Music.

Rusen said the province’s low number of COVID-19 cases has more film productions eyeing Manitoba

She said her organization has been seeing an interest from producers in others provinces wanting to come film in Manitoba, while major studios and producers from abroad are also looking to bring their projects to Manitoba.

“I think we’re going to see the same things that happened when SARS broke out. We benefited from large scale production work that wasn’t intended for Manitoba,” she said.

That could bring hundreds of people into the province to work in film.

Rachel Rusen, CEO of Manitoba Film and Music, says crews from across Canada and the United States are now considering moving their productions to Manitoba because of its low COVID-19 case numbers. (John Einarson/CBC)

Manitoba Film and Music is working with film producers to develop safety guidelines for productions, she said.

Film productions are only allowed in Manitoba if cast, employees and the public can keep a separation of at least two metres from one another, except for brief exchanges, the province said.

Productions also have to follow provincial and federal travel restrictions. In Manitoba, that would mean a 14-day isolation period for anyone coming into the province.

Rusen said she hopes the film industry will be able to start up fairly soon once the restrictions are lifted.

“It’s not necessarily lights, camera, action, June 1,” she said.

Physical distancing could be hard on set

Despite the opportunities it presents, Manitoba shouldn’t get caught up trying to be the first to reopen film production, according to a local union head who represents more than 500 employees in the industry, from lighting and sound, to prop makers and costume designers. 

“I don’t think being first is the best idea. Because if you’re first, and you get it wrong, it could mean … much more serious repercussions for the industry going forward,” said Nicolas Phillips, president of International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 856.

“The goal is to get the film industry up and going in Manitoba, but to do it safely.”

Nicolas Phillips, president of International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 856, says the film industry has been hit hard by the shutdown of production. But a return to work needs to be done carefully. (John Einarson/CBC)

Like almost everyone employed in film in Manitoba, Phillips—who does lighting— hasn’t been working for months.

“I understand the short term pain,” he said. 

Phillips said they’re waiting to hear how safety measures will be tailored for the industry.

Physical distancing will be hard on set, he said. Just moving certain film equipment can’t be done by one or two people.

“It’s not as simple as saying, ‘We’ll just have half as many people in a room’.”

And while some jurisdictions like Georgia have allowed filming to resume, production hasn’t really begun because the safety measures just haven’t been sorted out yet, he said.

Phillips is hopeful he and his colleagues will be able to return to work in a film industry that has seen a boom in recent years, in part thanks to tax incentives for films shot and produced in the province— some of which were announced just before COVID-19 hit.

“We of course will welcome the work here. But it has to be done safely and sensibly. It’s not a race,” he said.

 

Read more at CBC.ca

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