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COVID, parking availability and downtown construction impact 2021 filming in New West

New Westminster “on track for a reasonably good year” in 2022
Filming - file 2020
A house on Sixth Avenue was decorated to the hilt in November 2020 for filming of Love Hard, a romantic comedy from Netflix.

New Westminster’s filming revenues have taken a bit of a hit during the pandemic but they’re anticipated to bounce back in 2022.

The city is reporting gross revenues of $593,494 in 2021 – almost half of the recording-breaking $1 million made in 2017, when the city issued 135 filming permits and saw 155 filming days. Revenues have been declining ever since 2017, dropping to $823,009 in 2018, $795,151 in 2019 and $730,886 in 2020.

“Without COVID coming in in 2020, we would have been close to hitting another banner year,” said Jason Haight, manager of business operations in the parks and rec department. “But COVID completely stalled and suspended filming activity, just like COVID suspended and stalled many industry activities.”

According to Haight, the lingering effects of COVID and the variability of productions related to issues such as actor availability, international travel and various COVID restrictions impacted filming in 2021. Despite those issues, he said the city still issued 60 filming permits and saw 76 days of filming in 2021.

In addition to COVID, downtown construction activity and limited parking have impacted film production opportunities in New West.

“Over the last five or 10 years we have lost a number of parking lots that were suitable in size and in locations that all the film trucks, their catering, their equipment, they could be housed outside of the neighbourhood and available for filming. But we have lost many of those parking lots,” Haight said. “Basically we have got two, so we have a pinchpoint on where we can put filming trucks, which is commonly referred to as circus and crew.”

Despite those issues, Haight said the City of New Westminster is “on track for a reasonably good year” in 2022.

“We anticipate filming will continue to grow and rebound in 2022 and we should probably be back up to around the 2019 level of income,” he said. “In the month of January, I think we already hit $86,000 in gross revenue.”

At the Feb. 14 council meeting, staff presented an update about 2021 filming activities and proposed filming fees for 2022. Council directed staff to bring forward bylaw amendments related to the fees.

Staff proposed increases to 10 existing fees, such as a filming license fee ($275 to $300), a street occupancy fee ($200 to $225), a city hall parking lot daily fee ($500 to $750) and a cemetery film – day fee ($1,500 to $2,000). The introduction of eight new film fees is also being proposed, including a drone use admin fee ($500) and a lunch tent day fee – on civic property ($300).

Coun. Chinu Das said it’s always nice to get an update on the filming activities because it’s a revenue generator for the city. She questioned why the city would be considering fee increases and the introduction of new fees at a time when filming permits and revenues are down.

Haight said the proposed fees and rates are consistent with what’s required in other Metro Vancouver cities. He said production companies are very experienced with building their budgets based upon the scripts – not the City of New Westminster film fees.

“The film fees that we are proposing, both the existing increases and new film fees are market value and are sustainable and are not going to be a surprise to the film industry,” he said.

Haight said the film fees being proposed for 2022 in New Westminster are comparable to those in other cities in the region.

“As well, we have not increased our film fees for five years, with the exception of police callout rates, which is generally an annual fee increase. So we have been holding the status quo with our fees for awhile and we are starting to fall behind market rates so we are actually just catching up to the baseline of what other municipalities are charging and what production companies budget,” he said. “With the new fees that we are introducing, those are fees that other municipalities use and do represent market rate.”

Of the 18 proposed fees, Haight said only about four or five will be triggered for most productions, such as an administration fee, street signage fee, street occupancy fee and a license fee. He said the others would be charged depending on the type of filming activity that’s occurring.

“Not every production has special effects; not every production uses signature locations like the Fraser Cemetery or city hall, where there is new fees or increases introduced,” he said. “Not every production company uses drones.”

Haight said filming is becoming more technical and more ambitious, and it’s becoming more complicated for staff to coordinate and administer filming activity.

“The bottom-line vision for the filming portfolio is that it is a revenue stream for the city and that it is not subsidized by the taxpayer,” he said. “So we want to make sure that we charge the film companies that are for-profit companies the right amount so that taxpayers are not subsidizing film activity in the city.”

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus
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