Special to Reel West by Cory Sterling
When one thinks of the film and entertainment industry in British Columbia, all thoughts initially turn to Vancouver. However, the hub of Hollywood North continues to make space for an ever-stronger partner on the scene. The Okanagan Valley keeps turning industry heads and drawing attention from businesses domestic and foreign alike.
Four recent developments in Kelowna and the Okanagan Valley are demonstrative of this potential.
Most recently, the CBC reported the sale of Kelowna-grown Immersive Media for Hollywood for $100 million. The company, which specializes in spherical immersive video experiences, was recently purchased by Hollywood FX firm Digital Domain holdings, a parent company of Digital Domain, which is a visual effects powerhouse on the scene. The sale is the biggest in the Okanagan since 2007 when Disney bought Club Penguin. With numbers reaching the nine-digit level, the interest in Okanagan talent and development is real and growing.
On a grassroots level, projects like Kelly Veltri’s Film Factory reflect growth in the Okanagan from the bottom up. Veltri created a space for film production, which includes a 1,400 square foot studio space available for rent for local artists. On top of this, local film and television makers can travel to Kelowna to rent equipment, use a professional recording studio, rent offices and offer private screenings of their work. The idea for the Factory started as a dream for Veltri who is also a board member with the Okanagan Society of Independent Filmmakers Since its inception, reception of the Film Factory has been phenomenal.
“The community has responded really well,” says Veltri. “We are really busy and I think local creatives are taking advantage of a one-stop-shop right at their doorstep. There are a lot of exciting projects taking place and a lot of artists who otherwise would not have a chance to pursue their projects if the Film Factory was not around.”
Visland Media is a development and distribution company that specializes in non-fiction content (documentaries, lifestyle, reality and adventure) in both the domestic and international marketplaces. It holds offices in Kelowna and Toronto.
Visland's CEO Alex Miller sees a bright sun rising over the Okanagan. “As we create a critical mass of industry professionals, things will grow a lot quicker in the Okanagan. There is a desire for people to live in a great place. Living in the Okanagan attracts the right people. The better people we have, the stronger our industry can become.”
Okanagan Film Commissioner Jon Summerland echoes all of these sentiments of growth and optimism. “Five years ago we were just starting to get on producers' radar. At most we’d have $5 million in economic impact and now we are upwards of $20 million in direct leave,” says Summerland. “Our crew base and infrastructure have all grown and now there is animation and gaming companies that call the Okanagan home – which never existed before.”
Looking forward, Summerland says to get to the next level, the Okanagan needs to, “continue to build our crew base. Vancouver productions would bring their work here if we had the soundstage infrastructure and crew.”
The appeal of the Okanagan according to the Commissioner? “Tax credits are of course are one, if not, the most important piece.” When contemplating the future for Film in the Okanagan, Summerland bursts with enthusiasm. “2016 is going to be our biggest year. There will be more growth in film production and animation. Stay tuned.”
Growth seems imminent in the Okanagan and the upcoming Okanagan Film Fundamentals symposium reflects this well.
Between March 3-6, 2016, developing professionals will have the opportunity to enhance their knowledge and build their skills in all facets of the Entertainment Industry. The symposium is a critical first step in expanding the professionalism of the industry.
Cory Scott Dankner Sterling is a lawyer practicing Entertainment Law in Vancouver. His love of the arts is matched only for his passion of storytelling.
Photo: Filming at the KVR in Summerland / via the Okanagan Film Commission
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