Filming in 2018 of the teen soap Riverdale on Langley’s Fraser Highway. Film production has been shut down due to the pandemic, but might return in early summer. (Langley Advance Times files)

Langley film industry charts path back to post-COVID production

Local sound stages, production companies, and government will work on creating safe film sets

The film industry is expected to re-start production in the near future after B.C. Premier John Horgan announced the road map to a slow restart of the provincial economy on Wednesday.

“There is excitement about coming back,” said George Patterson, executive director of Langley’s Martini Film Studios.

While a loosening of restrictions is on the horizon, the industry is still waiting for more specifics before cameras can roll, Patterson said.

First there needs to be a collective plan worked out, involving the local film studio, the U.S.-based production studios, the provincial government, and local municipal governments, said Patterson.

“The challenge will be making sure everybody stays safe and healthy and follows the protocols.”

Different sets will have different challenges – the number of cast and crew involved, the location, and the use of special effects could all have an impact, said Patterson.

He believes sound stages like those at the studio will be easier to make safe.

“We’re looking at controlled spaces on stages,” Patterson said.

Once there is a plan in place, local film studios will be able to start getting back to work perhaps between mid-June and mid-July.

“We are really waiting to have those conversations with the returning shows, and the studios we have partnerships with,” he said.

There is no timeline yet for a re-start on production.

In mid-March, as the scale of the worldwide pandemic was becoming clear and restrictions clamped down in B.C., two productions at the Langley studios wrapped up in a hurry, while a Netflix production had to close down early.

A crew member on popular teen soap Riverdale also tested positive for the virus.

READ MORE: TV productions in Langley suspended during COVID-19 outbreak

Martini Film Studios announced plans to add 600,000 square feet of new studio space in the fall of 2019, across 25 acres in northeast Willoughby near the under-construction 216th Street highway interchange.

The expansion is part of a huge boom in filming that has brought many productions to Langley in recent years.

By 2019, Langley was the number two location in B.C. for filming after the city of Vancouver itself, according to Creative B.C., the provincial agency that encourages the arts industries.

Tax breaks for filming further from the city centre kick in at 196th Street – the Langley-Surrey border – and have incentivized not only in location shooting, but in the creation of new film studios.

Over the last few months, some companies supporting the B.C. film industry have pivoted to helping with the health crisis.

Portable Electric, which provided battery-powered generators for film sets, stared using their equipment for clinics and drive-through testing sites. Vancouver Mobile Dressing Rooms put its trailers to use as part of a mobile medical unit in Abbotsford. And the drama The Good Doctor donated its supply of masks, gowns, and gloves to hospitals.

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