The pressure of Hollywood’s actor and writer strikes is being felt in productions around the world, and film industry insiders say Canada is far from exempt.
Because of the industry’s longstanding ties to American unions and networks, most film and television production in Canada has come to a screeching halt. Alistair Hepburn, executive director of ACTRA Toronto, says production began to slow in the spring when rumors of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike began.
“Some of the shows that were scheduled to come (to Canada) never even started. As we add our siblings to the picket lines at SAG-AFTRA, we will definitely see an impact,” Hepburn told Global News in an interview, referring to the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
“No new shows will be taped during the summer in time for a fall premiere.”
Summer is typically the film industry’s most lucrative season across the board, he said, but this year will be “relatively slow.”
Many Canadian productions work with American studios and SAG-AFTRA actors, but just under half of the work done in provinces like Ontario is domestic, including shows like Murdoch Mysteries And Execute the Burbs.
“It’s all those shows that are filmed here using Canadian talent, Canadian writers, Canadian directors, Canadian crews to do the job. Those shows continue,” Hepburn explained.
Impact of the Hollywood strike on the Canadian film industry
SAG-AFTRA is also working towards an agreement under which independent Canadian producers – not affiliated with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) – can enlist the services of any SAG member through an exemption system for the duration of the strike.
Independent Canadian producers get access to actors who also hold a dual card, meaning they have both SAG-AFTRA and ACTRA membership.
“We have been in constant contact with our colleagues at SAG-AFTRA and they assure us that they have no intention of harming our industry,” said Hepburn.
Hepburn says he does not know how long the strikes will last and does not see a solution soon.
“This will have months, absolutely months of impact on not just performance, but the entire industry as a whole.”
Hepburn stressed that not only artists will be affected by the production drought. Directors, technicians, caterers and hardware stores will also feel the pressure.
“In Ontario, there are 35,000 full-time jobs in the film industry. The trickle-down effect is real,” Hepburn said.
Shane Boucher, the founder of an Ottawa-based studio called 1Development Entertainment Services, says this is the first of July in the industry where he hasn’t worked.
“It really is an industry-wide shutdown. It’s a big deal,” Boucher said in an interview with Global News.
1Development is a service company, meaning they serve other parent companies or networks. Almost all of the TV movies the company works with are American.
Effects of Hollywood strikes on the Canadian film industry
Boucher says things started as usual at the beginning of the year with about 16 productions lined up. When rumors of the WGA strike started, Boucher found himself making an effort to finish as many films as possible by June. Now he has no projects in production.
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Many productions received a lot of attention when it was announced that they would be filming in Canada this summer, including the first season of Cruel intentionsfilmed in Toronto.
Stefan Steen, a producer on the show from Amazon, says production has halted until the strike is over.
“It is completely devastating to the local film industry. Anyone currently filming American productions has had to stop and all local crews are immediately out of work. Most get a week’s extra pay, but that’s it,” Steen said in an email to Global News.
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Creative BC, a British Columbia-based program that supports the province’s creative industries, said in a statement on their website that they are “closely monitoring the situation” and “respecting the process and all parties.”
“In our role as an economic development organization for film in BC, together with our local industry partners, we are concerned about the workforce, businesses, industry and people,” the group said.
“The industry is evolving rapidly, business models have changed and addressing these changes is part of the industry’s necessary business cycle.”
Hepburn says anyone who wants to support the strike can vote with their wallets.
“It’s time to cancel your streaming account. That is ultimately what is going to force the hand here. It is about the financial difficulties of the AMPTP companies,” he said.
“Action needs to be taken by the public.”
Hepburn also says he hopes other countries will show solidarity with what artists are fighting for.
“SAG’s fight is everyone’s fight,” he said. “It’s a fair fight on behalf of artists around the world.”
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