Lights, camera, action! Chris Bonnell, Executive Director and Film Commissioner (Acting) NL Film Development Corporation updates us on the provincial film scene
“Typically, a lot of the productions in this province are co-productions. For many reasons. The obvious one is it’s very difficult to get your finances together. And a lot of times the story lends itself to our locations, and what we can actually cheat; we can cheat Ireland, we can cheat other places. For a small province the diversity of our locations is incredible.
We’ve had a lot of government support. After the All-Spend Tax increase was announced we did a mission to LA, last June, and worked with the Motion Picture Association of Canada, which set up the meetings with all the studios, and we got to present to them. It’s really exposed NL in a great way. There’s no magic to it, and the beauty about film and television is almost 60 % of the budget is on labour and the economic spinoff of that is incredible.
Disney [Peter Pan and Mary] is a big company. The exposure was incredible. Film companies are looking here when before they wouldn’t look beyond Nova Scotia. There’s people here from LA now scouting. That’s happening more now.
The infrastructure here surprised them. What Disney showed, and Hudson and Rex, and Son of a Critch, and Surreal Estate showed, is that we can do more than one big production at a time. A few years ago, if Frontier was shooting then you couldn’t do anything else. Now with the recent announcement of the film school with the College of the North Atlantic we’re building, more people coming into the system, it’s exciting. We still have a long way to go; it’s always good to have a bigger machine come in and see how they approach things.
The difference between a guest production, like Peter Pan and Mary, with its huge budget, of which only a portion of was shot here – but that was a huge amount for this province – that’s a different focus group, we’re selling our locations and our infrastructure and our crew. A series like Hudson and Rex or Son of a Critch are much longer term, and great for developing crew and infrastructure. And where we are now, the crew are working all year round.
Shipping News was a stepping-stone, a big change. It got everything going. They shot the interiors in Nova Scotia and the exteriors here. My favourite memory of meeting an actor? I’m going to get in trouble for this but the best was when I met Judi Dench with Shipping News. I’ve found meeting actors it’s the ones who’ve toiled over the years, for a long time, that are really grounded. Some of the ones who have come to fame really quickly, not so much. She was an amazing person.
Hudson and Rex has been renewed for Season 6, and Son of a Critch has been renewed for Season 3. A renewal series is a really good foundation, keeps our crew working. There’s some winter shoots developing too. There’ve been a couple of other bigger productions scouting. I don’t want to jinx ourselves. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t.
The industry grows like this (makes a waving motion with his hand), you have a production year, you have a development year. In 2016 we were doing about $40 million in production activity. This year it’s close to $100 million. When the Corporation was first opened in 1997 production activity was around one million bucks.
The next challenge for infrastructure is soundstages, equipment houses. The creative side, that’s a good question. I think there’s a role for Memorial University there. You see other universities and colleges across Canada have programs available.
As big as the film industry is, it’s a small industry as well. That’s the good thing too. You’re only as good as the last experience someone had here.”
NQ’s summer issue, on the theme of Hollywood, is currently on the stands.
(Images: Grown Up Movie Star, Rare Birds, Random Passage, courtesy Newfoundland and Labrador Film Development Corporation.)