Mayor, film commissioner woo executives from major Hollywood studios

Visit coincides with Alberta-based productions being up 31 Emmy Awards, which were scheduled to be handed out Monday night.

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Calgary’s mayor and film commissioner met with nine major studios and streaming services in Los Angeles last week, touting the city and province as a go-to location for major Hollywood productions.

During a news conference at city hall on Monday, Mayor Jyoti Gondek and film commissioner Luke Azevedo said they met with executives from Amazon, MGM, Disney, Fox, Apple, DMG Entertainment, Netflix Animation, Lionsgate and Skydance. They were joined by leaders from local unions and guilds that represent film workers.

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It was good timing for the trip. Alberta-based productions are up for 31 Emmy Awards, which were scheduled to be handed out Monday night. The HBO series The Last of Us received 24 nominations, the film Prey received six and Fraggle Rock received one. Gondek spoke at The Celebration of Canadian Talent at the Emmys, an event held at the Canadian consul general’s office.

Not surprisingly, many executives were curious about The Last of Us. HBO spent a year filming in Alberta, pumping $141 million into the economy and creating 1,490 jobs.

“The Last of Us was the largest Canadian production in the history of our country, which obviously gets attention,” said Azevedo. “The production itself being one of the most watched television programs in that year also has an impact. When I go into any market, it’s almost always one of the first questions: How was the Last of Us? How were you able to pull that off? What did you do differently than you would with a mid-sized or lower-budget show? We talked about this on a continuing basis. It’s creating momentum and we want that momentum to keep going.”

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Gondek and Azevedo spoke to executives about Calgary becoming a “hub” for various studios, allowing them to produce multiple projects here at the same time. They also spoke about Calgary’s crew base, infrastructure such as studio space and standing sets, talent development in our post-secondary institutions, unions and guilds, the federal and provincial incentives in place and the province’s dedication to diversity in front of and behind the camera.

Calgary area television production
The Cochrane Palace was the location for filming segments for a TBS television series in August 2017. Pat Price/Postmedia file

Gondek said she was able to assure executives of the city’s commitment to cutting red tape.

“We . . . talked about our film-friendly team and the practices in the city of Calgary, we spotlighted the many ways in which we have turned Calgary into a ‘no surprises’ jurisdiction where we focus on streamlining approval and getting to ‘yes’ on some pretty unusual requests,” she said.

While The Last of Us gave the province a high-profile boost by airing in 2023, the industry itself suffered due to the actors’ and writers’ strikes in Hollywood. Production was down 75 to 80 per cent because of the labour disputes affecting American productions. Still, Azevedo said 2024 will be a “very positive year.”

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He said big film or TV projects could be announced as early as late winter or spring, without giving specifics.

“The conversations they are having with the film commission, the conversations they are having with unions and guilds start early,” Azevedo said. “By the time they are willing to announce here or are in a position to announce, is delayed (until later). For us, strategically, we’re not going to be talking about these projects in specifics until they have actually signed, opened an office and are ready to go.”

Gondek went on a similar trip to Los Angeles in September 2022. Since then, the industry has created 2,190 jobs and contributed $325 million to the economy.

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Fraggle Rock
Boober in Calgary-produced Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock, streaming on Apple TV+. Courtesy Chris Large/Apple

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