Powell River Peak Interview

March 07 2024

Although the film industry was hit hard globally by writer’s and actor’s strikes that halted new productions for 148 days last year, and is still recovering after COVID-19 shut down many productions, the industry is repositioning itself.

North Island Film Commission (NIFC) regional production services manager Brandon Lepine is hopeful and excited at the prospect of smaller communities attracting film productions, especially to places like the qathet region and his hometown of Campbell River.

“In my opinion, film is a perfect industry,” said Lepine. “There’s no resource extraction, and the policy of film is we return it [the location] as good as if not better than we found it.

“A film production rolls into town, however long they are here, they spend money, they hire people, they shoot the project and then they leave.”

Productions benefit communities

Lepine said most places that welcome the film industry see a bump in tourism and money being spent in their town, which was the case when the movie Exile, filmed in the region, and last summer’s production of Can I Get a Witness?, starring Sandra Oh. Both productions had crew and actors fill up hotels, spend money at restaurants, and hire local talent.

“For example, the City of Hope, last year was the 40th anniversary of the filming of Rambo [First Blood],” said Lepine. “So they had their festival for the anniversary, and from what I understand people showed up, they came in, they spent money on hotel, food, gas, and then they left.”
Creating jobs and opportunity

One of Lepine’s initiatives working with the local film commission is to encourage cities to be inviting to productions and to create training opportunities, so local people can work on shoots or become location scouts.

“That’s part of the reason why I love film so much, is that we can create jobs to generate revenues for communities and its services,” said Lepine. “Can I Get a Witness? was, as I understand, a wildly successful shoot and post production.”

Lepine said NIFC partnered with North Island College in 2016 and has been running tuition-free, microcredential, accredited film courses, which includes training production assistants, grips and location scouts.

Training workers

“Before the pandemic the classes were all in person, and then it became an online model,” said Lepine. “Since then it’s become a hybrid model of both online and in-person training.”

Lepine said the beautiful locations in BC and the people in the communities really attract productions to go outside of Hollywood or Vancouver.

“I think everyone during the pandemic was looking for an island [to escape to], and so we had a lot of senior crew members move to the region.”

Lepine emphasized that cities which have an easy interface with permitting, location agreements and minimal hassle, those three things, are what producers are looking for.

“The thing about people in coastal BC communities is that we don’t quit,” said Lepine. “If an industry dries up, we create a new one.”

Transitioning industries

One example of a city that has transitioned from the pulp and paper industry is Campbell River. The Elk Falls pulp mill site recently became an indoor agricultural operation producing local vegetables.

What an amazing pivot,” said Lepine.

As for attracting future films to come to remote locations such as qathet, Lepine said: “I feel that Vancouver Island and the qathet region are some of the most beautiful places on Earth.”

By Tanya Hill