Rakesh Malik reports from the industry hub of Vancouver as the gears start to slowly turn once more, and reckons it’s a great time to break into the industry.
The WGA got what it wanted from the studios. The studios tried repeating the same tactics that failed with the writers to force the actors to renege, and that worked no better the second time than it did the first time.
So the strikes will end soon. The studios are getting desperate for new content as they lose money hand over fist. While the strikes have been going on, the Directors Guild of Canada has continued doing breakdowns and plans in anticipation of production resuming, so projects will be ready to kick off in droves.
For those living in film industry hubs, it's time to get ready for the tsunami. If you have a day job or side hustle, keep it up. Don't leave yet, just get yourself ready because this is going to be a big opportunity for newcomers to film to break in.
If you have a background agent, update your availability and your photographs. Start keeping your availability ready so that you get to be at the top of the list when the demand surges. And check with your local union; in BC there is a union category for background performers, and the benefits, while not as good as for primary actors, are still quite good – among them a better salary, guaranteed pay for an eight-hour day no matter how long you are on set, and access to the union catering instead of the background catering.
The most common way for newcomers to break into the industry is via locations as a production assistant. PAs require no specialized skills, just a willingness to work, a good attitude, and some basic certifications. In BC most of the required training is free through ActSafe and also offered through several of the local film schools, usually included with tuition for students and relatively inexpensive for everyone else. The one notable exception is TCP, aka “Traffic Control Person” which is required for traffic control in both film and government work. Working as a PA is also a good way to get into the Directors' Guild.
This one is a lot harder to break into, but well worth the trouble. The training required to become a union permittee lamp operator for example is significant; some schools offer technical certificate programs specifically for motion picture technicians, and while they can be pricey, these jobs pay well and every film needs skilled and qualified technicians. If you have met the requirements then apply to the requisite unions – in BC apply to them all.
Remember that once accepted, you will be a Permittee rather than a full union member. Officially only full union members can be hired as full time employees for a film project, and permittees can only work on day calls, so be ready for that. It means being willing to answer your phone at 1am and being on set at 6am the same morning to cover for a full time technician who called in sick, so it can be a bit stressful. However, one of our guest speakers during training said that she worked her way into the cinematographers' guild by only working day calls as a lighting technician so that she could work on independent films in the mean time, to build her resume, reel, and credentials. You CAN make a good living working day calls.
And if the unions run out of full union members, they might start putting permittees in full time positions. So be ready, keep your skills sharp, and polish up your resume.
Rental houses also hire skilled technicians to support their film productions, so expect them to also start hiring. Working in a rental house can be a good way to network into the film industry.
While most people think “Vancouver” when they think of Canadian film production, it's very easy to underestimate the geographic expanse and diversity of British Columbia. There are several film commissions here, and except for the Vancouver commission, all of them have crew databases. There are TWO crew databases for Vancouver Island (for European readers, yes, Vancouver Island really is that big), and over half a dozen throughout the rest of BC. Generally, productions prefer to hire locals, which usually means that the production will not pay for rooms, but it also often requires proof of residency in order to qualify for tax credits. In BC that requires proof of at least one year of residency in BC. One generator operator on a show last year lived on the Island and was working here in coastal BC. He came in a camper and stayed on set rather than commuting, only returning home over the weekends. He was still a BC resident, so he qualified perfectly legally for tax credit purposes for the production.
The reality is that while there is a logistical challenge to overcome to work in the Revelstoke area, it would also be an opportunity to get paid to work on a film in one of the most beautiful places on earth – with two catered meals a day.
Remember that all of those films going into production early next year will then go into post, and especially with bigger films, post is a huge undertaking. A VFX heavy film might take 6-9 weeks in production and over a year in post. Post-production work doesn't have the advantages of travel and catered meals, but the hours are saner and you get to stay close to home, or if you work remotely AT home. Again... polish up your resume, your skills, your reel, and get yourself into the crew databases.
Keep working on independent films
If you have projects in the works, keep them moving. Even with the studios resuming work, the opportunity they created remains. There are grant opportunities available, and there are production companies like A24 and channels like ChekTV that fund independent film.
Don't forget that the distributors' stranglehold on theatrical distribution is breaking. Taylor Swift sold her movie to theaters without going through distributors. The theaters, being desperate for content in order to keep their doors open, were more than happy to add her movie to their rosters.
And also remember that while the studios will be making movies again and filling up distributors’ pipelines, most of those movies do not fill seats. That is unlikely to change any time soon, and theaters need to fill seats, not just screens. Even though The Creator made enough to recoup production costs it probably won't draw enough to convince the studios to fund original content, but it shows that the studios are not the only game in town.