Okanagan film industry continues to grow through pandemic

Even during the pandemic, the Okanagan continues to become a hotspot for film projects with bigger stars and films expected on the horizon according to the head of the Okanagan Film Commission.

Chair of the film commission, Jon Summerland, told the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS) board at their Jan. 21 meeting that movie producers created around $48 million in economic impact in the region last year.

The non-profit film commission, funded in part by local regional governments, led the way in health and safety protocols while shooting in 2020, according to Summerland.

“One month into the pandemic, we were already quarantining crews in hotels and shooting Hallmark movies. So we were the first in Canada to have film and we’ve been steady since. We were instrumental in creating the protocol for COVID with WorkSafe BC, they were on our sets every day in the beginning,” Summerland said.

Health and safety officers became full-time crew members, now there are three on each set in the Okanagan.

There were a total of 25 productions filmed in the Okanagan in 2020, including “Dangerous,” from Mind’s Eye Entertainment starring Scott Eastwood (Suicide Squad, The Fate of the Furious) with an approximate $11 million in economic impact for the region.

Much of the economic boon from the year could be attributed to around 10 Hallmark and Lifetime movies shot mostly in Summerland, Peachland and Kelowna.

With more productions in the Okanagan and the word getting back to Hollywood, the film commission is opening the door to bigger projects and features. The film commission advertised the landscapes of the Okanagan in the magazine Hollywood Monthly, and having some big-name producers and directors living in the region doesn’t hurt either.

“So all of them have been great tools in my tool belt to talk to Netflix, who I spoke with yesterday, to talk to bigger feature films, who are now already calling us because all these little shows that nobody watches, Hollywood watches. Hollywood goes ‘where are these being done?’ So now we’re on the radar,” Summerland said.

He added he was working on a package for a film with a budget of $180 million. While Summerland said it is unlikely the commission will land the film, it could be a preview of things to come.

“We are growing as a film community.”

Combined, regional districts in the Okanagan contributed $255,244 to the film commission in 2020, with $45,000 coming from the RDOS and $130,000 from the Regional District of Central Okanagan.

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