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Investment in Alberta TV and film industry seen as the sign of bigger things to come

11526992Minister of Culture and Tourism David Eggen on the set of Heartland in Calgary, announces an increase of $11 million for the Alberta Media Fund. Photo Leah Hennel, Calgary Herald (For Entertainmnet story by Mike Bell)

Halfway through a tour of the set of the CBC production Heartland, Minister of Culture and Tourism David Eggen smiled.

“Field of dreams,” he said to no one in particular.

A few minutes later he said virtually the same thing to assembled media, other organizational heads, and the cast and crew of the long-running, locally shot drama by way of announcing his NDP government’s commitment to the television and film industry of this province.

Financially, that came with the budget announcement that they would be adding $11 million to the Alberta Media Fund, which provides support for film and TV production, book and magazine publishing and sound recordings, to make it a total of $36.8 million.

It is, Eggen said, the first step in a commitment to the “long-term, stable funding” of the industry.

But he also thinks it’s merely the seed that will grow into something much greater.

“It’s sending, I think, a clear message to everyone here assembled today, across the province, across the country and around the world that the province of Alberta is open for business and willing to support a strong and growing television and film industry,” he said, with a Heartland barn as his backdrop.

“This investment in our media fund is a clear signal that we are not just maintaining the status quo but we’re strengthening the film and television industry and our commitment to it here and in subsequent years as well.”

That commitment of the government to invest, Eggen said, was one of the three elements necessary to have a film and television industry “firing on all cylinders,” which he believes it is or will soon be.

One of the others is an “excellent base of professionals,” which he said the province most certainly has, and which Damien Petti, president of Local 212 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, says will only increase due to the co-operative relationship the new government is fostering.

Petti, who was “thrilled” by the budget increase, says Alberta is ready and well-equipped to handle any growth that may come as a result of the support.

“We’ve had a history … that we trained people to essentially move to Vancouver and work in that industry. I’m pleased to say that in the last 18 months that cycle has ended,” he said.

“We had less than five members of our local that have moved to Vancouver in the last year, yet we’ve had 150 new members join (and) we’ve expanded training.

“The fact that we were training to replace those moving to Vancouver has now become a strength for us, because now we’re nimble at our training and we’re positioned for growth.”

That strong and skilled workforce is something that Luke Azevedo, the commissioner of film, television and creative Industries for Calgary Economic Development, said his group touts when pitching the province as a destination for potential projects.

As is the third and final factor that Eggen noted was a signal of a thriving industry which is the physical infrastructure, which is growing thanks to the $22.8 million Calgary Film Centre being built in the city’s southeast and set to be up and running next year.

Azevedo, who was just in L.A. on a marketing and sales trip, says that word of the government’s investment had already travelled down there and that “the world is watching.”

“People are aware of the investment that was just made into Alberta,” he said, “infrastructure investment for the bricks and mortar that’s positioning us as a location of choice rather than a secondary position, and that’s a big change for us, going forward.”

But rather than merely satisfying a small sector of the province’s working population, Azvedo was also was quick to note the impact that the TV and film industry have in economic diversification, pointing to Heartland, which films all over southern Alberta and leaves its economic footprint in any of the jurisdictions it visits.

And ultimately that’s the point Eggen, himself, wanted to make, noting that his government’s commitment to grow the Alberta Media Fund was a commitment to growing all of Alberta.

“What better way to invest in diversification and building our new Alberta economy than to invest in the film and television industry in the province of Alberta,” he said.

“We’ve had a long strong tradition and we are seeing a resurgence in the film and television industry that is unprecedented, I would venture to say, for more than a decade.”

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