Film crews working at Martini Film Studios have worked on numerous films and Netflix TV shows. (photo from Martini Film Studios)

Filmmakers flock to Langley, now second only to Vancouver for productions

Film studios have been popping up in the community in recent years

Langley’s film industry has boomed, turning this town into the number two filming location in all of B.C. over the last few years, according to senior officials from Creative BC.

At the August dinner meeting of the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce, Prem Gill, CEO of Creative BC, and Film Commissioner Marnie Orr talked about the economic impact filming is having in the province in general and Langley in particular.

Last year, 1,788 days of filming took place in Langley, about 500 less than the number of days that took place in the City of Vancouver, Gill said.

That puts Langley firmly in the second spot when it comes to filming, thanks to both location filming in multiple neighbourhoods, and to the presence of several film studios here, including Martini Film Studios and the studios where Riverdale and Supergirl are filmed.

“Does anybody want to build a studio, because we could use another studio!” Gill joked during a Q&A.

One reason another studio might be needed is that existing studios, like Martini Film Studios, are pretty much packed with productions already.

Studio CEO Gemma Martini noted that the studio has a long term contact with Netflix, which has seen it play host to shows such as The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Another Life, and some scenes from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. It is also seeing filming for the upcoming Snowpiercer series. It also hosted some motion capture work for Welcome to Marwen.

“We are booked solid, which is amazing,” said Martini.

There are a significant number of other smaller studios around Langley – some of them simply converted warehouses. The Martini Film Studio is a converted factory, which underwent a massive renovation before opening with eight separate stages.

The number of Langley residents working in film and the total wages paid to local workers have also risen sharply in recent years.

There were 1,578 people in Langley involved in the film industry in 2015, said Creative BC’s Orr. By 2018, that had risen to 2,153.

Likewise, the total payroll jumped from $26.3 million to $50.78 million over the same time period.

Creative BC keeps a library of filming locations, and Langley has 463 spots in it.

Langley Township, site of most of the filming, has been encouraging the industry for years.

“Since 2014, we have been in excess of 1,000 film days per year,” said Val Gafka, senior manager of economic investment and development. “Which is good for our economy.”

As part of the Metro Vancouver Regional Prosperity Initiative, Langley Township was selected to ‘soft launch’ a new online service in January, that offers a simpler way for film production companies to apply for film permits.

It’s called the Regional Film Application Portal, and is a “centralized gateway” that standardizes and streamlines the film application process, allowing companies to apply to film in one or more than one municipality simultaneously.

“Essentially it’s a project where municipalities find a benefit in working together,” explained Gafka.

It isn’t just local businesses getting in on the filming action – local schools are popular sites for filming.

Over the last three years, the Langley School District has averaged $100,000 a year in revenue from renting out schools and even its board office as filming locations, according to spokesperson Joanne Abshire.

So far this year, 18 film productions have used a school district site as a location, about on par with the 22 productions last year and 24 in 2017.

Filming days at schools amounted to 29 in 2017, 31 in 2018, and 24 already this year, said Abshire.

The money from production companies is split 50-50 between the schools themselves and the district, and goes back into educational and district budgets.

The most popular sites are Yorkson Creek Middle School – which was recently decked out in Christmas decorations for one of the many holiday films made here during the summer – Langley Fine Arts, Walnut Grove and Brookswood Secondary schools, and the district office itself.

Although filming at schools takes place year-round, the vast majority is during breaks, weekends, and Pro-D days, Abshire said. Kids do get to check out the process of filming on occasion.

Langley has been a popular filming location since the early 1990s, when the first wave of local and US TV shows and films began seeking locations.

In recent years, The X-Files, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and a lengthy list of movies-of-the-week for Hallmark and Lifetime networks have found filming locations in Langley.

That popularity was expanded because Langley is a tax boon for producers.

Productions using B.C.-residents as workers are eligible for a 35 per cent tax credit for their labour costs.

There’s an extra six per cent tax credit for “regional locations,” a measure intended to encourage producers to not simply confine themselves to Vancouver, as many productions did in the early days of the industry.

The boundary for the expanded tax credit was originally at 200th Street, but that line was moved to 196th Street – the boundary between Surrey and Langley – in 2017.

Gill and Orr were asked about business opportunities for local firms, and they noted that it’s not limited to simply providing a space for filming.

For example, the antique-stuffed sets of Sabrina and its fellow teen soap Riverdale are sourced from local antique stores.

Film crews need services including dry cleaning and food – the burgers consumed on Riverdale are made by White Spot restaurants, Gill revealed.

Orr was also asked about the new Agricultural Land Reserve policies introduced in 2016, which have impacted some long-term filming by restricting non-farm uses on rural properties.

Creative BC is working with the ALC on a new policy that will work for the agriculture and film industries, Orr said. The policy was aimed at farms there were hosting music festivals and destination weddings, but the wording caught filming by accident, she said.

As far as getting into the film industry directly, Orr noted “It is an industry that is not for the risk averse.”

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