Sometimes the Yukon does need another report. The Yukon’s film industry, made up of creators and makers of film, television and commercials are busy, stretched and clamouring for people and places to do what they do best.
Feeling a little pinched by demand and capacity, the Yukon screen producers’ association decided to draw on expertise to point the industry in a good direction for the future.
“Although things are moving along pretty well right now, do we want to stay at that level? Or do we really need to think about the next steps required to take the whole industry up a couple notches?” Colin MacKenzie, board member of the Screen Production Yukon Association (SPYA), told the News on Nov. 29.
The industry, once fledging, has demonstrated steady and consistent growth over the last two decades. Now members of the association (business members and volunteers) want to grow the industry larger.
To that end, a Quebec consultancy, Communications MDR, looked at the state of the Yukon ’s industry and provided advice and recommendations on how to best position the Yukon within the existing marketplace.
The report, titled A Roadmap for Growth 2022-2027, which studied the Yukon’s screen-based production sector, was released Nov. 24 by SPYA.
Film industry folks are now called screen-based producers to reflect the range of film and digital content that is produced for videos, phones, and big and small screens. The sector is ballooning in size and the global industry continues to search for new content.
Not just about the snow
In the Yukon , the industry has been riding a wave of interest built on late snow, scenic locations and mountaintops. But film is not an industry that can thrive on mountaintops alone. People need to go inside and get more scenes shot, soundtracks laid, and post-production work completed.
The Yukon ’s industry competes globally for locations, as well as with a full gamut of provincial incentives across Canada. MacKenzie said the Yukon must keep that context in mind while developing the local industry.
“I’ve watched the industry grow from a location servicing industry to having significant Yukon-led production,” said Iris Merritt, manager of media development in Economic Development.
Merritt has witnessed the transformation of the film industry since 1999 when the department of Tourism started three film funds which were transferred and expanded by Economic Development in 2005. The department’s five funding programs have increased from $660,000 in 2006 to $1.16 million in April 2022.
Merritt says federal funding with northern exceptions served as game-changers for the Yukon industry between 2012 and 2014 — first, the Canada Media fund, and then a northern incentive was created that enabled Northwestel’s recognition as a ‘broadcaster’ in the north.
Merritt says that now, more than 75 per cent of the film work that happens in the territory is Yukon-led productions.
Teresa Earle, a long-time board member of SPYA, told the News that 10 years ago the number of Yukon-produced film projects could be easily listed on two hands, noting filmmakers like Carol Geddes, Daniel Janke and Adam Green.
Now, she says, there are now 30 incorporated film production companies in the territory. These local producers need crews and more spaces for everything from sound recording, green screens and studio shoots.
The Yukon’s edge and challenges
In the Roadmap report, the consultants identified the strengths of the Yukon ’s creative ecosystem and the talented range of creative individuals who make the Yukon home. It identifies the Yukon ’s versatile talent base, coupled with rich Indigenous and northern cultural heritage as “opportunities to exploit Yukon’s untapped story potential.”
The industry generates employment, utilizes creative talent, develops skilled technicians and generates expenditures that span sectors and feed the rural corners of the territory (Shift in Carcross, Goldrush in Dawson and Keno, and Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet in Haines Junction are just a few examples).
The roadmap report outlines five strategic directions: increasing the scale and critical mass of the local industry; attracting more guest productions to the territory; increasing workforce capacity; increasing production infrastructure; and consolidating industry development efforts.
The report states that production space is a common challenge across the country, but the Yukon situation is unique in that there is nothing. Production studios for dramatic production or indoor shoots are critical infrastructure, especially since the lack of them means that a crew can shoot an outside scene, but then has to pack up and move entirely out of the territory to shoot an inside scene or move into post-production.
MacKenzie says the organization is considering how to stage this type of facility. “We’re looking at what’s a very realistic, pragmatic approach for the Yukon. Right now, we’re doing some research, but we’re just trying to be very realistic as to what’s going to work. And maybe it starts off with something simple, and then we can move up and determine if we can keep good capacity.”
Prince Edward Island has a successful model that the association has been looking at as a comparable small jurisdiction.
The bar has risen
Yukon audiences will see lots of Yukon-produced films on the program at next year’s Available Light film festival, says artistic director Andrew Connor.
Two films, Polaris, co-produced by the Yukon ’s Max Fraser and Voices Across the Water, produced by Fritz Mueller and Teresa Earle, have been screened for select Yukon audiences in the past few weeks – Polaris for cast and crew in Whitehorse, and Voices Across the Water in Carcross and Dawson City for local residents. Both these films have toured festival circuits around the world in the past year.
Another recent film, All the Time in the World by Suzanne Crocker has been screened in the United States, Mexico, Portugal, Australia, Brazil and Ireland and has won 22 awards including most popular Canadian documentary at the Vancouver film festival. These are just a few of a myriad of projects undertaken over the last few years.
The BBC filmed here over the summer, and current projects include a casting call for indigenous actors for a French production billed as an “epic wild tale” of real foxes in love. It will be shot near Dawson City in early 2023.
MacKenzie said that the organization has been “amazed to see that whole bar has risen dramatically over the past handful years.”
Contact Lawrie Crawford at email@example.com