ST. PAUL – The St. Paul/Elk Point Economic Development Alliance (STEP) is attracting and exploring the potential of bringing the film industry to northeastern Alberta.
“We see film happening and starting to really take off in our southern part of the province,” said Linda Sallstrom, STEP Economic Development Officer, adding that locations like Calgary, Canmore, High River, and some closer to home such as Vegreville, and Cold Lake, have been successful in attracting film and television productions.
“There’s no reason why we can’t see the same thing here, other than we need to put the effort in and draw the interest... and provide support.”
Sallstrom said the northeast region already has some talents in the film industry, including producers and makeup artists. She said another benefit of potential development of the film industry is retaining and encouraging youth to return to the community.
“We want to talk about retaining our youth or being able to have our youth come back into the community, this is just another area we'd like to see developed,” she said. “If the youth in the area wanted a career in film and television, and they pursue an education (in film), is there something here for them to come back to?”
More than 3,200 creative industry professionals graduate annually in Alberta, according to the Government of Alberta.
The provincial government is aiming to grow the province’s film sector by $1.5 billion over the next decade, according to a May 2022 news release. The Government of Alberta stated in the release that this is to ensure the province is competitive with other provinces in the film and television industry.
In January 2020, the province launched the Film and Television Tax Credit (FTTC). It offers refundable Alberta tax credit certificate on eligible screen-based productions and corporations that produces film, television, or digital media production.
Alberta’s Budget 2022-23 included an increase of 40 per cent toward FTTC for a total of $70 million, which will increase to $225 million through 2024-25, according to the provincial government. A total of 62 productions have been pre-approved for FTTC since its launch, for a combined total of around $144 million in tax credit certificates.
Town of St. Paul Coun. Nathan Taylor said the STEP Film Friendly Initiative put forward was created to match the provincial government’s tax credit incentive. He said the initiative is a grant provided to eligible productions to offset some of the costs for film to the region.
“All four of the STEP municipalities are part of that (regional) film initiative and it's a matching grant,” said Taylor. “The way the grant is structured - those dollars are guaranteed to stay into the region and then be matched by outside dollars.”
He said investing in the film industry will also boost the local region’s economy by creating job opportunities, in addition to potentially bringing more revenue to local businesses.
“We hope to extend this not just to the town of St. Paul, but also to our First Nations neighbours,” he said. “If there are opportunities for filming on First Nations lands - great. We'll welcome that as part of the region.”
According to Taylor, STEP is targeting the independent film market to help kickstart the film industry in the region.
“The intent of the initiative is to attract things like independent movies,” he said, adding the current expectation is to start small. “Let's look for (local) independent filmmakers (and) Alberta-based filmmakers to look to St. Paul as an affordable option and affordable location to film.”
STEP offers advantages to attract the film industry in the northeastern region of the province, including cheaper production costs. As the film industry continues to grow in the province, the costs of production will increase relative to the demand, according to Sallstrom, “so there’s still an ability to produce your film here at relatively low cost.”
To make the northeast region more appealing to the film industry, STEP has also created a regional policy. The policy will make it easier for the film industry to produce in the region simply by reaching out to STEP for support, instead of going through each municipality individually.
“Sometimes we don’t have something because we just don’t ask for it,” she said. “So, why can’t we have film here? We have all the pieces.”
STEP is a regional economic development partnership between the County of St. Paul, the Town of St. Paul, Town of Elk Point, and Summer Village of Horseshoe Bay with the St. Paul and District Chamber of Commerce.
Michelle Wong, an executive producer, who was also born and raised in St. Paul, said there is a producer working on a potential filming opportunity in the region, although the details are yet to be finalized. She said the potential production opportunity is being put forward by an Indigenous writer, director, and producer.