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STEP Alliance film initiative looks back on first year of grant program

While faced with many challenges, the St. Paul Elk Point Economic Development Alliance’s (STEP) film initiative has seen mostly positive feedback this year, and will continue to improve the initiative, according to the STEP committee.

ST. PAUL – While faced with many challenges, the St. Paul Elk Point Economic Development Alliance (STEP) film initiative has seen mostly positive feedback this year, and will continue to improve the initiative, according to STEP committee members.

A grant program was created earlier this year to attract the film industry to the STEP region in northeastern Alberta.

“The STEP Film-Friendly Community Grant incentive is designed to support local and attract outside investment in producing films locally,” according a written statement from the STEP committee. The committee provided the statement to Lakeland This Week when asked about an update regarding the film initiative and a recent project that took place in the region in the fall.

“The recent production of Dusk & Dawn is the first project funded partly by the new grant,” according to the statement.

Members of the STEP committee are County of St. Paul Coun. Darrell Younghans, Deputy Mayor Dave Amyotte from the Summer Village of Horseshoe Bay, Town of St. Paul Coun. Nathan Taylor, and Coun. Tim Smereka from the Town of Elk Point.

More expensive to film in rural areas

According to the STEP committee, among the biggest challenges STEP faces when attracting film projects is “our distance from larger centers.” For example, film and television industry entities like the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists have “rules and policies around daily wages” for projects filmed outside major centres.

“These rules make filming in regions like ours more expensive,” and STEP’s grant program helps “offset some of these higher costs and bring our area toward parity,” said the committee.

“Another challenge is promoting awareness of our region in the film and television industry,” according to the committee. “Our Economic Development officer [Linda Sallstrom] has brought and toured industry players and location scouts to the region, highlighting some of our unique locations and scenery.”

“Thanks to some former and current residents working in the industry, we were able to get a foot in the door and attract a film production here,” said the committee.

“We have heard that the recent production still has some outstanding account balances within the region.” Financial challenges, according to the committee, are not uncommon to independent film and television productions.

Producers spend months securing grants and partnerships with organizations “from all levels of government, distributors, private investment, and more,” prior to filming, said the committee. “Most funding is secured, but not released to production until filming has wrapped.”

STEP’s Film Friendly grant provides up to $50,000 for production, “with proof of spending in the region of at least $100,000,” according to the committee. “We advance some cash pre-production and hold the remaining until proof that all local accounts have been paid.”

The production company that recently filmed in the area has given notice that “all local payments are forthcoming,” according to the committee members.

Despite the challenges, most of the feedback received about the film initiative have been positive, and the initiative was approved again for next year.

“We will look at the process and see where we can improve so that all experiences are hopefully positive.” 

Attracting aspiring directors and producers

According to the committee, the film-friendly grant “builds on the support from the provincial government’s investment in the Alberta Film and Television tax credits,” which are designed to diversify Alberta’s economy. 

The committee said the province brought $100 million productions like HBO’s upcoming The Last of Us to the province with its film and television tax credits. 

Because of the “increased pressure” on filming in southern Alberta, the committee says that many independent productions are looking for new places to film. “These independent films are often the first projects for new and aspiring directors and producers working to prove themselves and build a portfolio,” according to the committee, thus the creation of STEP’s grant program. 

“Since the film initiative was first discussed at the STEP committee level, it had to be endorsed by each municipal partner and includes regional policies for operation around the initiative,” according to the committee. “These policies are designed to streamline processes for the production company when working in and across four municipalities.” 

RELATED: Regional organization trying to bring film industry to northeast region 

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