A burgeoning screen and film industry in Alberta is seeing its growth prospects trimmed back with an historic event.
On Thursday, the leaders of Hollywood’s actors’ union voted to join screenwriters in the first joint strike in more than six decades.
The Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) and Writers Guild of America (WGA) strikes have shut down productions across the entertainment industry, including in Alberta.
“We already had a slowdown in May from the writers strike, but now that the actors are on strike, all of the projects that require SAG-affiliated actors or WGA-affiliated writers cannot shoot. So we’re experiencing a major slowdown right now,” Damian Petti, president of International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 212 said.
IATSE represents technicians, artisans and craftspeople who work in live theatre, motion picture and television production, and counts 1,500 members in Calgary.
Petti said two “large” productions are laying people off as they mothball operations and other productions eyeing the province that are now taking a “wait and see” approach.
“This time of year we probably would have seven or eight fairly large projects and right now we have one project. So it’s a significant reduction in work.”
The past couple of years have been banner years for productions in the province, with shows like HBO’s The Last of Us, Apple TV’s Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock and Predator sequel Prey shooting in Alberta.
While productions like those often bring big stars to shoot in Alberta’s picturesque locations, they also bring work opportunities for local crews and actors.
Jerod Blake is a local actor who has had roles in shows like Under the Banner of Heaven and Black Summer.
The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA)-affiliated actor said he and his fellow 28,000 ACTRA actors are concerned about what a work stoppage will mean for their careers.
“We’re concerned because getting the kind of coverage and distribution and opportunities to be seen worldwide with these major networks and these major streaming services — those opportunities aren’t coming to Canada now or they’re being heavily delayed,” Blake told Global News.
“I just actually texted my agent today to kind of get an update on what’s happening with Billy the Kid (2).”
Billy the Kid 2 is one of six productions shooting or about to shoot in the province, according to the ACTRA Alberta website.
One of them is CBC’s Heartland, shooting its 17th season. Being a Canadian production, it isn’t as affected by the labour dispute between the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the WGA and SAG-AFTRA.
Petti said the stateside contract dispute is providing opportunities for Canadian projects to advance, but had a caveat.
“There aren’t enough Canadian projects to come in and fully replace all of the work that’s currently delayed by the strikes,” the IATSE president said.
Being an ACTRA member, Blake can still find screen work, but said he feels conflicted when he thinks of his SAG-affiliated brothers and sisters. Since his union has a valid collective bargaining agreement, he can’t join the picket lines but can express his support.
“It’s really important what’s happening right now. It’s groundbreaking what’s happening right now. And I know I speak for myself and I know ACTRA National put out a statement that ACTRA stands with SAG-AFTRA,” he said.
“I think this is a really important stand and a really momentous time in our history right now in the entertainment industry.”
Like some actors, Blake supports his acting career with a full-time job.
Other Albertans in the film and television industry have been able to make a living entirely in their trade.
“These strikes and the job losses are bittersweet to our members because on the one hand, they really support the issues that need to be resolved,” Petti said. “But on the other hand, they’ve got bills to pay and they probably cannot withstand a long strike.”
Calgary Film Commissioner Luke Azevedo said he hopes there will be a “quick and equitable resolution” to the work stoppage.
“We’re concerned,” he said. “We have an industry here that has been growing and has been attracting many people from other sectors, as well as some of the younger folks in post-secondary who are seeing this as a viable industry to get into. And we want to ensure that that continues.”
Azevedo and his team are taking a long-term look at growing the sector.
“We continue to market the area the way we would normally market it,” the film commissioner said. “We just completed a van tour with some of the world’s largest studios and streamers.
“They left knowing a lot more about Alberta and are excited about the opportunities here.”
— with files from The Associated Press
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