Port Alberni has been getting plenty of interest from film and television productions, according to the Vancouver Island North Film Commission (INFilm).
Joan Miller, commissioner for INFilm, visited Port Alberni city council chambers and the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District board room last month to discuss the commission’s work on Vancouver Island.
Miller’s visit came after a delegation from Port Alberni resident, Sandy McRuer, who is concerned that Port Alberni is missing out on the Island’s flourishing film industry.
Miller explained that although INFilm is the “first stop” when it comes to the film industry on Vancouver Island, the commission cannot influence where productions choose to go.
“They go where they need to go,” she explained during a council meeting on Monday, March 11.
The final decision is usually based on access to local crews and equipment, as well as accommodations. INFilm has been working to bring in local training for film and television crews— most recently with a pilot project through North Island College. But accommodation has been the deciding factor in “three or four” major productions choosing another location, instead of Port Alberni.
“You need to have availability to put in 200 to 300 rooms at a time at a very short notice,” said Miller. “They had to go somewhere where they could put up the crew.”
INFilm has 252 unique locations in the Alberni-Clayoquot region listed on its online database, and more than 5,000 images. The database continues to expand as requests come in. One of the most popular locations in Port Alberni, Miller said, is Catalyst Mill—which has good availability with some buildings and operations shut down.
Another of Port Alberni’s “greatest assets,” said Miller, is McLean Mill and the train system, which was recently featured in a Toyota commercial.
It was a particularly exciting commercial, said Miller, because it was showcasing Vancouver Island.
“We never play Vancouver Island, we’re always somewhere else,” she laughed. “It gave us all this extra promotion through the big Toyota commercial in the states.”
The trains will not be an option for film productions in 2019, as tourist train operations have been cancelled for the year.
Councillor Cindy Solda asked if the Alberni Valley was losing potential revenue because it doesn’t have a major airport. Although the Alberni Valley Regional Airport recently underwent an expansion, it does not have scheduled carrier flights at this time.
“That is a key tool,” Miller admitted. “It makes a big difference in part of their decision.”
The Hallmark Channel’s Chesapeake Shores, for example, which films in Qualicum Beach, needed an airport to fly in their “day crew.”
The decision to film in a particular location, however, is based on a lot of factors, said Miller. Smaller productions might not require an airport with regular scheduled flights. Overall, an airport is just one piece of the puzzle.
“Any of those pieces coming together helps us get out there and promote it,” said Miller.
Although Miller can’t name any of the productions currently scouting in Port Alberni due to confidentiality reasons, she said that there is interest. Port Alberni also benefits from its economic development manager, Pat Deakin. Miller called Deakin “the best economic development officer” she has worked with in her career.
“There’s a lot of people travelling through here looking all the time,” she added. “And we know the right project will land.”