A new film production facility in Calgary is the latest example of a nationwide trend of expansion in the film and television industry.
Fortress Studio now offers clients 97,500 square feet of filmable space and a clear height of 36 feet within the 109,100-square-foot facility.
Fortress+ Support acts as a supplementary property with 69,999 square feet of support space and 19,751 square feet of private offices, boardrooms and additional workspaces. In total the properties, which are a short driving distance from each other and the Calgary Film Centre, offer nearly 200,000 square feet of space.
The expansion is a welcome addition in Calgary, where despite a continuing strong industrial sector (Colliers reports vacancy continues to decline at about 5.4 per cent in Q1 2021) the city’s office sector remains depressed with the vacancy rate at 27.8 per cent and rising.
WFW’s real estate strategy
Alex Godfrey, vice-president of studios for WFW, said traditionally the company’s strategy has been to retrofit existing buildings to become film studios.
“We will lease or purchase a building that has the correct specs if you will,” he told RENX in an interview. “In other words clear height, clear span, all the attributes that are needed for a good studio. There’s a whole bunch of other factors that come (into) play.”
Godfrey has more than two decades in the industry and is applying that practical knowledge from work on sets and as a grip to his current role with WFW.
“I’ve taken that knowledge and applied it to the studio buildout,” he said. “We’ll get a square box – think of a big empty Costco building – and we’ll demise it in such a way that it makes sense logically and workflow-wise.
“So logistics . . . our formula is to put everything under one roof. So in other words, your mill shop, which is a carpenter shop, your paint shop, your wardrobe, props, set deck.
“The whole nine yards, in such a way that it is mitigated by sound and noise pollution.”
About William F. White
WFW, with its head office in Toronto and founded in 1963, is a provider of production equipment to the motion picture industry.
With offices across the country, the company services productions of all sizes from coast to coast and operates with an extensive state-of-the-art inventory, including camera, lighting, grip, specialty equipment, location support and over 1.4 million square feet of production-ready studio properties.
The Calgary facility is quite aptly named after Fortress Mountain, which is located just outside the city near Canmore.
“Fortress Mountain has been the home of many great feature films. A lot of commercials. too,” Godfrey said. “We’re in no way affiliated with them, but we do pay homage and it’s a strong name. It’s a mountain. It’s creative. We just came up with a creative name.
“And I actually shot there. I used to be a key grip. I did Planet of the Apes there a couple of years ago . . . also did a few other shows there over the course of time.”
WFW also has studios in Toronto and Vancouver. A facility in Winnipeg will be coming online within the next few months.
Godfrey said the square footage of its buildings is dependent on the properties available, but ideally it’s about 140,000 square feet or so. Each would break down into about 50,000 to 70,000 square feet of stage space, with the rest in support.
Warehouse, distribution centre facilities
Because of the size of the buildings, the company typically looks for properties that are industrial in nature, such as warehouses and distribution centres.
Is WFW planning to grow further in Canada?
“One hundred per cent. We always have our sights on growth and developing markets, i.e. Calgary,” Godfrey replied. “It’s not new to the game by any means.
“However, it’s struggled with tax credits and incentives over the years and it seems like that’s beginning to loosen up, which is attracting production from down south.”
A growing and seemingly insatiable demand for content is fuelling growth in the industry, particularly thanks to the increasingly popularity of streaming services.
“If you can imagine, how many seasons have you sat through and watched on Netflix and just burned through content? Well, everyone in the world is doing that. There’s such demand for content, it is insane. The world is changing very quickly, right in front of our eyes.
“And it only makes sense that the streaming is ramping up heavily, especially with all the new stream services coming online.”
Facilities offer much-needed infrastructure
Luke Azevedo, the commissioner for film, television and creative industries with Calgary Economic Development, said WFW is providing much-needed infrastructure to service the film and television community.
“WFW has been a strong supporter of our creative industries for over 30 years, servicing both foreign and local productions as we continue to grow and develop our sector,” Azevedo said.
“New production facilities enhance Alberta’s competitiveness in attracting foreign direct investment and increase the impact of the film and television sector on our provincial economy.”
According to the Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA), total film and television production in Canada hit an all-time high in production volume of $9.32 billion in 2018-’19, accounting for 180,900 full-time equivalent jobs and generating $12.8 billion in GDP for the Canadian economy.