Making a movie, producing a documentary or a series requires the precision of a military operation in terms of coordinating people, places, permits, safety, vehicles, equipment, costumes, decor while at the same time fostering a creative environment where out-of-the-box thinking and artistry can thrive. The media production industry offers employment opportunity to those who want to lend their experience, talent and creativity towards the creation of a story – whether documentary or fiction.
Media production industry professionals are specialists in their department whether as director of photography guiding the lighting and camera department towards the tone or atmosphere communicated through the director’s vision or as the head of costume ensuring that each piece in the actors’ wardrobe matches that same vision with just the right “lived in” look or historical detail. Each artisan has the opportunity to contribute towards the final production. At the same time, the producers, the director, assistant directors, the production manager, the location manager and the accounting department work together to manage the logistical details of production.
In terms of a feature film or fiction series, this includes hiring and coordinating a team of professionals ranging from 70 to over 200 people depending on the size of the budget and the scope of the production. During production most people will be working at least a ten-hour day, some as long as fourteen-hour days. They will work in multiple locations, sometimes within the same day. Permits and permissions must be secured; the best timing and placement for filming determined’ décor installed; space for actors to prepare, to dress and wait between scenes; transportation and parking for workers coordinated; and washroom facilities, water and food service areas put in place before the production can begin to shoot in a location. Today, with the necessary health measures required to ensure that Manitoba productions stay safe and reduce the potential spread of COVID-19, for larger productions, a new position has been created: the COVID-19 Supervisor or Officer. Smaller commercial and documentary projects don’t have the financial means, nor the number of workers, to necessitate a fulltime supervisor and so, responsibilities for ensuring COVID-19 safety and health measures including frequent hand-washing, maintaining physical distancing and wearing masks falls typically to the director and production coordinator.
With several movies of the week, two fiction series and a couple of feature films underway or completed in Manitoba, we are building the capacity of emerging COVID-19 Supervisors. At this point in time, people being hired for this role have medical training and experience as nurses or paramedics and /or as high level safety supervisors. Ideally, they also have some knowledge of how the production industry works, but some, like so many to enter the media production industry in any role, are learning on the job. As a member-driven non-profit industry association, On Screen Manitoba works to ensure all professionals have access to the tools and resources they need for a safe and healthy workplace at any time, not just in regard to COVID-19. We carry out this work by researching a coordinating with sister organizations across the country and, most importantly, by collaborating with local industry stakeholders: the Government of Manitoba Film Liaison, the crown agency Manitoba Film & Music, the local guilds and unions (IATSE 856, Director’s Guild of Canada (DGC) and ACTRA), Film Training Manitoba a non-profit organization and WorkSAFE Manitoba.
We are fortunate in Manitoba that the media production industry takes a community-driven approach – one that focuses on collaboration and collective problem-solving. It is what makes it possible for a province with a population of just 1.3 million people to build a media production industry, tied with Alberta, a province nearly four times our size, as the fourth largest production centre in Canada. According to Profile 2019 Economic Report on the Screen Based Media Production Industry, prepared by Nordicity for the 2018-2019 year, Manitoba’s total production volume was $253 million, generating over 2,400 jobs. The 2019-2020 year is anticipated to have been similar. With the COVID-19 pandemic necessitating a production shut down earlier this year and ongoing challenges to secure production insurance, we know that the 2020-21 year will see lower numbers, but as an industry, we are thankful to be able to work.
I am now slipping on my hat as Co-chair of Culture Days Manitoba and Nuit Blanche Winnipeg and Co-Chair of Manitobans for the Arts to recognize the many challenges artists and cultural and heritage organizations face today. The performing arts in particular, which share many professionals with the media production industry from actors, to musicians, to wardrobe and set design, to stage and lighting technicians and others, have suffered significant losses due to the pandemic. Organizations and artists are seeking and succeeding to engage with audiences in new ways – Culture Days Manitoba / Nuit Blanche Winnipeg offer a combination of in-person physically distanced small group activities and new online experiences throughout the month of October. Other arts offerings are emerging monthly to help us all stay connected.
Nicole Matiation is the Executive Director of On Screen Manitoba.
Strategic Policy Branch, Manitoba Sport, Culture and Heritage