X-files' exit doesn't mean dark time for B.C. industry

By Alex Strachan,
Sun Television Critic
Vancouver Sun
Tuesday, March 31, 1998

Numbers don't lie.

The many Lower Mainland television viewers who have taken The X-Files to heart these past five heady years may be too upset to put the show's move to Los Angeles into its proper perspective.

But the truth is this: the province's burgeoning film and television industry has never been healthier.

The X-Files is one of the most respected, widely viewed television series in the world today, and is certainly the most prominent show ever filmed in Canada.

Its departure will exact a heavy emotional toll on a relatively young industry.

But the plain truth is that The X-Files was just one of 20 series and mini-series to film in the Lower Mainland in 1997 -- a number that Peter Mitchell, director of the B.C. Film Commission, expects to jump to 25 this year.

Among the new series waiting to go before the cameras is Vidatron Entertainment's large-budget science-fiction extravaganza First Wave -- which, ironically enough, was created and developed by a former X-Files script writer, Chris Brancato.

And anybody who believes The X-Files was single-handedly instrumental in establishing the current wave of production activity should consider this: In March 1993, when The X-Files first came to Vancouver, producers were forced to recruit technicians and scrape together locations wherever they could find them, because existing sound-stages and experienced crews were tied up by some 20 other productions.

The first scene in the series -- in which FBI agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) meets Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) for the first time -- was filmed inside the CBC building at 700 Hamilton Street, because none of the Lower Mainland's existing production facilities was available at the time.

"When we first came to Vancouver, there was a small amount of hostility toward us," recalled Chris Carter, The X-Files' creator and executive producer. "It wasn't an open-armed welcome. But the benefits to being in Vancouver were tremendous."

Since that fateful day in 1993, when The X-Files' intrepid agents scoured the bush of North Vancouver's Seymour Demonstration Forest for evidence of extraterrestrial invasion, B.C.'s film and television production industry has become even more firmly entrenched.

According to the B.C. Film Commission, total production spending in B.C. topped $336 million in 1993.

Last year, that number climbed to $630 million.

In 1993, some 70 productions were filmed in B.C. Last year, that number climbed to 167.

Of those, 24 were feature films, 53 were TV movies and pilots, and 20 were TV series. The rest were animated programs, documentaries and single-broadcast productions.

Mitchell says the loss of The X-Files is a wrenching blow emotionally. But in terms of the over-all financial picture, it is a mere blip on the screen.

"We're going to miss The X-Files," Mitchell said. "We had a great run with them and it's too bad that they're going. But in terms of economics, the industry is still growing. We don't want to take their leaving lightly, but the slack will be taken up immediately by other shows. The truth is that we have a shortage of [skilled labour] as it is."

Mitchell's comments were echoed by Tom Adair, business manager for local 891 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

IATSE represents some 2,300 film and television technicians in B.C. -- nearly double its membership roll in 1993, when there were 1,373 accredited technicians.

Despite that increase, Adair said, there is still no shortage of work for skilled crew-members.

The prestige of having The X-Files on a job resume, combined with the heightened demand for qualified crews, means that most if not all of the series' 80 to 90 full-time IATSE technicians will find work on other productions immediately.

"The nature of the industry is that television series come and go," Adair said. "People who work in the industry understand that it is transitory.

"The X-Files put Vancouver on the map in terms of worldwide recognition. But the fact remains that it was just one small part of a very large picture."

For his part, Carter said he wants to take key X-Files crew-members with him to Los Angeles, but U.S. immigration regulations and intransigence from the Southern Californian film unions will make that difficult.

Carter said that while no official decision has been made by Twentieth Century Fox Television about renewal of his other Vancouver-based show, Millennium, a third season looks "99-per-cent certain."

If Millennium is renewed, it will remain in Vancouver, Carter said.

"My mantra is that a show is only as scary as it is believable, and Vancouver provides a believability [in terms of its varied locations] that makes us feel that we really are in the places we say we are," he said.

Carter said he will continue to produce film and television projects in Vancouver for the foreseeable future, and that his X-Files employees will be the first people he hires -- assuming they are still available.

"I have every intention of following though," Carter said. "I have, really, what I think are terrific ideas [for other shows] and now that I know the city and I know the actors and I know the crew members, it's simply a question of putting it all together."

Vancouver's growing pool of actors will be affected by The X-Files' departure because one-time guest appearances on a series that is recognized around the world will now be offered exclusively to Southern California performers.

Talent agent Richard Lucas, whose Vancouver agency represents four X-Files actors in recurring roles -- William Davis, Dean Haglund, Tom Braidwood and Chris Owens -- said U.S. immigration authorities will allow his clients to work in Los Angeles because they have been established as regular characters on the show.

Lucas acknowledged that performers auditioning for one-time guest appearances, however, will probably have to settle for the less high-profile series that will take The X-Files' place.

"They provided a lot of wonderful opportunities for Vancouver actors," Lucas said. "That said, I think we should all be gracious about their leaving and say thanks for the memories, thanks for the great opportunities and the wonderful exposure, and good luck in L.A."


Numbers of British Columbians occupied in various jobs related to film and broadcasting industry in 1996. (Increase from 1991 to 1996):

This article appears courtesy of The Vancouver Sun