It’s a classic holiday film tale: small towns, snowflakes and star-crossed lovers.
But this year’s queue of beloved holiday movies may be considerably smaller due to the worldwide shut-down of productions caused by current Hollywood writers’ and actors’ strikes.
Glitch SPFX is an Ottawa-based special effects company responsible for simulating most of the artificial snow in holiday films produced in the province in the last five years — the majority of those films for American studios and networks.
Now, Glitch SPFX founder Ben Belanger said the company is completely out of work.
“It went from us working on literally three films at the same time in June … and then it was the writers’ strike that seemed like it was going to be nice and short.”
“But now with the actors’ strike jumping on top of that, it makes things a little more uncertain,” Belanger told Global News in an interview, referring to the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) and Writers Guild of America (WGA) strikes.
Canadian impact of the SAG/AFTRA strike
Glitch has been in business for 10 years, but Belanger said the last five have been especially lucrative due to deals with American networks such as the Hallmark Channel, known for pumping out some of the most talked about holiday films each year.
But due to the strikes this year, the number of holiday films produced in Canada for Hallmark and similar networks will be greatly reduced, experts say — not because of the crews, but actors.
1Development Entertainment Services is an Ottawa-based production company with a focus on holiday, made-for-TV movies. Like Glitch, almost all of the studio’s projects are in collaboration with American unions and networks due to having a larger market and audience size.
Founder of 1Development, Shane Boucher, said it’s a big deal for networks to have at least one American star in a holiday film. That’s why many companies will likely choose to wait out the actors’ strike instead of working on new projects with an entirely Canadian cast.
“The SAG requirement is usually pretty high. There’s either a level of a Hallmark-known star … that’s going to help drive the viewership, or it’s just an American star that has a really high social media presence. Normally they’re higher than some of your top-level Canadians just because of the reach and the audience.”
Canadian studios will typically opt to hire domestic crews for tax credit purposes, which is more cost-effective.
Boucher said 1Development will not be one of the companies waiting out the strike and will work with networks to develop their own intellectual property (IP) in the meantime.
“We’re usually busy servicing production, so that’s kind of the silver lining. It gives us an opportunity,” he said.
Boucher said his goal has always been to grow the film industry in Ottawa since joining 20 years ago. Since work with American unions and networks is currently off the board, he’ll be focusing on smaller projects to fill the gaps.
“My job over the next few weeks to a month is to … work on getting some sort of projects so that we can keep everybody working … regardless of where it comes from.”
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ACTRA Toronto executive director Alistair Hepburn said there is a small chance that some holiday film productions will be able to secure an American actor.
SAG-AFTRA is working on an agreement in which independent producers — those not affiliated with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) — will be able to engage the services of a SAG member through a waiver system for the duration of the strike.
“That may be something that we see maybe even more of because they will be filling that gap,” Hepburn said in an interview with Global News.
Hepburn noted that even if Canadian productions are able to hire SAG-AFTRA actors, those projects cannot be distributed by AMPTP companies, such as Netflix or Disney. Instead, independent producers can sell their project’s wares to unaffiliated networks like Hallmark.
“That is a very clear direction from SAG,” he said.
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Belanger said that he’s fortunate to feel financially secure enough during Glitch’s uncertainty, but that he worries about many of his employees.
“I’m more worried about the guys whose pay cheques I sign. The guys that work for me are looking for whatever other income they can get right now.”
Belanger said that what his company is currently experiencing is similar to the strain felt in the industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which also saw an industry-wide shut-down. A number of Glitch employees left at the time to supplement their income elsewhere, and not all returned.
However, Belanger said many of his staff are enjoying having a break. Though the holidays are still some time away, the summer season is typically the busiest for filming.
“It’s a bit of an abnormality. They don’t seem to be too worried about it, but we also don’t know when we’re coming back,” he said.
SAG-AFTRA is entering its second week of striking. Hepburn said that he doesn’t know how long the strikes will go on and that doesn’t see a resolution coming soon.
“This is going to have an impact for months, absolutely months,” Hepburn said. “On not just performance, but the entire industry as a whole.”
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