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Stage set for $242M film studio complex on Malahat Nation

Grant Cameron
Stage set for $242M film studio complex on Malahat Nation

The stage has been set for an expansive, carbon-neutral, zero-waste major film studio complex near an industrial park area on Malahat Nation on the western shores of Saanich Inlet, north of Victoria on Vancouver Island.

The $242-million venture will be built in three phases. Shovels for the initial part, which will consist of two sound stages, a workshop and two production offices, are expected to go into the ground by end of year.

The complex is the brainchild of Beverley Dondale, founder and CEO of Victoria-based production company Alpha Select Production Services.

She first envisioned the project in 2010 and approached the Coast Salish Indigenous community with a proposal to build the complex on an 85-acre site.

“I’m excited,” says Dondale. “Malahat is ready with infrastructure. The capability of being a carbon-neutral, zero-waste facility is now possible with so many new businesses to help us and now so many filmmakers, crew and supporters of film can see my vision for sustainable film on Vancouver Island.”

Malahat Nation is getting set to start work on major infrastructure to support the complex, including the installation of water, wastewater, telecommunications and powerlines and roads on the site and surrounding area.

Maple Reinders Constructors Ltd. has been retained to develop the site.

“My team is working on getting our funding in place, and ensuring our developers, architects, crew, equipment and suppliers are ready to go,” explains Dondale.

The first phase of the project will cost about $78 million. The sound stages will each be about 36,000 square feet with tall ceilings.

Subsequent phases of the complex will be built out as capacity of facilities is reached. Once the entire complex is completed, it will have a total of six sound stages with production offices, five workshops, two standalone production offices and an industrial area for film-related equipment and suppliers. Commercial areas for shops, hotels and affordable housing will also be included in the mix.


A zero-waste production studio house

The project promises to be a beacon of environmental consciousness in an industry known for its resource-intensive ventures.

Considerable time and effort have been spent on making sure the project will achieve its sustainability goals. Initial efforts fell short of achieving the envisioned sustainability goals, but Dondale approached Malahat Nation in 2015 which embraced the vision and opportunity.

Dondale, a production industry veteran with more than 20 years in the movie production industry, was on a mission to take action to create a circular economy and reduce waste and the carbon footprint of the sector.

She figured a zero-waste production studio house would demonstrate that commitment.

She chose to work with Malahat Nation because the community understands the need to achieve a higher standard when it comes to social and environmental performance, public transparency and accountability to shareholders, workers, communities, customers, suppliers and the environment.

Alpha Select is aiming for the project to obtain a Certified B Corp designation, which means the studio must meet specific performance requirements across environmental, social and governance policies.

To achieve certification, B Lab, which oversees the program, requires companies “walk the talk” by providing employee benefits, and employ ethical supply chain and charitable giving practices as well as help the environment by reusing, storing and donating materials and food, and recycling.

Businesses also must be transparent by posting annual impact reports, so it instils confidence the company is not “greenwashing,” notes Dondale, and will help improve the company’s operational performance.


Reusing construction materials key

As part of the process, Alpha Select will have to consider the impact of all its decisions on all stakeholders.

“This encourages us to continue growing and evolving,” says Dandle. “We are accountable to workers, communities, customers, to suppliers and to the environment.

“We become a leader in our field. We become the employer who can attract, engage and retain talent. Once we are certified we will have a leg-up raising more capital because B Corps are better managed.”

As part of the project, the development team will seek ways to divert waste from the landfill by reusing construction materials that are used for production of sets and exploring new opportunities to advance circularity by eliminating single-use plastics and reusing containers, cups and dishes.

The goal of the project is to create at least 1,500 film and support industry jobs under the sustainability umbrella.

In addition to film production, the jobs will be in other sectors such as the hospitality industry.

With a promising outlook for virtual and augmented reality, forecasts indicate GDP output of the film and production sector will reach $1.5 trillion by 2030 and result in thousands of industry jobs.

Alpha Select is looking to attract movies with budgets of $100 to $200 million.

“We want to attract a series to come and make their home here. We want to be the hub for domestic and Indigenous film,” says Dondale.

Vancouver Island already has a strong location-based film industry, so Alpha Select is not trying to reinvent the wheel, she notes.

“We are not building a film industry here. We need to create a one-stop-shop large enough to keep productions on the island.”


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