July, 2020

PREM GILL: Creating BC’s creative force

By Surbhi Gogia

We have always seen British Columbia’s scenic locations at the backdrop of popular Hollywood movies. But do you know that BC is also a popular choice amongst international production houses for their behind the scenes work. It is one of the largest centres for film and television production in North America and has international reputation and proven track record for providing exceptional value for the producer’s dollar. Deadpool, War for the Planet of the Apes, Tomorrowland, Godzilla, Seventh Son, Elysium, Superman: Man of Steel, are some of the recent examples of film projects that BC was part of.

The animation and visual effects industry too is playing a vital role in contributing to BC’s economy. For example — Game of Thrones — one of the most watched TV shows across the world too had its massive fire breathing dragons created in Vancouver. Award-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, as well as Rick & Morty, Hotel Transylvania 1, 2 & 3, Beat Bugs, Bob’s Burgers and Angry Birds, are some of the other examples. The province is home to well over 200 B.C.-based producers and more than 250 local businesses that service motion picture production including 65 film studios, 30 post-production companies and 100 animation and visual effects companies, making B.C. the world’s largest visual effects cluster.BC’s motion picture industry contributed $3.4 billion to B.C.’s economy in 2018.

Be it motion pictures, music, publishing, BC has been a hub of creative industries for a while. But it is recently that, BC has become a hotspot and more and more international producers are looking to work with BC’s talent. Creative BC, a not for profit agency, has played a vital role in representing BC’s creative sector in the international markets since its inception. The agency is designated by the Province of British Columbia to focus on uniting, sustaining and growing province’s dynamic anddiverse creative sector including motion picture, music and sound recording, interactive and digital media, and magazine and book publishing. And the force behind this agency is Prem Gill. Gill is the Chief Executive Officer of Creative BC. With over 20 years of experience in digital media and entertainment industries, she has played a major role in delivering a wide range of programs and services to expand BC’s creative economy to reach its economic and creative potential both at home and globally.

Prem was named one of Canada’s 100 most powerful women, Vancouver Magazine’s “Power 50” and received the Community Catalyst award from the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade.

Before Creative BC, Prem spent eight years with TELUS, most recently in the role of Director of Production & Original Programming. Her commitment to the advancement of BC’s creative economy can be seen through her achievements, including the successful development and launch of the StoryHive program and TELUS’s Optik TV community channel to promote diversity and inclusiveness. Prem is also on the Board of Directors of the Bell Fund, The Actors Fund of Canada and the PuSH Festival.

In an interview with Desi Today, she talks more about her role, BC’s creative economy, interesting future projects and her vision for BC’s creative industries.

DT) You were named one of Canada’s 100 most powerful women and also featured in Vancouver’s “Power 50”. Now you have a responsibility to promote one of the fastest growing sectors of BC’s economy. How do you feel about your position?

I feel privileged to be in this position and have the opportunity to support creative industry of BC. Along with motion pictures, we support music, books magazine, digital and interactive media sectors too. We have seen people from all walks of lifegrow in this amazing industry. And most important, I have a great team that makes all the difference. I feel the work we have done so far is already having an impact.

DT) Can you tell us something about your childhood and family? Were you always interested in joining creative sector?

My parents came from Punjab in mid 60s. I grew up in Burnaby. It was while pursuing communications degree from SFU that I got interested in representation in media and the power of media. It really drove me to be part of a place that not many South Asians belonged, at that time in late 90s and early 2000s. South Asianswere usually seen on the multicultural channels. But things have certainly changed. After my degree, I worked in PRandwith Sushma Ji at her radio station. It was animportant place to learn and get experience. I went on to become an independent producer and did a lot of community work. I eventually ended up with team that launched City TV in Vancouver. My focus from the beginning was to bring different perspectives and voices to mainstream television.

DT) As you mentioned that South Asians during your growing up days were not part of mainstream television and creative industry? How far things have changed for them?

There are a lot more people of Indian heritage working in the mainstream media and other media platforms now. The next generation has amazing role models to follow who have crossed over to mainstream in spite of starting on small platforms like Lilly Singh and Harnarayan Singh of Hockey Night in Punjabi. Look at Singh, he has now moved on to English commentary too. Things have changed but more needs to be done. I have been part of this industry for over 20 years and have faith in its potential to promote diversity. The Academy-award-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is one great example that involved the work of people with different backgrounds.More people need to come forward to tell a story. And we are here to support storytellers through different programs. – of all backgrounds and especially Indigenous creatorsWe are also working with CBC to support digital short films that had specific targets to represent the diversity of people.

DT) What is CreativeBC’smandate and role in promoting creative industries?

Our main focus is to support the growth and economic development of BC creative industry.  The creative industries are converging rapidly, and our stakeholders believe that the greatest opportunity now lies in uniting as one community—leveraging our reach, reputation and potential to become greater than the sum of all parts.Creative BC was created to unite and champion the success of BC’s diverse and distinctive creative sector.

Creative industry as such is very broad and encompasses many fields like art, film, designs, architecture etc. Creative BC’smandate is to support films, TV, visual effects, animation, videogames, books, music and magazine industry.Our programs, services and investments act as a catalyst to help these sectors realize their economic and creative potential and to contribute to the future prosperity of our province. Established by the provincial government, we collaborate with many provincial ministries on initiatives, municipal resources and relevant industry associations and committees to grow our sector. We manage the province’s film and TV tax incentives.We also provide grants for companies and individuals to travel to international markets as well as grant for a variety of things like festivals, for industry and professional development. We do policy work with government to support creative industry.

We are often the first call people make if they are exploring BC’s market. We offer full range of location services, production expertise and studio place to producers looking to do business in BC. We also represent BC’s creative industries’ capacity to the world at international markets and undertakes to participate in trade missions that encourage inward investment to the creative industries of our province.

DT) We know as an organization you have to promote all the industries in creative sector under your mandate but which according to you is the biggest industry bringing the economic revolution?

I think film and televisionindustry is very strong and consistent in creating economic and job opportunities for people. It is a 40-year-oldindustry, so we are going to see people now retiring and new people entering the industry and more diversity of the workforce.

In 2018, the Province of BC announced $7.5 million in funding for Amplify BC, a new program supporting people working in BC’s diverse music industry. CreativeBC has launched eight programs to support the careers of BC Artists, live music performances, the development of music companies, training & export initiatives, research, innovation and the growth of the BC music industry. Amplify BC’s Live Music program provides support for the growth of B.C.’s live music sector, such as venue upgrades, infrastructure, marketing, training and new jobs.

Also,the video game industry remains very strong. Industry leader Electronic Arts has a long and established presence in Vancouver, spawning the creation of a significant number of smaller BC-owned companies working in the sector.BC’s interactive and digital media sector is one of the most dynamic engines in the BC economy and is a key driver of skilled jobs that will define the future of the province.

 DT) How big is BC motion picture industry?

British Columbia possesses a reputation for excellence and innovation in screen-based media production globally, and motion picture contributes to a strong and sustainable economy for the province. Spanning physical production, animation, visual effects and post-production, B. C’s full-service industry is a major private sector employer supporting an estimated 60,000 skilled workers across technology, trades, business and the arts with higher than average incomes. As to March 31, 2018, the industry contributed $3.4 billion to BC’s economy.

DT) What are some of the biggest projects, you would say, came to BC after the creation of Creative BC and how do you see your role in all this?

In 2017/18, the industries served by Creative BC supported a $6.4 billion contribution to B.C.’s economy and a workforce of 94,000. I amproud of the fact that Vancouver has become a hub for production of lot of TV series. We have been really strong with series from Warner Brothers, who have built a Superhero world in BC including the newest series, Batwoman.With Netflix bringing productions to Vancouver, it offered a new platform for B.C.’s immense talent. A lot of movies of the week, Lifetime and Hallmark movies are made here in BC. If you watch W Network,you will see BC everywhere.

Creative BC’s role in all this has been to promote BC industries in international market, funding and leveragingsupport from the government to support local creators. We market British Columbia’s diverse settings and technical expertise. Through tailored location packages generated from our proprietary locations library, we show producers a “World of Looks” and the broad spectrum of locations that B.C. has to offer. There are so many Bollywood movies too being shot here now.

DT) Is Bollywood’s involvement with BC limited to locations or are you taking more initiatives to attract Bollywood production houses too?

BC has seen productions from India produce in BC over the years and at the recent Cannes film festival,I had the opportunity to talk to Indian producers for exploring opportunities for co-productions

DT) Last but not the least, what is your message to our readers?

Don’t be shy to explore and be part of this great industry. Some parents may hesitate to encourage their kids to be part of the creative industries Along with creative jobs like being a storytelling, andanimation artist or a musician.There are alsotraditional “jobs” such as being a lawyer and or an accountant.A thriving creative sector is going to be strength of the future economy. I would encourage your readers to participate and enjoy the all that the creative and cultural sectors do in BC and consider being a part of it!

Some Interesting facts

  • British Columbia is North America’s 3rd largest motion picture hub
  • 450+ productions were made in B.C. in FY 17/18
  • 80% of Canadians view video games as mainstream entertainment
  • 13,400+ individuals in British Columbia earn a portion of their income through their work in B.C.’s music industry and half of those define it as their main source of employment.
  • 3,000+graduates enter into British Columbia’s digital entertainment and movie production industry every year

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