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South Cowichan will be home to more lights, cameras, and action

The studio will be built in three phases — the total project cost will be just under $255 million

Editor’s note: This story appeared in the March edition of the South Cowichan Connector, a publication for and about the South Cowichan Valley. Look for our April edition starting April 4.

The dream of bringing more lights, cameras, and action to Vancouver Island is one step closer to becoming a reality as Victoria’s Alpha Select Production Services and Malahat Nation begin to move forward with their state of the art film studio that will look at delivering bigger projects in a sustainable way.

Media and special guests were invited to an open house in the gymnasium of Brentwood College on Feb. 9 to get an idea of what lies ahead.

“I’ve been thinking about this for 10 years, this vision is now slowly and surely coming together,” said Alpha Select CEO Beverley Dondale. “With Malahat it is something we can do together. They understood the vision the moment I spoke about it. They understood that I wanted to do it differently for crew, and to make sure that way we are far away from the landfill, while recycling and reusing as much as possible.”

When Dondale first began looking for a site that could fit a studio with the scale and vision she had, it was suggested that she speak to the Malahat Nation, and they were connected through mutual partners.

READ MORE: Huge film studio development proposed for Malahat Nation lands

“Beverley has a great vision for what it is going to take to get this industry to happen on the island and having enough scale to make it work. I think that is where Malahat comes in: we have the space, and we have the vision to mesh with Beverley’s and actually make this happen,” said Malahat Nation CAO Josh Handysides. “One of the big things that really sold us with looking at the film industry is that it isn’t just one employer, one job, it’s a whole ecosystem and all things are built on supports. This includes entry level jobs to trade jobs all the way up to professional jobs. What we have been looking at with Malahat is to really diversify economy. We are really building a town here, we are building a city….We want to have employment, we want to have housing, we want to have everything that a thriving community needs to have for people, and part of that is why I think this will work here where it doesn’t work in other places. Malahat is not only the landowner and a partner, we are also the governing agency to do the land zoning. We can put together all these pieces to make this work, but it is part of a larger diversified economy that we are developing here.”

“I am so excited by the prospect of a film studio on Malahat lands and even more excited that it will be a carbon-neutral, zero-waste film studio,” said Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau. “This is exactly the approach to economic development that we need for the Cowichan Valley, and for British Columbia.”

Alpha Select is working with innovative local companies to provide environmentally successful ways to divert waste from the landfill, while recycling and reusing items that are no longer needed for production. Dondale compares the future studio to one-stop shopping — producers can not only find local crew members but also eco production assistants who are responsible for organizing material recovery, as well as coordinating material donations, and recycling.

Having a massive studio on the island with the ability to work with $200 million-plus productions and a focus on crew has been Dondale’s vision for nearly a decade. Phase 1 will see two purpose-built production offices, one workshop, two standalone sound stages, and two double sound stages and a back lot built on the studio site. The first phase will cost $72 million and discussions are currently taking place to finalize funding, with construction set to begin immediately following approval. When all is said and done the total cost of this studio project will be just shy of $255 million.

“We are now phasing it to three phases so that we can actually build the infrastructure and the industry as we go along,” said Dondale. “We are thinking from the ground up — net zero, zero waste. We are getting all of the crew on board so they can see that there are opportunities for training and growing our crew so we can actually maintain a studio of this scale and have people working within it.”

“The goal would be to grow to get some larger $200 million-plus productions,” said Handysides. “We will want to balance that with more TV series and longer term productions as well. That will provide more stability for the crews so we are looking a mix of both.”

Vancouver Film Studios president Pete Mitchell who was present at the open house is a big supporter of this project and believes that this sustainable model will be a successful one.

“Our latest project that was built from the ground up has been with sustainability at the forefront since the very beginning,” said Mitchell. “It’s just that much easier to do and the outcome is more successful, and the return on investment is much higher.”

Alpha Select Productions currently offers a wide variety of services such as connecting local crew to productions, introducing a locations database with a detailed checklist that saves producers time and money, as well as green managers who oversee the collection of data and track the production’s footprint allowing for needed adjustments in real time. There will be plans for both a special guest and a crew hotel to house the people producers want to work with who don’t live on the island.

“It was really important to me to do the housing of the crew differently here, so that we are not always doing the vacation rental plan that is often done,” said Dondale. “The expectation is that with affordable housing in the area, the crew can actually come close and work and basically live there. So, all those things will come together so we can make life easier for crew and have everything at our fingertips.”

The Malahat Nation has been bringing more to the community’s fingertips for the last few years and have delved into several areas including both tourism with the Malahat SkyWalk that opened in 2021, and resources such as their quarry and their new proposed battery plant that will break ground in less than 90 days. Handysides says the new studio will be located in proximity to the new proposed battery plant that will also be built on the Malahat Nations lands. He notes that at the full scale of build out, a studio this size could support a few thousand jobs.

“There’s the workshop, and the other businesses, post production, and we will have a need for accommodation with us as well,” said Handysides. “Having a film studio here will be a real anchor for growth, it’s not just the films themselves, but it has all sorts of other industries, and multiplying factors for the economy around it — everything from food and beverage, to accommodations to industrial products. Film touches every part of the economy, and helps grow the economy and the whole region around it. I hope the community takes away the vision for what can be here. Cowichan Valley, historically was a resource community and it has been evolving over time, and I think we are ready for an evolution to a new industry.”