While the film and TV industry continues to grow in Manitoba, the number of workable sound stages remains maddeningly stagnant.
A new player coming on the scene is Big Sky Studios, a full-service motion picture production centre set to open in two phases beginning this fall.
The large nine-acre property, occupying the former Nygard International facility at 1771 Inkster Blvd., houses a 137,000-square-foot building. It was purchased by Eighth Avenue Development Group, a Vancouver-based partnership in February and is now being transformed into three separate soundstages.
By autumn, they hope to open a single 6,000-square-foot sound-proof soundstage, as well as a mill/paint shop, wardrobe areas, and production offices, with two more soundstages becoming viable by spring.
The facility may alleviate the dearth of existing facilities, which include the 15,000-square-foot space in the Manitoba Production Centre on Pacific Avenue or Juliette Hagopian’s recently opened 16,000-square-foot McGee Street Studio in the West End, in addition to the usual warehouse spaces often enlisted for studio space.
According to Eighth Avenue’s Ed Kolic, the new property not only provides studio space but will also accommodate "long-term tenancies for industry-related services like equipment rentals, VFX, animation, and editing."
"We’re pleased to be introducing this impressive facility into Manitoba’s filmmaking market," Kolic said in a press release.
Producer Ian Dimerman of local production company Inferno Pictures was the main local mover when it came to enticing Eighth Avenue to check out the potential for growth in Manitoba’s film industry. Dimerman said the province-run Manitoba Production Centre "limits our ability to attract projects because there’s only one building and it’s not very big.
"So if we’re going to grow as an industry — and there are amazing opportunities for significant growth — we need infrastructure," Dimerman says. "This industry has been crying for infrastructure forever."
Dimerman brought the Eighth Avenue investors to Winnipeg "and I showed them what the opportunities could be.
"Keep in mind they live in a city where there is over a million square feet of soundstages," says Dimerman, who encouraged the purchase of the former Nygard building when it came available.
"I believe that studios love working with our world-class crews, but they need to see more infrastructure."
The project, Dimerman stresses, "has been undertaken 100 per cent by the private sector."
"There’s no public money in this," he said. "I have a little stake in it because I was the only one with industry experience that was advocating and saying to these guys this is an unbelievable opportunity."
Dimerman’s company is at work on pre-production on the upcoming CBC series The Porter, and is already using office space on Inkster for that show. He adds the studio also represents an opportunity for post-pandemic growth in Manitoba.
"When everything comes out in the wash, there are going to be a lot of people looking for work," he said. "And this is an industry that has a huge growth potential.
"I really hope that this is going to inspire young people who may have always dreamed of working in the film industry. They’ll see that there is investment being made in infrastructure, and that there are great jobs," Dimerman says. "Because what now needs to happen is in tandem with infrastructure is that we need more people."
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.