A year ago, it was an empty hulk with a weird-looking roof making a dubious contribution to Maple Ridge’s downtown streetscape.
The multi-peaked roof is still there, and the former Haney Bingo Plex on 224th Street is buzzing with the movie business after the opening of The Ridge Studios a year ago.
“We’re booked up at the studio until July,” said owner John Wittmayer.
In the last few months, he’s turned away half a dozen companies wanting to use the studios for shooting. That happened as recently as Tuesday and Wednesday, when he turned shows away on both days.
Finding locations that will look like courthouses, police stations, mortuaries or CSI labs are hard to find throughout Metro Vancouver.
“I spent all last year building the business up. And it feels really awkward to me that I’m actually having to say sorry, turn these folks away,” Wittmayer said.
If a television series being shot there this month is re-signed for another 13 episodes, he’ll be booked for the rest of the year.
Since it opened, 18 movies have been shot at the studio, including Beverly Hills 90210, Kindergarten Cop 2, along with several made-for-TV movies.
Wittmayer said the extra six-per-cent tax credit offered against movie crew labour costs have led to the film industry’s growth outside Vancouver.
The low dollar is also a huge factor. But it was the tax incentives that helped spread the industry here, he added.
Being downtown is another bonus.
“There’s a lot going for this particular location that we think has contributed to our popularity.
“To have a community as film friendly as Maple Ridge is, takes a huge burden off film producers because they know they can come here and they’ll be welcomed as opposed to being turned away or having moratoriums or having huge issues every time they come into a community. It just isn’t worth it.”
Wittmayer now has about six people working at the studio, in management and working on the sets.
It also offers work experience on the sets for high school students.
The operation could expand in the spring as he looks at opening another studio of about 21,000 sq. feet.
He wants to keep the momentum going as a way of building the film industry here.
“The more business we do here … the more that we’ll build the infrastructure for filming in Maple Ridge.
“Then you begin to build a labour pool of skilled workers,” who will stay here.
Marg Johnson, film production liaison with the City of Maple Ridge, said 2016 has started out busier than last year.
So far this year, 14 productions have been shot in Maple Ridge, compared to 10 last January and February.
Disney XD is filming Mech-X4, a live-action adventure comedy, in at various locations in Maple Ridge and will be here until May.
Feature films such as Scorched Earth and Legends of Tomorrow were also done here.
“With pilot season starting up, plus the low Canadian dollar, I don’t see it slowing down at all,” Johnson said.
Josh Duchamel, Greg Kinnear, Giancarlo Esposito and Aaron Paul (the last two of Breaking Bad fame, are some of the names that have showed up in Maple Ridge.