Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA), BC Branch

A lot of us have questions right now about the film and television industry. The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) are currently on strike. We no longer see productions shooting all over town like we have been used to, for so long. We don’t have very many new shows to watch and many people are out of work. Here is something that might help. Let’s get to the bottom of it all.

  1. Are local actors and writers allowed to work?

YES! SAG and WGA have jurisdiction in the United States. Most actors in Canada are part of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Radio and Television Artists (ACTRA). In Vancouver the local guild is the Union of British Columbia Performers (UBCP). Actors that are part of the Canadian union or guild do not have a current labour grievance. If a SAG member resides in Canada, they can work under a contract with UBCP/ACTRA. SAG members that live in the United States would need permission from SAG to work anywhere. Some Canadian writers are members of the Writers Guild of Canada (WGC). That is separate from the WGA and would more likely work with Canadian producers for Canadian content.

2. Are people in Canada that continue to work in film and TV Scabs? Are they hurting their American Union brothers and sisters?

NO! It’s not illegal or against a US union agreement to work in another country if you are from that country. We can support the fight of American performers and writers by learning about the issues and showing our sympathy for their struggles. US Studios and Networks are not flocking to Canada to make American content. Canadian unions have current agreements that are binding. UBCP/ACTRA could not even strike if they wanted to at this point. 

3. If the strikes are happening in the US, why has everything come to a halt up here?

Money! Especially in Vancouver, most of the work is from foreign location and service production. This magazine is called Hollywood North for a reason. American networks and studios choose to shoot in Vancouver because we have beautiful and diverse locations, experienced and professional crews, talented performers, and a less valuable dollar. Those productions use WGA scripts and SAG actors. Since the strike started, all those productions have come to a halt. Of course, we have the ability to create our own local stories but we don’t have the investors to pay for it. 

4. Who decides when the strike will end?

Everyone! American producers are represented by The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The president is Carol Lombardini. 


Carol represents more than three hundred and fifty producers. She also negotiates with over eighty various unions and guilds around the world. That means that she spends all year going over all the issues in the film and TV industry and is really experienced. She has her pulse on what drives US media. SAG and WGA have been building up for this strike for a while. They are dug in and will not go quietly. A couple of their concerns have to do with artificial intelligence and compensation for streaming services. Like most things though, it’s all about the Benjamins. If the producers are convinced that cut-and-paste scripts, computer-generated characters and shortcuts will be more profitable, then eventually the writers and actors will lose. The two most popular movies right now are bucking the trend of streaming success and are setting box office records with Oppenheimer and Barbie. If audiences continue to support movies in the theatre that are unique and require actors and writers to be original, the AMPTP will see the light and we will all win. 


5. Are Canadian producers represented by anyone? 

Yes! The Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA) represents hundreds of producers here in Canada and negotiates contracts with Canadian unions and guilds. The CMPA represents those involved in  the development, production, and distribution of film, TV,  and digital media. 


To get a greater idea of that landscape we had a conversation with the CMPA managing vice-president of the BC producers branch. 

Tracey Friesen


HNMAG:  Are you originally from Vancouver?

Tracey Friesen: I was born in Kitimat and I moved to North Vancouver when I was three. I grew up near Deep Cove.

HNMAG: When did you become interested in Film and TV?

Tracey Friesen: I knew I wanted to be in media in some manner since I was in Grade nine.


HNMAG: Why is that?

Tracey Friesen: A high school teacher encouraged me to get into photography. Which got me into the dark room and working on the year books. After high school, I went to the Radio and Television program at Ryerson in Toronto (now TMU). It was the only place I applied. It was the only thing I wanted to do, so luckily I was accepted because there was no plan B. 


HNMAG: How long did you live in Ontario?

Tracey Friesen: For three years, in the late 80’s. 


HNMAG: You decided to come back to Vancouver after university.

Tracey Friesen: There was a job posting on the board at Ryerson. I noticed the 604 prefix, I applied for it and got it. It was in post-production. I had no intention then of working in post but since it was a job in Vancouver, I took it. Back then, it was called Gastown Post and Transfer then it became Rainmaker Digital Pictures. The first years of my career started there and an important aspect of that job was the networking. There was even a pub right in the facility. Relationship building is a big part of this industry. Eventually I became a freelance editor and edited a couple of documentaries, which I loved. As well as corporate videos and music videos. Then Rainmaker hired me back into producing visual effects, which I did for about five years. 


HNMAG: How did you switch from editing to visual effects?

Tracey Friesen: It was pivotal stage of my career. I knew Bob Scarabelli from when I first started at Gastown. Over time he became the CEO of Rainmaker. He hired me as a visual effects producer, when it was so new that nobody even knew what the job entailed. I think there were only about five people in the department at that point. By the time I left Rainmaker, I was the director of Sales and Industry relations. Bob mentored me and put a ton of confidence and faith in me. It was a real gift. Sadly he died in his late forties but he was a real pillar of the industry. I was being well compensated but I missed being part of the whole creative process like when I was editing. I wanted to go back to being deep into stories. Five days after discussing my future with Bob, there was an add in the newspaper for a producer with the National Film Board (NFB).


HNMAG: Did you move to Montreal?

Tracey Friesen: No, it was Vancouver based NFB producer job. These types of jobs never come up. I never produced before, so I poured everything into trying to get that job. And I got it! With all my various experience, I understood budgets and story. I was also involved in Women in Film, so I had a network and got how the ecosystem worked. It turned out to be great that I never produced before because I could just learn the NFB way instead of some predetermined approach. I worked there for almost twelve years. After six years I was promoted to an executive producer position. I was making meaningful content, with government funding in a nice office with smart people. It was amazing. It was a real dream job for many years. 


HNMAG: Where did you work before the CMPA?

Tracey Friesen: I spent six months on a project with Mindset Foundation here in Vancouver. It was a philanthropic media oriented project about lack of access to life saving medicines. Then I got into doing some paid research. I wrote a couple of papers around alternative financing for documentaries. That led to me writing a book called Story Money Impact: Funding Media for Social Change. That launched a charitable organization, helmed by Sue Biely. I was also program director during the start-up phase of a community oriented radio station called Roundhouse. I was also the director of communications for two years at the David Suzuki Foundation.


HNMAG:  Were you hired as the Managing Vice-President with the CMPA?

Tracey Friesen: Yes, of the BC Branch. There are two offices in Ontario as well, Ottawa and Toronto. BC is the only office with its own Branch Council. We are a part of the national organization and our members are part of it but we do have our own governance structure due to the reality of BC Labour Law. One of our responsibilities is bargaining collective agreements on behalf of the Canadian producers with the unions and guilds in Canada. BC has its own unions and guilds, and they are required to negotiate with a BC registered entity. 


HNMAG: All the unions and guilds in British Columbia currently have a functioning agreement in place right now.

Tracey Friesen: Correct. We sit beside the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), who represent the American producers and studios. Here is BC there was just a one year extension which ensures labour stability until April of 2025. 


HNMAG: Most of the productions in British Columbia up till the recent US labour issues, were from US producers who are represented by the AMPTP. You sit next to them, how does that work with negotiations? 

Tracey Friesen: The CMPA negotiators are in then room when the leadership of the AMPTP is in the room, as well as members. We would have BC members on industrial relations committees, who are part of the bargaining process. It is a partnership with us, and of course the American producers carry a lot of weight. The have a huge economic impact on this Province. We are there to make sure the interests of the domestic producers are being heard. Depending on the year, the volume of foreign or US productions can be eighty or ninety percent of the production volume here. 


HNMAG: How long has the CMPA been around?

Tracey Friesen: The BC Branch is around thirty years. The CMPA itself started in 1948 under a difference name. 


HNMAG: Here is BC we are a real service industry as production is about 80-90% from outside of Canada. How different is that in other places like Toronto?

Tracey Friesen: Up until last year, Ontario would have been around fifty-fifty, Canadian content and service work. Last year and perhaps the year before there was a bump in the service industry there so it could be sixty percent or more. They have a significantly higher percentage of domestic production in Ontario. According to the data from our annual Profile publication, BC tends to have a higher overall production volume than any other Province in Canada. But BC also has a much smaller domestic production community. The focus of our CMPA office is to strengthen the domestic sector, even though we really welcome service work. 


HNMAG:  Where does British Columbia compare to other North American production centres in terms of volume?

Tracey Friesen: It moves around but we used to say third. We’ll never catch California but New York is higher as well. Ontario and British Columbia are very close though. 


HNMAG: In terms of public funding, BC is much lower than Ontario.

Tracey Friesen: British Columbia has around fifteen percent of the population. If you take into account all the public funding sources, we’re  not far too off from that. It’s less for Feature Films though. One consideration is networking. Vancouver is not a head-office town. It’s more difficult to foster important relationships. Even the streamers’ offices went to Toronto. The only boots on the ground right in British Columbia are with the Knowledge Network. When you can’t run into decision-makers on a regular basis, it’s trickier to get to green lights. Creative BC is such an important player in our market place. We both try to support our members to get to International markets. It’s very important for people to learn about each other to go along with the quality of ideas, track records and ability to pitch.  


HNMAG: Is there a way for us to network and get more content right now?

Tracey Friesen: One piece of good timing news was in April with the announcement of the expansion of the Provincial Domestic Motion Picture Fund. It’s administered through Creative BC and something that many including the CMPA have been lobbying for years. Both provinces of Quebec and Ontario invest heavily in their film industry. In BC the money has been limited to development. This is a fifteen million dollar announcement over a three year period. It will allow for more larger production investments in feature films. Very soon there’ll be a call out for applications. This will make a difference. There are also some independent shoots that are taking advantage of the current high availability but it’s hard to get a volume of productions to happen quickly. 


HNMAG: What is Creative BC?

Tracey Friesen: It’s an economic development agency connected through the BC government. It supports all cultural industries such as music, magazines, books, and digital, but film and TV is the largest section. It’s akin to provincial agencies such as Ontario Creates and SODEC (QUEBEC). They also administer the provincial tax credits. 


HNMAG: How do we get Vancouver producers to make more Canadian content?

Tracey Friesen: In part it’s a matter of regulations such as tax laws, and what’s happening right now with the CRTC and the online streaming act. We don’t know how those consultations will go and what will be the obligation of foreign companies to support content here. The result might be that there is more available funding in Canada that could be applied to projects that are owned by Canadians. The broadcasters are another part of the puzzle since you need external market support to access public funding and tax credits. That often means a broadcaster. And yet right now broadcasters are asking to be relieved of some of their requirements and expenditures. The trend is for Canadian private broadcasters to do the minimum in terms of Canadian content to meet the regulatory mandate, since the margins are greater on pre-produced American programs. This all means that there are fewer licenses for original programming across the board. 


HNMAG: It’s unfortunate. It would be so much better if we could build an industry based on Canadian content. We can see that need right now, with so many talented people not working. 

Tracey Friesen: Yes, it’s the dependence on external forces, like foreign capital, which is fickle. Here we are, with labour unrest in another country, we have no control over that. It could be the dollar might change or some other jurisdiction might suddenly offer the most generous tax credit ever. At that point, shows will leave, even though there are many other reasons productions come here such as the talent, beauty, proximity to LA…etc. The domestic market really needs to grow because we are all here and we’re sticking around. That’s why some International Property ownership needs to be developed here and stay here. 


HNMAG: What else is very important for everyone to consider within the industry?

Tracey Friesen: Sustainability and climate action as related to the film and television industry is a huge passion of ours. There is so much great stuff being done. Real Green was founded in BC fifteen years ago, so this province is a real leader in terms sustainable production practices and training. In the last year or year and a half, there has been exponential growth in conversations, investments, training, in committees, and all the agencies working together about data collection and harmonization, starting to set goals and targets, and the Sustainable Production Forum. It’s important to the both the provincial and federal government. We are all in this together wanting to reduce the carbon footprint of the film and television industry. We need to move ourselves toward really strong reductions in greenhouse gases emissions, where there’s the greatest impact. It’s less about the water bottles and more about generators, fuel and transportation. 


Tracey Friesen has many years of experience with many important aspects of the film and television industry. She has been on the forefront of Vancouver during a period of unprecedented growth. She was on the ground floor for the visual effects explosion. She is passionate about British Columbia and telling Canadian stories. Tracey also is very well connected with the film and TV community and really understands the business side of how content gets made. 

The issues that have led to labour disputes with SAG and the WGA are important but they are not issues that Canadians are facing as of yet. We are suffering though, especially in British Columbia where we are more of a service industry than anywhere else. It’s not easy but the best solution would be to encourage our own domestic industry. Relying on the whims of Hollywood will only take you so far and who knows for how long. 

If we do really develop a homegrown BC film and TV production industry, it won’t do us any good if we don’t have a planet to enjoy it from. The climate crisis is here and everyone can reduce their carbon footprint. Making a movie or television program requires a lot of resources. We are working on making that process much more sustainable. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *