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Alberta director says provincial filming incentives not good enough

Alberta born and raised film director Aaron James says government incentives to lure movie productions here from Hollywood do result in some jobs, but not for writers and directors
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Guitar Lessons director Aaron James conducted a question and answer session after the film was shown twice Jan. 15 in the Mayfair Cinema in Olds.

OLDS — An Alberta born and raised film director says government incentives to lure movie productions here from Hollywood do result in some jobs, but not for writers and directors. 

Movie script writer/director Aaron James, who splits his time between Calgary and the film business in Los Angeles, says Alberta has the scenery and the crews to produce films. 

He was speaking in advance of the screening of Guitar Lessons, a film with an all-Canadian cast and crew that he shot in 2021 in Northern Alberta. The Mountain View Film Group (MVFG) and Mountain View Moccasin House teamed up to show Guitar Lessons Sunday, Jan. 15 at the Mayfair Cinema in Olds.

“One good thing about making movies now is the equipment, you can buy most of it at Best Buy,” James said during an interview. “The cameras have got ridiculously good and really affordable. And what’s more beautiful than Alberta?" 

But he said that's not enough. 

“What they call the Alberta film industry, is mostly – not to sound negative – but it’s mostly us giving grants to Hollywood to come shoot up here,' James said. 

“That gives a lot of jobs to the people who set up the stands and wrap cables and grips and gaffers and extras, right? But it doesn’t help me. It doesn’t help writers and directors, the creative people, because the creative people from Alberta don’t get any jobs on those American gigs. 

“We get to pretend to be Wyoming and they come make their movies here and we get the technical, low-end, below-the-line jobs on those films.” 

James was asked if that could change as more Albertans get more experience working on American-made movies and TV shows in the province. 

“Well, that’s the theory, but no, because it’s all about writing and directing, so until we get writers and directors here, it doesn’t matter how good our grips and gaffers are,” he said. 

“I’m always trying to encourage Alberta, if you want to make a real Alberta (film) industry like I’m doing – like we’re doing – where you make Alberta stories where Alberta gets to play Alberta and we have all Albertans acting and doing the creative jobs throughout the whole thing, then we need to give emphasis on the story and not pretending to be somewhere else.”  

James said he’s managed to make movies entirely in Alberta and Canada. 

He cited Guitar Lessons – a movie shot entirely in Northern Alberta using an all–Canadian cast and crew, half of whom were from northern Alberta – as an example. 

“There aren’t producers in Canada looking for writers and directors. And something about this, giving grants to Universal and Disney to come and shoot here doesn’t help that,” he said. 

“I don’t want to sound like I’m on a soapbox, but I am a little bit. And I guess I’m just really delighted with what we’ve done with this one and now with the next one, because we have everything we need. 

“But there’s nobody looking for me here; we’ve gone out and we just did it.  And without a distributor, without a real production company, without help from the government, we are the number one Canadian film of 2022.”