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Crew members of a set of a movie or tv show setting up a scene

Did you know Calgary and region film and television shows have garnered more Academy, Emmy and Global Globe awards over the past 10 years than any other Canadian city? Yes more than Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver. Calgary’s unique and diverse vistas along with the dedicated professional crews are notorious in the industry for their ability to create award-winning film and television.

For many years most people associate Calgary film and television production with Westerns, like Unforgiven, Brokeback Mountain and Lonesome Dove.  

Did you know the TV series Lonesome Dove (which filmed 43 episodes in the Calgary foothills between 1994 and 1996) created a 1880s townsite on stilts that continues to be its legacy?  Today, it is known as C.L. Western Studio & Backlot and includes a 15,000-acre cattle ranch - perfect for filming westerns.  The buildings are on stilts so they can be lifted up and reconfigured to create a different town for each production.  While the town looks like it is from the 1880s, it has all of the modern infrastructure underground allowing for the utilization of modern technology.

While most people know Calgary and surrounding area routinely stand in for places like Montana, Wyoming and even New Mexico, did you know it has also been a stand-in for Denver in the film Resurrecting the Champ and Detroit in Exit Wounds. –

Urban vs. Rural

Luke Azevedo, Commissioner, Film, Television & Creative Industries at CED says “Calgary’s film and television industry is evolving from locations mainly on the periphery of the city (foothills, mountains and badlands) to one that is more urban, with Calgary taking centre stage.  For example, the UK-Canadian co-production of the mini-series “Burn Up” used over 50 different downtown & community locations in Calgary?”

And did you know the Calgary Economic Development’s Film Commission Office and Alberta Film collaborate not only promote the City and Alberta as a global film and television location, but also facilitate the production once it is here and inform Calgarians when filming will be happening in their community?

To keep Calgary and Alberta top-of-mind for producers around the world, Calgary’s Film Commission accesses Alberta Film’s 15,000 photo library to choose the most relevant images to entice international directors to come to Calgary to see for themselves what we have to offer.

Leslie Cowan, Fargo Production Manager says, “Calgary’s film commission is very well informed and motivated. They do a fantastic job promoting our city and province to the world. They also offer front line support to us during production that has proven invaluable. They help with location support, permitting, and even political trouble shooting so that a production can access more diverse and sometimes sensitive locations in a timely manner.” 

Calgary Economic Development also has a proactive program called “Behind the Scenes,” to proactively inform citizens when filming will be taking place in the community with doorknob notices and signage, and to call 3-1-1 for more information.

Everyone Benefits

Did you know that for every dollar invested by the provincial government there is a six-dollar return? In 2013/14 the Film and Television industry in Alberta was a $243 million dollar business with the Calgary region accounting for 82 per cent of that.  Not many people know Alberta’s movie and television production has the potential to be double over the next five years in part due to the Calgary Film Centre’s opening in 2016.

This comes as no surprise to Cowan who shared, “This year alone I managed $75 million in production budgets in Calgary.  The dollars spent boosts province and federal government tax revenues and creates thousands of jobs.  We spend millions on hotels, rental properties, location fees and permits, restaurants, retail clothing, furnishings for set decorations and props, hardware and heavy equipment for construction, cleaning, office equipment and supplies, transportation, rental vehicles, gas and groceries.  In addition, we train people through our on the job training and apprentice programs.”

It is also no surprise to Emily Barnett, former Calgary contemporary art gallery owner who was the assistant to Anson Mount (lead actor and producer of Hell on Wheels). This past summer she experienced firsthand how just one film can employee 100s of people. An estimated 50,000* Calgarians are employed in the Creative industries in any given year.

Marilyn & Superman

Calgary and Alberta film roots dates back a hundred years.  The 1954 movie, River of No Return starring Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum was filmed in Banff.  In 1983, High River doubled as Smallville, Kansas in the Superman 3 movie (downtown Calgary was Metropolis).

Calgary not only has a strong film history but a bright future. 2015 was a banner year with several major productions – The Revenant , Fargo, Wynonna Erp, Young Drunk Punk, Hell on Wheels and Heartland – all of which could again add to our list of award-winning productions.

To learn more about Calgary’s film and television industry, check out CED’s series of entertaining and enlightening videos on YouTube entitled “Behind the Scenes.”


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