7. Toronto, Ontario
Toronto’s film concerns these days are largely high-class, such as not enough stages and square footage to accommodate the demand for production. A major undertaking to revitalize the city’s Port Lands waterfront area that broke ground in early 2018 is tied to an acknowledged need for a bigger footprint for film studios. In early September plans were also unveiled for First Studio City, a 400,000-square-foot production facility in Markham, Ontario (the Greater Toronto area) that will cater to the tentpoles that’ve flocked to central Toronto and Vancouver in recent years. The facility is expected to cost $100 million by 2020 and part of its mandate will be to attract productions from Chinese and Bollywood markets, a sign of the times. Its central attraction will be a 70,000 square-foot stage that will dwarf the 46,500 square-foot stage at Pinewood Toronto Studios.
Ontario’s 21.5 percent film and TV tax credit (and 18 percent animation/VFX credit) continue to be a draw to major players. Some “Hollywood North” products that filmed in Toronto in the fall included the second season of Star Trek: Discovery, the third season of The Handmaid’s Tale, the Jessica Chastain-starring horror bookend It: Chapter Two, and Neill Blomkamp’s disaster epic Greenland, starring Chris Evans. Even more is expected in 2019 when CBS Television Studios opens a new 260,000-square-foot production hub in Mississauga, just outside of Toronto. When it opens in summer 2019 it will be comprised of six sound stages, support and auxiliary facilities, and office space. CBS produces 63 series and will use the hub to ramp up TV production for broadcast, cable, and streaming. Disney is also making a push into streaming, and much like Amazon, Apple, Hulu, YouTube and Netflix, they all have eyes for Toronto.
Not to neglect the city’s thriving indie and documentary scene: Mathieu Pierre Dagonas, Executive Director of Documentary Organization of Canada, a non-profit representing Canadian documentarians, tells MovieMaker that documentaries are having a resurgence with Canadian audiences. “The high attendance at Hot Docs and TIFF point to the popularity of the genre,” he notes. “Documentaries are more important than ever in the era of ‘fake news’ as they shine a light on topics of public interest. Audiences want to be informed and to engage with the issues of their city.” He adds that Toronto is “the envy of other production centers in that we have a public funding model and public leaders who’ve shown strength in maintaining Toronto as a production destination. This comes in many forms, whether it’s our tax credits or elected officials going on international missions to promote our talent.
Additionally, some notable indie shoots in the Toronto area in recent months have included a remake of Toronto-born David Cronenberg’s Rabid, helmed by Canadian horror phenoms Jen and Sylvia Soska, and the Bonnie & Clyde-tinged romantic thriller Heavy, from director Jouri Smit. “We’ve had an excellent experience shooting in Toronto,” says Heavy producer David Atrakchi. “One of the challenges was finding our iconic locations to match New York and most importantly match our budget. We felt the city was very busy with bigger shows, leaving little room for an independent film to coexist, but nevertheless we overcame this challenge and managed, through our location manager, to pull phenomenal sets.”