Labor unrest, increased competition are to blame

The number of foreign features and the amount of coin spent in Canada’s most populous province by feature films from abroad dropped dramatically in 2006, according to year-end stats from Ontario.

Labor unrest and increased competition from other jurisdictions likely are to blame.

Only 14 foreign features, including “Jumper” and “Hairspray,” lensed in Ontario last year, with a total of C$218 million ($184 million) of their budgets spent in the province, according to a year-end report from the Ontario Media Development Corp. That’s down from 22 lensed in 2005, with expenditures in the province of $268.5 million.

Most foreign production in the province comes from south of the border.

The number of foreign telepics, miniseries, specials and pilots also declined, with just 10 productions and an expenditure of $38.4 million, down from 14 productions and $67.7 million.

Industryites said labor instability kept the studios out of the province for much of the year, with several contracts being settled during the year. ACTRA, the union that reps many Canadian thesps, has been staging a strike in several Canadian provinces, including Ontario, since early January.

The telepic dip also is ascribed to a general decline in that type of production in recent years.

“They’re not making them like they used to,” said Ontario film commissioner Donna Zuchlinski, who noted aggressive incentives from other jurisdictions such as Louisiana and New Mexico also are taking a bite out of the biz. “TV movies, in particular, go where their budgets go the furthest.”

And while the number of foreign TV series increased from five to eight, and total expenditures climbed from $51.6 million to $69 million, Zuchlinski noted that stat is “slightly misleading,” since it includes animation and other categories and not just hourlong dramas.

On the upside, 2006 was a relatively good year for domestic production, with the amount of local coin spent up 16% to $464.7 million. “It was really powered by the increase in the number of domestic feature films that shot last year,” Zuchlinski said.

During 2006, 34 domestic features lensed in Ontario with a total budget of $100 million, up from 22 with a total budget of $95.5 million, the year before.

Sarah Polley’s directoral debut, “Away From Her,” lensed in Ontario during the year, as did Ian Rashid’s “How She Move,” which bowed at Sundance.

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