Toronto megastudio officially opened Aug. 20

TORONTO — Ken Ferguson isn’t despairing — yet — that so far, there are no bookings for the brand-new Filmport Studios he heads. SAG negotiations have put a crimp in getting business off the ground, but Ferguson is optimistic that pent-up demand will have productions stacking up.

Phase 1 of Toronto’s long-awaited megastudio — a key project in the city’s strategy to reposition itself as Hollywood north — officially opened Aug. 20.

Canuck filmmaker David Cronenberg, Toronto mayor David Miller, Toronto Economic Development Corp. president Jeffrey Steiner and Ferguson were on hand for the launch but, for now at least, it’s quiet on the set.

“We haven’t been able to catch a break,” says Ferguson, referring to two construction strikes and an ACTRA strike that happened during the building of the C$60 million (U.S. $56.5 million) Phase 1. The facility, the largest studio complex outside of Los Angeles, has seven sound stages including North America’s largest purpose-built sound stage, a monstrous high-tech 454,900 sq. ft. space with an acre of column-free space under a six-story lighting grid.

Although one small local production is renting office space — Toronto-based George A. Romero’s next pic, although Ferguson won’t confirm — the soundstages are vacant, with no bookings on the horizon. Ferguson cites ongoing SAG contract negotiations as a factor. Major studio execs can’t commit until all is resolved, he says: “We know there will be pent-up demand to get features made. It’s short-term pain, but we built Filmport for the long run.”

Back in April, several major Hollywood production execs took an Ontario Film Commission-sponsored tour of Toronto’s array of film services, including the Filmport construction zone. “Their response was fantastic, they said this is just what we need,” Ferguson says. “Three or four major studios have projects in mind that are currently on hold, so we feel confident there will be bookings once the SAG situation is settled.”

Filmport, which now is the moniker that includes the existing Toronto Film Studios facility on Eastern Avenue, is a unique public-private development project located on reclaimed Toronto port lands. The longterm vision includes the construction of office and industrial buildings to house ancillary film and TV businesses and various amenities that will extend the footprint to more than three million sq. ft.

“Filmport is ultimately about convergence,” Ferguson says. “It’s about a whole community of businesses and other organizations devoted to film and the arts.”

For now, though, Ferguson is just looking for the first big-budget Hollywood production to converge on the place.

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