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A runaway runway

Toronto mayor unveils plan to woo film biz

TORONTO — Toronto’s film-friendly mayor has brought out a plan to revitalize the city’s anemic film biz.

The first of the proposal’s 12 recommendations is the formation of a Toronto Film Board, to be chaired by Mayor David Miller. Board, to consist of city politicians and industryites, will advise the city on streamlining its film policy.

Board also will lobby the provincial and federal governments to reverse tax incentives for producers who come to Ontario to lense outside Toronto.

‘Yes’ men

“The city will protect this important industry by declaring that ‘no’ is unacceptable when servicing this industry,” reads a proposal passed by Toronto’s policy and finance committee Tuesday.

“We want to find ways to make it easier and more desirable for people to shoot here,” said Toronto city spokesman Patchen Barss.

Toronto was once the third-largest center for filming in North America. But a combination of factors, including anti-runaway production sentiments in the U.S.; increased competition from other locales internationally, across Canada and even within Ontario; a soaring Canadian dollar; and last year’s SARS scare have walloped the industry.

Steady decline

Lensing in Toronto has been in decline since 2000. In 2002, C$1.16 billion ($979 million) was spent by production companies in Toronto, of which $472 million came from outside Canada — primarily the U.S. In 2003, American spending in Toronto fell to $281 million.

The establishment of the Film Board draws the biz into the mayor’s inner circle. The Toronto industry is headed by the Toronto Film and Television Office, which has become increasingly bureaucratic since a Greater Toronto Area amalgamation in the late 1990s. The Film and Television Office will continue to exist, but its work will fall under the jurisdiction of the Film Board.

Advocacy aims

Other proposals include the appointment of a film advocate and the formation of an interdepartmental working group to simplify and streamline the process of lensing in Toronto.

“We have to work harder to make it easy for people to shoot here,” Barss said. “If someone needs a permit to shoot in the TTC (the Toronto Transit Commission, notorious as a next-to-impossible location for which to negotiate lensing), we have got to make that fast and we’ve got to make it easy.”

Industryites welcomed the proposals. The lobby group FilmOntario, which represents a broad cross-section, worked closely with the mayor’s office to draft the proposals.

“Having the mayor as the head of the Film Board gives it good profile,” said producer and FilmOntario board member Nick Gray. The proposal is skedded for a vote by the City Council on Nov. 30.

Toronto’s film and TV industry contributes $2.1 billion to the economy annually and employs 25,000.

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