U.S. Money Pours in and Fuels Production Boom in Ontario

Let by Toronto, the province has a big footprint in film and TV content creation

Ontario’s entertainment business is in the midst of a golden age.

That may seem like a dubious proposition. The province, after all, is not exactly renowned for churning out domestic blockbusters or bankable movie stars, Ryan Gosling notwithstanding. But by all accounts the industry is flourishing to an unprecedented degree — and the prosperity is arriving from abroad.

“Ontario’s film and television industry has never been stronger,” says Ontario film commissioner Justin Cutler, whose job is to market the province to prospective domestic and foreign productions. “What’s really exciting right now is the fantastic mix of criical and commercial success stories, everything from Aaron Sorkin’s forthcoming directorial debut ‘Molly’s Game’ to CBS’ new ‘Star Trek: Discovery.’”

The combined financial impact of such achievements on Ontario is huge: taken together, domestic and foreign productions spend more than 1 billion Canadian dollars annually in the province.

Kristine Murphy, director of industry development with the provincial government’s Ontario Media Development Corp., attributes this boom in part to Ontario’s “very competitive tax incentives,” including a credit worth 35% of a qualifying production’s domestic expenditures — one “harmonized” with credits offered at the federal level in such a way that producers can maximize savings.

Not only is this appealing to movie and TV financiers. It’s exceptionally rewarding for people in the province. “A foreign production will want to crew everyone they can in Ontario, because all that local labor is eligible for the credits,” Murphy says.

Moreover the credits are refundable, or worth cash. Whereas a production brought to, say, Chicago receives what is essentially a coupon from the state entitling a corporation domiciled in Illinois to a percentage back on its taxes — a coupon foreign producers are obliged to sell at a discount — a production in Toronto receives a check. No incentive is more compelling for the budget-conscious.

Cutler points out that credits alone do not account entirely for the recent windfalls. “What sets us apart is a combination of financial incentives, outstanding talent, diverse locations, and world-class infrastructure,” he says.

Paul W.S. Anderson agrees. “I love Toronto,” enthuses the English director, who’s shot several big-budget actioners in and around the city. Anderson was introduced to Toronto while closing production on his 2002 film “Resident Evil,” which he shot mainly indoors in Berlin, but which needed a downtown street in North America for its final shot. The Toronto shoot lasted only a single day, but the city bent over backward to host it.

“We were able to close down a huge stretch of one of the major streets,” Anderson says. “Good luck trying to get that kind of road closure in the center of London.”

Even more impressive, Anderson says, was “what a nice city it was to shoot in.” Many of the director’s subsequent features came to Toronto in large part because he enjoyed spending time there. “It’s cosmopolitan. It’s got architecture and facilities and culture of a big city, but it’s very compact and has that friendly, small-town feel.”

Anderson also praises the versatility of the city’s shooting locations and its “broad, good, and deep crew base.” These factors, for him, are more valuable than tax credits or a weak Canadian dollar. “For me it’s about whether I can make a good movie there.”

But as the industry continues to flourish — and as more directors like Anderson discover its appeal — the infrastructure available to satisfy these surges in demand is under strain. “We’re victims of our own success,” says Jim Mirkopoulos, VP of Toronto’s Cinespace Film Studios.

Mirkopoulos, whose facilities span more than 2 million square feet of soundstage and backlot space, says the current boom times have created a space crunch in the city — a run on facilities that has left people scrambling to convert old warehouses to fill the demand.

The problem, he adds, “has been exacerbated by the fact that we have way more TV in Toronto than ever before.” Unlike films, TV shows don’t wrap up in nine months. They tend to stick around — and use up tens of thousands of square feet of space — for years.

“There just isn’t enough production space to accommodate the requests,” agrees Megan Guy, VP at Pinewood Studios in Toronto, home to “Suicide Squad” in 2015 and “Star Trek: Discovery” right now. Guy says when Pinewood’s local facilities were erected nearly a decade ago, they were designed to attract the tentpole features the city wasn’t courting at the time. Now the city’s practically overrun with them.

“The time is right for the industry to grow,” says Pinewood Toronto president Blake Steels. “Right now we’re doing what we can with the facilities we’ve got, and that’s great — but in order to grow the business we want to be ahead of the curve where we can accommodate the productions to come.”

(Pictured: Warner Bros.’ “Suicide Squad” filmed at Toronto’s Pinewood Studios.”

More Artisans

  • Game of Thrones Iceland TV Incentives

    Iceland Offers Productions Majestic Landscapes, Stunning Architecture and a 25% Rebate

    Few places on Earth contain the natural majesty of Iceland. The Nordic island, nestled between the North Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean, holds some of the most breathtaking natural wonders on the planet: the fiery pyrotechnics of live volcanoes, steam curling up from natural hot springs, vertiginous drops from oceanside cliffs and waterfalls cascading into [...]

  • Schitt's Creek Wigs

    'Schitt's Creek': Inside Moira Rose's Iconic Wig Collection

    Moira Rose, the family matriarch of cult classic “Schitt’s Creek,” is known for several things: her pronunciation of the word “bebe,” her love for her TV family (and sometimes Alexis) and her countless vibrant wigs. Played by the always delightful Catherine O’Hara, each episode (and wig) is a joy to witness on screen. “I think [...]

  • Kira Kelly Cinematographer Queen Sugar

    'Queen Sugar' DP on How Ava DuVernay Encourages Creativity on the OWN Series

    Cinematographer Kira Kelly, who earned an Emmy nomination for her work on Ava DuVernay’s “13th,” feels that her time spent on nonfiction projects over the past two decades has improved her ability to cope with the demands of shooting narrative fare.  The scaled-down resources — often just Kelly and maybe a focus puller or a [...]

  • 'The Souvenir' Costume Designer Fashioned 1980s'

    'The Souvenir' Costume Designer Put a Decadent Twist on Opulent ’80s Style

    Set against the backdrop of London’s early-1980s cultural renaissance, British auteur Joanna Hogg’s exquisitely sculpted and critically acclaimed “The Souvenir,” which A24 has been widening in platform release for the past month, follows film student Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) and her gradually destructive romance with the magnetic Anthony (Tom Burke). “We didn’t want a film [...]

  • Legion

    How Production Designer Marco Niro Created a Visual Climax for FX's ‘Legion’

    FX’s “Legion” has always drawn inspiration not only from the Marvel “X-Men” comics on which it is based, but also from the weirder corners of pop culture. When creator Noah Hawley cast “Downton Abbey” star Dan Stevens as the lead — David Haller, a mutant whose telepathic powers have been misdiagnosed as mental illness — [...]

  • Luciano Pavarotti

    Ron Howard Turned to Editor Paul Crowder to Make His 'Pavarotti' Documentary Sing

    Ron Howard is fast becoming a noted music documentarian: His 2016 film, “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — the Touring Years,” released by Abramorama in theaters and Hulu on television, was a Grammy winner. His follow-up is “Pavarotti,” a doc about the man who became one of the most successful and beloved opera singers in [...]

  • Lesley Barber Film Composer

    How 'Late Night' Composer Lesley Barber Channeled Paul Shaffer for Talk-Show Theme

    When director Nisha Ganatra started planning “Late Night,” the new Emma Thompson-Mindy Kaling film about a failing late-night network talk show, she knew she’d need a house band and a theme for the program. Her first call was to composer Lesley Barber (“Manchester by the Sea”), with whom she had worked a few years ago on [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content