Canada kicked off the North American film and TV incentive arms race in the late 1990s by introducing tax credits that have had US productions pouring over the border — and a significant number flying in from Europe and elsewhere — ever since.
Most location and service productions come to Canada from the US — the Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA) logged 365 incoming US film and TV shoots in 2018-19, nearly 80% of the inbound total — but many projects filming in the country are dual-nationality productions made under one of the nation’s 50-plus co-production treaties.
Most recently, Canada’s now long-
established tax breaks, highly developed infrastructure and favourable exchange rate have attracted a new tide of production by global streaming companies. Chief among them has been Netflix, which in 2017 signed a five-year deal giving it tax breaks for a Canadian production hub and late last year said it had already spent more locally than the c$500m ($380m at current rates) promised over that period.
Canada was less seriously affected than other parts of North America by the coronavirus pandemic. And though its border with the US remained closed to non-
essential travel as of mid-October, international film and TV workers have been able to enter and are eligible for priority work permit processing (though they must still self-quarantine for 14 days after entry).
The country’s main filmmaking hubs re-opened for filming between early and late June and since then have hosted projects including Alcon horror feature Lullaby, Netflix’s untitled Sandra Bullock drama, and an untitled live-action Peter Pan story for Disney+. Philip Noyce’s Lakewood, starring Naomi Watts, started shooting in Ontario in mid-September for UTA and Mister Smith Entertainment.
Ongoing US TV series such as The Good Doctor, Batwoman, Charmed and Riverdale have returned to shoot in Canada as well, though some have experienced temporary interruptions because of push and pull between Canadian unions and Hollywood studios over filming protocols and delays in processing Covid-19 test results.
Canadian projects and co-productions should be helped going forward by the c$50m ($38m) insurance backstop scheme recently announced by the government.
The industry is concentrated in three regional hubs, each of which has an extensive crew base and modern infrastructure….
On the Pacific coast, British Columbia has Canadian Motion Picture Park Studios, North Shore Studios, the expanded Eagle Creek Studios, the newly built Vancouver Island Film Studios and Martini Film Studios, which is planning a 600,000 square feet expansion. BC has recently been the busiest centre and is the focus of the country’s VFX and post-production business.
Features shot recently in BC include Universal’s Jurassic World: Dominion and Paramount’s family comedy Playing With Fire, with international TV and streaming series having included TNT’s Snowpiercer, NBC’s Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, Netflix’s The Haunting Of Bly Manor and Apple’s See and Home Before Dark.
In the east, Ontario is seeing rapid growth in production and construction. It offers 2.3 million square feet of state-of-the art studio space, with that figure set to double by 2022, as well as experienced technicians and crews, and a complete equipment and services supply chain.
“Ontario’s major cities like Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa have been the backdrop for New York, Chicago, Dallas, Boston, Detroit and Washington, D.C., to name just a few,” enthuses Justin Cutler, Ontario Film Commissioner at Ontario Creates, to KFTV. “Smaller towns and sweeping rural vistas have hosted productions set in middle America and Europe. And given Ontario’s great ethnic diversity, its people and streetscapes have even represented Asia and the Middle East as well.” Ontario Creates and the Ontario Film Commission work with production leads to source locations, studio space and assist with permits, as well as host an online library of more than 40,000 location images.
Pinewood Toronto Studios — home to the nearly 46,000 square feet Mega Stage, one of the biggest soundstages in North America — broke ground on a multi-stage expansion at the end of 2018. CBS Stages Canada, with six new soundstages, opened in September. Aeon Studio Group is developing a 200,000 square feet studio with six soundstages in the city of Hamilton. And there are plans for First City Studio, a $100m facility near Toronto that will include a 70,000 square feet stage, to open in late 2020.
Features shooting in Ontario included David Bowie biopic Stardust, Canadian sci-fi Possessor and Warner Bros’ superhero comedy Shazam!, while TV series visiting the province included CBS All Access’s Star Trek: Discovery and Netflix’s Self Made: Inspired By The Life Of Madam CJ Walker.
Québec, with Mels Cite du Cinema studio in Montreal, is the home of the French-language film community and recently saw the opening of a Montreal branch of US company Reel FX Animation Studios.
Feature productions to shoot in the third-busiest province of Quebec included Lee Daniels’ The United States v Billie Holiday, Warner Bros’ drama Clouds, Amazon’s erotic thriller The Voyeurs and Netflix thriller The Decline. Among TV and streaming projects were Disney+’s Home Alone reboot and CBS series Blood And Treasure.
The major cities in the east and west are linked by the Trans-Canada Highway, but travel to the northern regions can be more difficult. The biggest international airports are in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal. Flight times from Vancouver in the west to Toronto and Montreal in the east range from four-and-a-half to five-and-a-half hours. Getting to Europe takes about 10 hours from Vancouver and seven from Toronto and Montreal.