Spotlight on Canada

British Columbia gets the bulk of the feature work, while Ontario has become the centre for incoming streaming and TV projects

By John Hazelton 22 Jul 2022

Spotlight on Canada

Canada’s production boom has always been driven by incoming projects, mostly from the US. According to the Canadian Media Producers Association, foreign location and service production in the country soared 180% in the decade pre-pandemic, while homegrown content production rose 20%.

In June, 2022 North Star Studios announced its plans to convert Ontario mining site, Epiroc, into a major studio. The Canadian company has invested $26m in a bid to become the region's largest studio space with five soundstages for film and TV productions. 

Elsewhere more recently, the country’s reliable tax breaks, modern and fast-growing studio infrastructure and favourable exchange rate have proved particularly attractive to global streamers. Their ever-growing appetites for new films and series have kept several of Canada’s major production hubs busier than they were pre-pandemic.

Canada’s production boom is set to continue for as long as streamers keep expanding their original content slates. However, it has caused some debate about the effect on the country’s homegrown industry.

After the failure last year of controversial proposed legislation that would have required global streamers to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into Canadian content, the federal government recently proposed the Online Streaming Act, which would make streamers subject to the same Canadian content rules as the country’s broadcasters. While some industry groups have welcomed the proposal, there are others who fear it might drive productions away from Canada.

Regional offerings

British Columbia gets the bulk of the incoming feature work. In 2020-21 BC gave its Production Services Tax Credit to 231 projects, spending $2.1bn (c$2.7bn), up from 199 projects spending $1.8bn (c$2.3bn) the year before. Among the visiting film projects were adventure comedy The Adam Project (Netflix), horror comedy Fresh (Searchlight Pictures) and Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness and Thor: Love And Thunder. Recent TV projects included Showtime’s Yellowjackets and upcoming FX period drama, mini-series Shōgun. 

Ontario has become the centre for incoming streaming and TV projects, with 77 series spending $1.3bn (c$1.6bn) in 2021 — more than double the $760m (c$946.9m) spent by 49 series in 2019 — out of an overall foreign production spend of $1.5bn (c$1.9bn), up from $862m (c$1.1bn) in 2019.

Ontario-hosted series include Reacher (Amazon Studios), Station Eleven (HBO Max) and Mayor Of Kingstown and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (both Paramount+). Recent features shot in Ontario include Toronto regular Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley (Searchlight), family adventure Slumberland (Netflix), sci-fi drama Finch starring Tom Hanks (AppleTV+), and thrillers Alice, Darling (Lionsgate) and The Marsh King’s Daughter (STX).

Quebec is the centre of Canada’s mostly homegrown French-language film and TV industry. The province also lures English-language projects, with its largest city Montreal often used as a stand-in for Paris or New York. Visitors include Roland Emmerich’s Moonfall, Lionsgate’s fantasy adventure Chaos Walking, Paramount sequel Transformers: Rise Of The Beasts and indie horror Disappointment Blvd starring Joaquin Phoenix.

Less active provinces, such as Alberta and Nova Scotia, are now looking to promote their areas. Alberta launched a film and TV tax credit programme in January 2020 and reports that 50 projects accessed it in the first 20 months, among them Ghostbusters: Afterlife (Sony), Predator prequel Prey (20th Century Studios), upcoming HBO series The Last Of Us and crime mini­series Under The Banner Of Heaven (FX/Hulu), starring Andrew Garfield and Daisy Edgar-Jones. Nova Scotia has hosted features including Tribeca/FilmNation comedy drama The Good House and Epix series Chapelwaite and From.

Travel and logistics 

Canada’s primary production hubs are located on opposite sides of this vast country, which has an area of 3.9 million square miles, 40% of it situated north of the Arctic Circle. The provinces of Quebec and Ontario are in the east and British Columbia and Alberta are 1,500 miles away in the west. The Trans-Canada Highway links all the main cities in the country’s southern third, although travel to the northern regions — like the independently governed territory of Nunavut — can be more difficult.

The biggest international airports are Toronto Pearson International in Ontario, Vancouver International in British Columbia, Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International in Quebec, and Calgary International in Alberta. Flight times from Vancouver to Toronto and Montreal 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.

Click here to see selected production service companies in Canada.

Click here to see the filming guide for Canada.

Read the full report in our latest edition of World of Locations

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