The cameras are rolling again in Hollywood North and just in time. In 2003, Toronto saw a slip in the amount of filming on its streets as the provincial government grappled with how to handle a surging Canadian dollar that abruptly drove film production out of the city.
As a result, Toronto’s competitive edge diminished and its coffers choked as the city felt a 36 per cent drop in film industry dollars. Finally, public appeal from some 20,000 Torontonians employed in the film industry provoked finance minister Greg Sorbara to change policies regarding tax incentives in order to return the city’s production levels to the robust pre-2003 levels.
On December 21, 2004, the provincial government significantly increased tax incentives available to producers as a means to offset the strong Canadian dollar.
The previous tax credit rate for domestic productions of 20 per cent was raised to 30, and the foreign production tax credit was augmented from 11 to 18 per cent.
“Hats off to the government who made this turn around so quickly,” commented Garrett Grant, Executive Producer of Cheaper by the Dozen 2 on its Forest Hill neighbourhood set.
The family movie sequel to Cheaper by the Dozen, set in Chicago stars Hilary Duff, Steve Martin and a whole lot of kids. “We had scouts everywhere looking for locations, New York, Louisiana, but the [Ontario] tax credit adjustment was the tie-breaker for us,” says Grant.
Grant lives in Los Angeles but is no stranger to Toronto where last year he and Cheaper by the Dozen 2 director Adam Shankman collaborated to film The Pacifier starring Vin Diesel.
Off set, on the quiet upscale street, Grant’s smiling blond-haired wife drove by waving from a white SUV. At that moment Grant calculated that his kids aged two and 11 months, have spent more time in Toronto than in California.
“When you’re in a location for six months of your life, you want to make sure it has everything you need.” Grant praised the Toronto Film and Television Office and the OMDC who helped not only set up his production, but his entire family in Toronto.
In the city long enough now to have identified some favourites, Grant admitted with a moment of hesitation, “The food in Toronto can be as good as L.A.,” singling out Blowfish on King Street West as one of his preferred restos.The Toronto Ontario Film Office in Los Angeles is the only one of its kind. As Toronto’s eyes and ears in Hollywood, no other jurisdiction, besides the continent of Australia, operates a similar marketing initiative in L.A. The office is evidence of the evolved cooperation that occurs in Ontario between the public and private sectors, who are both enthusiastic about attracting new production to Toronto.
The L.A. office, supported in partnership by The Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC), Film Ontario, and the City of Toronto Film and Television Office, is often the first point of contact for L.A. producers looking for alternative shooting locations.
Donna Zuchlinski, Manager of Film at the OMDC, is making it her goal to market Ontario and the city of Toronto more aggressively in Hollywood. Zuchlinski believes that what really gives the OMDC a huge advantage is its encyclopedic digital location database service that, she asserts, is the most comprehensive one available today.
“A producer sends a script to the Toronto office, we analyse it, and send out local scouts to suggest the most appropriate locations and follow up with photos of the suggestions,” explains Zuchlinski.
The database contains more than 5,000 locations in Toronto and more than 100,000 digital images catalogued by location (hotels, streets, homes etc.,) and is available free of charge to producers. If the preliminary research is enticing, the OMDC arranges for producers to fly to Toronto, tour proposed locations, and get an overall feel for the city.
The numbers themselves attest to the city’s renewed success: Last year there were 252 major productions in Toronto, worth $801.6 million dollars showing a nearly 11 per cent increase since 2003. Of this total, $398 million were the result of US production spending—nearly 50 per cent of the total. In 2004, the Toronto Film and Television office issued 4,302 location filming permits for 1,502 projects over 7,743 shooting days.
Although 2000 was the city’s strongest year, with local production spending topping the $1 billion mark, “We have seen a renewed vitality over the last year and half,” Zuchlinski proudly offers up.
Concrete evidence of this change is the nearly finalized, 99-year lease agreement between Toronto Film Studios and Toronto Economic Development Corporation for the construction of a $35 million Film and Media Complex in the Port Lands.
The new site will be managed by TEDCO, the city’s redevelopment arm. The new centre will include 45,000 square-feet of studio stages and what is being called a “purpose built” studio space to attract blockbuster films. According to Linda Ferguson, Leasing Manager at TFS, “Toronto has been passed by because of a lack of purpose built and soundproof stages. The current option for a space of that size in Toronto is retrofit warehouse space.”
To promote this initiative, TFS has reserved the Lancaster Room at the Four Seasons from September 8-13 to coincide with the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). On hand will be drawings of the proposed facility as well as TFS consultants to answer questions.
“We have been busier in the last three months than we’ve ever been,” says Ferguson who drops the names of some of the studio’s 2005 clients. Most recently, TFS hosted 16 Blocks starring Bruce Willis and The Sentinel with Michael Douglas and Kiefer Sutherland, which just wrapped in August.
Other films shot in and around Toronto this year so far include, Take the Lead with Antonio Banderas, Truth, Justice, and the American Way staring Ben Affleck, as well as rapper 50 Cent’s new movie, whose title is yet to be confirmed. Films shot in Toronto making North American premieres at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival include David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence and Atom Egoyan’s Where the Truth Lies.Ontario Media
Development Corporation (OMDC)
City of Toronto
Film and Television Office