Toronto’s Dearth of Studios Seen Crimping Film Industry’s Growth

  • Falling behind Vancouver has cost Toronto ’billions’: producer
  • Lack of women, diversity in crew pool also seen as a concern

Toronto’s burgeoning film industry has become a victim of its own success because producers can’t easily find studio space and crews to man them, according to an industry panel.

“It’s increasingly a diplomatic mission to keep things going and get space,” J. Miles Dale, president of Demilo Productions, said on a Business of Entertainment panel at Bloomberg’s Toronto office. “Crew capacity is an issue.”

Film and television production is at a record in Canada, fueled by a drop in the Canadian dollar against the U.S. greenback, favorable tax credits and a surge in demand for original content. Toronto is one of the media hubs in the country, host to almost 700 productions in 2016, according to the city.

The rise of quality TV programming has increased the pressure and demands on local studios and crews, according to Darren Throop, chief executive officer of Entertainment One Ltd., a Toronto-based film and TV distributor and producer.

Market ‘Exploded’

“The TV market has exploded in the last number of years,” Throop said on the panel, which coincides with the first full day of Toronto International Film Festival screenings. “There’s a lot of buyers.”

Entertainment One had been the target this year of a 1 billion pound ($1.33 billion) takeover offer from U.K. broadcaster ITV Plc, which withdrew its bid last month, saying the production company was unwilling to engage in talks.

Click here for a Bloomberg TV Canada interview with Throop

Dale, who has worked as a producer on such films as “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” and “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle,” said location shooting is becoming more and more difficult in cities like Toronto as productions have to navigate competing shows, not to mention streets crowded with people and traffic.

“We’ve been talking about building stages in Toronto since the ’80s,” he said. “Vancouver got the jump on us. Toronto is behind Vancouver in that way and it’s cost the city billions of dollars in business.”

‘Burnt’ Locations

This leads to some unique difficulties for film and TV productions such as the phenomenon of “burnt” locations, which is when a shooting spot like a building or street has been used so often it becomes recognizable for viewers, said Zaib Shaikh, Toronto’s film commissioner, who has also appeared in the Canadian sitcom “Little Mosque on the Prairie.”

“Yes, we’ve got issues, yes we have success,” Shaikh said. “But we need to solve these problems to make sure the good stays good.”

The diversity and size of the pool of technical crews from camera operators to writers is also an issue in need of attention in Toronto, said Ilana Frank, executive producer and founder of ICF Films, which produces the TV dramas “Saving Hope” and “Rookie Blue.”

“It’s a responsibility we have,” she said. “It’s a problem not having enough women in the industry.”

Burgeoning Spending

Foreign production spending in Ontario soared 52 percent to C$763 million in 2015, the first time since 2004 the measure topped domestic figures, according to data from the Ontario Media Development Corp. The year resulted in total spending surging to a record C$1.52 billion.

Toronto is back in the global spotlight as the Toronto filmfest, which runs this year Sept. 8-18, hosts almost 400 films from 83 countries. The festival, which celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, traditionally marks the unofficial start of the race for the Oscars.

The organization responsible for TIFF, which also runs events in the city year-round, says it generates an annual economic impact of C$189 million ($147 million) for Toronto.

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