Regional production hurts Toronto, says group

Toronto Film Board calls for rollback on pro-region government policies, tables own plan for boosting the city's business, but is short on details

Toronto’s independent production community wants city hall to pressure the provincial and federal governments to unwind policies that discriminate against shooting film and TV projects in the Ontario capital.

Susan Murdoch, co-chair of the Toronto Film Board, told Toronto city council Tuesday that regional production encouraged by the CRTC, the Canadian Television Fund and other instruments of government policy effectively undermine the city’s potential as a world class production center.

‘Other levels of governments have promoted regional incentives that encourage production going to other provinces. As an industry, to compete at a high quality level, domestically and internationally, you need to have a certain critical mass to keep our service business and local product at the top of the industry,’ Murdoch told councilors.

Her comments came as the film board, an industry lobby group, unveiled its ‘Strategic Plan for Toronto’s Screen-based Industry.’

Murdoch argued the federal and provincial governments, including Ontario’s own, are being short-sighted by insisting that jobs be created by spreading film and TV production coast-to-coast, away from Toronto and Montreal.

‘Unless we have companies [in Toronto] that can conceive and finance and market the projects, you don’t have an industry. You have a cottage industry that will rise and fall according to outside circumstances,’ she warned.

Promoting regional production centers only dilutes Canada’s potential as a film and TV production powerhouse, Murdoch argued.

‘It’s best to concentrate an industry in Toronto as a means to making Canada a world leader,’ she told city councilors.

But on specific measures to restore Toronto’s competitiveness when it comes to wooing Hollywood or domestic producers to shoot here, the Toronto Film Board’s report was vague.

The strategic plan mostly relies on buzz phrases — ‘encourage new thinking and integration’ and ‘new models for financing, distribution and display’ — to spur Toronto to action on its behalf.

When pressed, Murdoch recommended the Ontario government follow New York City’s example and offer a bonus payment to foreign producers if they use local city soundstages, or speeding up reimbursements of tax credits to foreign and domestic producers.

At the same time, Murdoch stressed that Toronto needs to do more than compete with territories such as New Mexico and Louisiana over prices, and instead has to become a world leader in film, TV and new media production.

‘We can’t compete with Mexico and South Africa in terms of hard costs. We want to compete on excellence,’ she argued.