L.A. studios ‘bullish’ about filming in Toronto: mayor

Mayor John Tory LA mission
Toronto Mayor John Tory says the city's first in-person film industry mission to L.A. since 2019 was "successful," with studios saying: "Keep doing what you're doing."

Toronto Mayor John Tory is trumpeting a “successful” screen sector mission to Los Angeles, noting studios seem “bullish” in terms of filming in the city.

Last week Tory led the city’s first in-person film and TV industry mission to L.A. since 2019 to deepen relationships with established studios producing in Toronto, including Netflix, and pitch for business with those that have not yet brought productions to the city. Tory tells Playback Daily the studios told delegates “keep doing what you’re doing to some extent, because they really do believe we’ve made a huge effort.”

“We’re reporting to them a 68% [studio space] expansion — some of that’s happened and some of it is about to happen — but we’re literally expanding by millions of square feet the amount of soundstage space, and we are engaged in extensive workforce development programs with our union partners and with the educational institutions,” says Tory.

“So I think they’re happy with what we’re doing. And they tell us as well, that the kind of stability they see in Toronto generally — with regard to the tax credits, with regard to how we treat the industry, with regards to the city being an oasis of relative calm — is all stuff that helps us. They are very bullish, is the word I’ll use about them and about how we’re doing.”

The dozens of delegates on the mission included city council members and representatives from ACTRA, IATSE, NABET, DGC, William F. White International, York University, Sheridan SIRT, MBSE-Canada, FilmOntario, Ontario Creates, Pinewood Toronto Studios, Cinespace Film Studios, and Company3.

Tory says the difference between this mission and the one in 2019 is that “Toronto is in a better place than it was [then] and that’s a result of the work we did.”

“We started doing these missions the first year I was mayor, so say 2015, and they told us: more soundstage space, a deeper and more diversified workforce, and good customer service. They told us the things we had to do, and we’re able to come back now and say that we’ve done it and they know that because they’ve been sending more and more business,” he says.

In 2021, Toronto’s screen production industry set a record with more than $2.5 billion in direct spending in film, TV and digital media productions. That surpassed 2019, when a record $2.2 billion was spent in Toronto on production.

Factors fuelling that growth include expanding tech-forward studio space in the city, such as the planned Basin Media Hub complex from Hackman Capital Partners (HCP) and its affiliate, the MBS Group, in the Port Lands district, and a major new film and television production hub being built by HCP and operated by Manhattan Beach Studios in the Downsview neighbourhood.

According to the city, between now and 2026, studio space in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area will grow from 3.7 million square feet to 6.2 million square feet — an increase of 68%.

“One of the challenges as the private sector and ourselves build more and more of the soundstage space, we have to make sure there are productions to fill it,” says Tory. “And so that’s why we’re here.”

Tory says this year’s L.A. mission delegates visited HCP’s expanded Culver Studios, which is now the home of Amazon Studios. Seeing that space will help Toronto reflect on what it wants in HBP’s studios on this side of the border.

Delegates also met with a studio that hasn’t done something in Toronto for a while but said it would consider doing so if the city can find space for their three new productions, he adds.

“They gave us a bit of a challenge in terms of principally helping them find space, and they made it clear that if we could help them find space, we probably would get at least one if not more of those shows,” says Tory, declining to name which studio it is.

Delegates heard some detailed feedback from studios, including a need for more a diverse roster of hair and makeup artists on sets, says Tory. The hair and makeup request comes after ACTRA National filed a policy grievance alleging inequitable treatment of Black, Indigenous and people of colour performers in the provision of hair and makeup services on film, TV and media production sets across Canada.

Overall, the sentiment is that Toronto is has emerged as a “third centre in North America that is truly a global centre for film and television and digital production,” says Tory, who predicts more major industry players will set up offices in Toronto, just as Amazon and Netflix have done.

“We’re probing that each time we meet with these people saying, ‘Do you think it’s going to help you to have a hub in Toronto,’” he says.

“I think as we get projects like the Basin Street and the Downsview projects, it will lend itself to that kind of thing happening as well.’”

Image courtesy of Mayor John Tory