Toronto has world-class locations for filming, a highly skilled workforce, competitive tax incentives and leadership from a mayor who intuitively understands the value of the film sector.
As somebody who has shot film and television projects in locations across North America, there is no place I would rather live and work on a film project. That being said, studio space remains the major missing piece.
There are already a wide array of producers and film executives who want to set up shop in Toronto but have no place to film. Regrettably, this is not a new phenomenon. In 2016, Ontario lost $130 million in production value due to lack of studio space.
Toronto’s film industry generates more than $2 billion in production investments and creates 40,000 jobs annually. But it also creates opportunities for a growing list of businesses required to supply big budget film productions: caterers, restaurants, vehicle rental companies, construction supply stores, hotels, furniture and antique businesses, and many more.
This week, Mayor Tory will communicate meaningful steps to industry leaders during his Los Angeles promotional trip.
In December, Toronto City Council passed the Port Lands Planning Framework, allocating employment lands to help ensure a film-friendly future in this priority location. In March, Cinespace Film Studios announced its plans to transform an old Toronto warehouse into a new studio space in the Port Lands. And more recently, last week RFPs and expansion projects were listed for five studios.
Having a centrally located, downtown film hub presents us with a critically significant advantage over competitive jurisdictions like Vancouver, New York and even Los Angeles, giving producers convenient access to local businesses that support the industry while remaining only a stones-throw away from downtown filming locations, hotels and other amenities.
We have a perfect example of this advantage in The Shape of Water, which used Toronto’s landscapes and architecture to tell a captivating story: scenes shot at the Elgin Theatre, Massey Hall and the Keating Channel, where the Don River flows into Lake Ontario. The use of these sites, in addition to sets built at Cinespace’s east end Studios on Booth Ave., highlights the benefits of a centrally located, downtown group of studios.
Mayor Tory’s Los Angeles trip demonstrates his commitment to Toronto’s film industry. But we can’t realize this vision without steadfast commitment to expanding studio space and supporting strong communities.
Significant work lies ahead for Toronto to meet its potential. Now is the time for action. Let’s find that missing piece of the puzzle and commit to resolving Toronto’s studio space shortage.
J. Miles Dale is a Toronto producer and Oscar winner for The Shape of Water.