Hollywood North: Toronto’s Screen Culture
If there was ever a question as to just how white-hot the Toronto film industry is these days, all doubts were put to rest when The Shape of Water took the 2018 Academy Award for Best Production Design.
The film’s design team sealed the deal when they accepted the award with a heartfelt shout-out to both Toronto and the top-notch production crew. Some 26.5 million viewers across the globe heard the message loud and clear on live television: the 6ix is a creative force to be reckoned with.
North America’s third-largest screen-based production center earned its bones with Hollywood blockbusters and hit television series as well as independent films, animations, commercials, and video games. It’s a $2 billion a year industry that directly employs more than 25,000 people both in front of and behind the camera, according to ACTRA (the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists).
Two Million Square Feet of Production Space
A year after UNESCO designated Toronto a Creative City of Media Arts, the city’s film and TV industries show no sign of slowing down. Studios were actually turning projects down in 2017 due to lack of production space.
Last fall, streaming giant Netflix gave the economy a $500 million vote of confidence to support the creation and distribution of original productions. Meanwhile, Cinespace Film Stwwudios – home of The Shape of Water and The Handmaid’s Tale, among other award-winning titles – signed a lease with the city that will transform two marine terminals in the Port Lands district into a 165,000-square foot production facility, bringing the city’s total amount of available production space to over two million square feet.
Cinespace is just one of the world-class production hubs in “Hollywood North.” Pinewood Studio boasts 11 high-tech sound stages including the 45,900-square foot Mega Stage, the largest purpose-built sound stage in North America.
Pie in the Sky Studios is considered Toronto’s first boutique studio and caters to television series, music videos, commercials, web series, and more. And the legendary Toronto Film Studios – whose pedigree includes more than 200 feature films and 60 TV series – was updated for the digital age in 2012 and re-christened as Revival 629.
“Ontario’s film and television industry have never been stronger,” said Ontario film commissioner Justin Cutler in an interview with Variety last spring. “What sets us apart is a combination of financial incentives, outstanding talent, diverse locations, and world-class infrastructure.”
Generous tax credits are certainly a lure, but that’s not the only attraction. The Toronto Film, Television and Digital Media Office and the city’s Film Board are famously production-friendly when it comes to planning, permits, and special arrangements. As such, Ontario’s capital city is a magnet for creative types, including professional actors, seasoned directors and designers, skilled crew members, experienced editors, and award-winning animators.
And there’s no shortage of support services around town: a host of special and visual effects companies, animation studios, pre- and post-production facilities, and equipment houses make for seamless production from start to finish.
“You can feel film in Toronto.”
Mexican native Guillermo del Toro, the prolific director of The Shape of Water, maintains homes here and in L.A., but his heart is in Toronto. He has been making films here for more than a decade, citing the city’s wealth of intriguing interior and exterior locations, abundance of high-end production facilities, and superb talent.
“You can feel film in Toronto,” the filmmaker told The Canadian Press in a September 2017 interview. “The crews, the studios are fantastic. The city office for film is amazing. It’s an incredibly friendly city for film.” He also waxed poetic about the food, bookstores, and the “very liberal and beautifully-minded” people in his adopted home.
Del Toro is an ardent proponent of bringing Hollywood “tent pole” productions to the city – so much so that the Globe and Mail has called him a “key driver” of the Canadian film industry.
A City Rooted in Cinema
Every fall, hundreds of thousands of film lovers and industry insiders flock to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), without a doubt one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world. The 10-day extravaganza features hundreds of works by established and emerging filmmakers, all contending for awards and buzz in the runup to the spring Oscars.
TIFF owes its insane popularity to the vast and varied selection of films on tap. Movie-goers can choose from big-budget films by top-name directors, indies, art-house films, “genre” films like thrillers and horror stories, shorts, documentaries, experimental works, classic films, and more. Plus, who can resist a star-studded red carpet?
It all sets the stage for a culture that fuels Toronto’s vibrant and growing creative community. On any given day, Indeed.com shows 200 or more industry-related job openings in and around the city, from cinematographer and video game producer to craft services coordinator. And aspiring animators, SFX makers, sound engineers, and other industry hopefuls have their pick of universities and colleges with hands-on training programs all over town.
So the next time your favorite Baltimore pub or Chicago wedding hall shows up on the screen, don’t forget – it’s quite possible you’re actually looking at these landmarks in their home away from home in Hollywood North.
10 Films You Didn’t Know Were Made In Toronto:
- American Psycho (2000)
- Chicago (2002)
- Good Will Hunting (1997)
- Hairspray (2007)
- Mean Girls (2004)
- My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)
- RoboCop (2014)
- The Incredible Hulk (2008)
- The Time Traveller’s Wife (2009)
- X-Men (2000)
10 Toronto-made Series for the Small Screen that Take Place Everywhere But Toronto:
- A Handmaid’s Tale (2017)
- Beauty and the Beast (2012)
- the Degrassi franchise (1979-2015)
- Fraggle Rock (1983-1987)
- Goosebumps (1995-1998)
- Hannibal (2013-2015)
- Orphan Black (2013-2017)
- Pacific Rim (2013)
- Rookie Blue (2010-2015)
- Star Trek: Discovery (2017)