Production in Ontario is rising to new heights heading into 2022.
Hollywood film and TV shoots rebounded in Toronto in late 2021 as the city began to slip free of the grip of the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. There was a production surge north of the border as major studios and streamers booked up sound studios across Ontario in a bid to sate the rising global demand for content. Year-end uncertainty surrounding contract negotiations between the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and U.S. producers, which ended with a deal that avoided a nationwide strike, sets the stage for a bona fide production boom in 2022.
“We are projecting to close out 2021 at a record high,” Marguerite Pigott, film commissioner and director of entertainment industries at the City of Toronto, told The Hollywood Reporter. Los Angeles producers and labor leaders agreeing on a new contract has led to a host of American film and TV shoots getting underway locally starting next month.
The CBS series Lily & Isaac and Good Sam and the fifth season of MGM’s Ruby Road series are among the American shoots to fill soundstages in and around Toronto in the first half of 2022. Paul Bronfman, chairman and CEO of Comweb Corp. and a senior advisor to rental equipment supplier and studio operator William F. White International, says November and December proved softer than usual when it came to soundstage bookings as major Hollywood players paused during the IATSE talks.
“A lot of those U.S. shows got moved to the first quarter of 2022, which looks very strong,” Bronfman said. Despite having to adopt stringent COVID-19 safety protocols on bubble-wrapped sets, the Ontario film and TV production sector soon surpassed pre-pandemic levels of activity heading into next year.
“We are expecting a strong start to 2022. Our scouting numbers are up, and studio capacity is increasing,” Justin Cutler, Ontario film commissioner at Ontario Creates, which markets Ontario to U.S. producers in Hollywood, said. At the end of November, Ontario had 27 local and foreign, mostly Hollywood, productions underway across the province, compared to a pre-pandemic total of 22 projects in November 2019 and 24 in November 2018.
Through 2022, local producers see sustained growth for Ontario as the number of studio expansions continues to grow, with a corresponding increase in the breadth and skill of local production crews.
“You have studio availability and crew availability. That’s not new, but the volume we have is so much greater. Toronto will continue to be a hub for sure. Outside of Toronto, you will continue to see booming production,” Mark Bishop, co-CEO of Toronto-based indie producer Marblemedia, argues.
Bishop’s production banner recently followed up the reality glass-art competition series Blown Away for Netflix with Blown Away: Christmas, a holiday miniseries hosted by Queer Eye’s Bobby Berk. Marblemedia is also at work on a drama series, Persuasion, based on a business book from Dragon’s Den Canada judge Arlene Dickinson.
In and around Toronto, studio expansions and builds increased in 2021 with the addition of around 530,000 square feet of new studio space. The City of Toronto recently inked a deal for Hackman Capital Partners, the U.S.-based property developer, and the MBS Group to develop the $250 million Basin Media Hub studio on an 8.9-acre parcel of waterfront land.
Toronto is still looking for a film studio space to match the scale and standards of the neighboring Pinewood Toronto Studios and Cinespace Marine Terminal Studio, where Netflix has long-term leases on soundstages to produce its originals. Bronfman, who is also chairman of Pinewood Toronto Studios, reported that 90 percent of that soundstage facility is currently filled with Netflix projects and the Star Trek: Discovery TV series, both of which represent long-term leases.
Hackman Capital, the owner of L.A.’s Culver Studios and New York’s Silvercup Studios, has also signed a memorandum of understanding to acquire a long-term lease at the former Downsview air base in north Toronto, with an eye to building a $200 million film and TV production studio.
A further boost to Ontario’s production services business is expected in 2022 as competing studios follow the Netflix model and invest in studios and staff up north.
“The streamers acknowledge they’re going to have to invest in producing content here in Canada with Canadian independent producers,” Marblemedia head Bishop told THR. Netflix has launched a Toronto office, hired locally and brought executives up north from its Hollywood office, and Amazon Prime and Disney+ have also laid down roots in Canada.
“All the streamers realize that to do business in Canada and to tap into this great talent and tax credit base and financial incentives, you have to contribute to the system,” Bishop added.