Volume 91, Issue 28

Friday, October 17, 1997

pigskin pummel


Lights! Canada! Action!

By Brad Lister and Victoria Barkley
Gazette Staff

Although it was always thought of as Hollywood north, Canada, now more than ever, has seen an increase in Canadian film production and film production in general.

Stereotypically, Canadian production has often been associated with nothing more than the short films from the National Film Board, scratchy dramatic series or dark, old-fashioned feature length films. Current productions from Toronto to Vancouver, however, are breaking the typical 'Canadian film and television is boring' stereotype.

Directors like Atom Egoyan, who recently appeared on the "It" list in Entertainment Weekly, have brought respectability to Canadian film and television production. With the improved reputation in mind, production value has doubled in the last five years. All types, domestic and foreign productions, including feature films, television specials, pilots and series, have been on the increase.

According to the Ontario Film Development Corporation, 1994 production dollars in Ontario were at $359.3 million for domestic and $141.7 million for foreign production. By the close of 1996, the combined production dollars reached $530.2 million.

These figures do not include television commercial, corporate video or music video production. However, if you factor in the commercials, corporate shoots and animation, the number runs to about $1.5 billion, says David Plant, commissioner of the Toronto Film Commission.

It is assumed that the dollar exchange draws U.S. and foreign projects to Canada. But although the exchange rate is in favour of the United States, that is not the sole reason – Canada has excellent technical facilities and a large talent base with caliber crews, writers, directors, producers and locations, say workers in the industry.

Malcom Silver, a broker with Malcolm Silver&Company Ltd., sets up private investment into the entertainment industry, and says it's also less restrictive to shoot here in Canada for foreign shoots. "There is a much lower cost for producers," he says.

Production companies have a great interest in the high-tech facilities in Toronto. For example, companies like Com Digital supplied effects on Fly Away Home. The same company worked on effects for the upcoming film, Mimic.

Michael Gibson
HOW LOW CAN YOU GO! Actor Cameron Daddo of FX: The Series in a scene from one of the many television shows shot in Toronto.

Television is one of the fastest growing exports with a barrage of domestic television productions coming out of Ontario from many companies like Fireworks Entertainment with FX: The Series and La Femme Nikita, two from Atlantis Films; Traders and PSI Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal and Wind at My Back, a Sullivan Entertainment production. Toronto has also produced various Movie-of-the-Week productions including Long Kiss Goodnight and Angels and Armadillos. Vancouver is the permanent location for the X-Files, Sentinel and Millennium.

Canada provides quality media and professionals for the film industry. "Toronto is the spot for shooting," Nancy Mangooian, Due South publicist, says. "Production crews are experienced and world class. Given the increased demand over the past five years, crew and production employment in Toronto has turned into a workers' market.

"Toronto crews cost about the same as an equivalent Los Angeles before factoring in the U.S. dollar exchange," she adds.

The education pool is a major boost as well to the production boom. Gradutates that come out of Canadian schools are talented and highly skilled. Cathy Tanner, public relations co-ordinator at Sheridan College, says more and more graduates are staying at home than running off to Hollywood. "The infrastructure is in place and it has helped Canadians a great deal," says Plant.

Canada provides a diversity of cultures as well as architecture and landscape. Mangooian points out that Metro Toronto street-shoots only need to be slightly dressed before the scene to look like any American urban center. 'Dressing' a location involves inserting items like U.S. Postal Service boxes or different road signs to give an area a desired look.

Sheri Plewes, supervisor of the Vancouver Film Office, says Vancouver provides wide geographic variety in a small area. Mountains, ocean and desert shots can be taken around the Vancouver area.

Occasionally, television production must move to a U.S. location. Andrea Hazard, assistant to the executive producer of FX: The Series, says shooting for the series is exclusive to Toronto, with the exception of a few I.D. location shots in New York. Most shoots for FX are done in Metro Toronto, though rural Ontario towns are sometimes used for certain episodes, she adds.

The U.S. companies with a strong presence in Ontario include Hearst Entertainment, HBO, Wilshire Court Productions, Jaffe Braunstein Films, Kushner Locke Productions and Alexander/Enright Associates. Of movies-of-the-week, mini-series, specials, pilots and docudramas in 1996, foreign production accounted for 37 of 64 shots. The ratio differs vastly in TV production – as Canadian efforts account for 96 per cent of shots in 1996 which is up from 90 per cent in 1994.

Toronto is the third-largest centre of production in North America behind New York and Los Angeles and second in television behind Los Angeles. The Vancouver area is particularly alluring due to the dollar exchange and the time zone, which is Los Angeles-compatible.

The British Columbia Film Commission in 1978 reported the film industry produced $12 million dollars worth of business in British Columbia. By 1996, the figure jumped to $537 million with indirect spending creating a net economic impact of $1.5 billion. The British Columbia film industry's utility of local employees has increased from 40 per cent to 97 per cent. A total of 102 film and television productions were shot in B.C. last year including 34 feature films, 52 movies-of-the-week/pilots and 16 television series.

Other countries look to Canada for guidance. Some publicists from various television projects believe most Canadian-made productions are more down to earth – therefore appealing to the middle American market.

Canadian television shoots are also incredibly good investments and a good business. "Investors are past the wishing and praying stage," Silver says.

Without the stigma of the Hollywood movie machine, Canadian film and television productions have more room for experimental work. With the strong American market, enough of a distinct perspective and a great deal of international co-productions, the Canadian film and television industry has flourished.

There is a liberty in film-making in Canada. People are more accommodating to film crews being on the street. Hazard affirms, "Canadians are more accepting to variety [than Americans], which lends more room for creativity."

To Contact The Features Department: gazfeat@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1997