Canadians may affectionately nickname Toronto and Vancouver “Hollywood North.” However, these two film and TV production hubs are slowly starting to eclipse Hollywood at its own game.
As California struggles to retain the luster of glittery decades before, Canada is luring more productions away from sunny weather. For the first time, there are more film and TV production jobs in Canada than in California.
Even with the distance from major American studios, there are many reasons why Canada keeps gaining production jobs.
Several provinces have tax credits, which support both local projects and entice foreign producers to make films and shows here. Ontario companies can apply for the Ontario Film & Television Tax Credit, or the OFTTC. This gives local productions a 35 per cent refundable tax credit on labour expenses.
Meanwhile, the Ontario Production Services Tax Credit (OPSTC) is a 25 per cent refundable tax credit on all production, labour and post-production costs. The OPSTC is for productions from Canadian and foreign studios. (There is no limit on the number of productions that can apply for these reliable tax credits.)
For the past three years, film and TV production contributed upwards of $1 billion to Ontario’s economy. Much of that total comes from Canadian shows and movies, though, not foreign ones. Close to 80 per cent of that billion dollars or so came from TV series, including Suits, Hannibal and Hemlock Grove.
On the film side, one of the main contributors to Ontario’s production industry is director Guillermo del Toro. He shot Pacific Rim in Toronto – that film cost a whopping $190 million to make. Del Toro just finished his second gargantuan title, the horror film Crimson Peak, in the city.
Meanwhile, FX TV series The Strain, which del Toro created and executive produced, also shoots in Toronto. With Pacific Rim 2 in pre-production, del Toro has been a boon to on-set crew and visual effects artists around the city, helping many local companies.
“[Del Toro has] chosen to live and work here because he knows he can make the movie he wants to make for a pretty good price, with people whose skills he admires,” says James Weyman, manager of industry initiatives for the Ontario Media Development Corp.
Another big boost to Canada’s production industries are visual effects companies. Check out any big-budget film that came out this past summer and odds are you will find Ontario or Quebec’s name credited at the end scroll. In Ontario, a tax credit refunds 20 per cent on labour expenditures for special effects and computer animation work.
“Ontario has historically been a source of a huge amount of creative talent… in terms of visual effects and software development,” Weyman says. “Colleges like Sheridan and Seneca have been really strong training centres for that kind of technology-based creativity for decades. We have the tools and the well-trained creators to be able to do world-class effects.”
British Columbia and Quebec also provide additional breaks on visual effects works, at a similar rate. In 2011, Canada got $435 million in revenue from visual effects companies. With so many effects-laden titles coming to film up north since, including Man of Steel, Elysium and Pacific Rim, that total has likely increased.
Reputable agencies like Toronto’s Soho VFX (Divergent) and Mr. X (Crimson Peak), and Montreal’s Digital Dimension (Clash of the Titans), have created healthy competition with Hollywood firms. In 2013, California-based FX companies protested at the Academy Awards for greater job security, pay and treatment. Life of Pi won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects that year; however, the company responsible for many of those lavish digital effects, Rhythm and Hues Studios, had gone bankrupt prior to the ceremony.
In response, several L.A.-based companies opened divisions in Canada to keep up with industry competition. One could blame the Canadian subsidies for this shortfall, since it is much cheaper to do effects work in Canada than in California.
Outside of Toronto, Vancouver has a few things Toronto does not: better climate, infrastructure and a time zone aligned with California. Productions like Godzilla and Tim Burton’s upcoming Big Eyes were filmed there, benefited from a setting by an ocean and mountains. (Both of those titles take place in San Francisco.)
Along the Pacific, shows like Arrow and Once Upon a Time are among the bustling Vancouver area’s current productions. Meanwhile, Sony Imageworks moved their headquarters to Vancouver, while Industrial Light & Magic expanded on the West Coast, as well.
In response to recent Canadian dominance, California lawmakers recently proposed to triple tax subsidies and incentives in the state. Over the past decade, California has lost 12 per cent of its workers in the film and TV sector, according to the Milken Institute.
So, can Canada keeps its advantage going forward?
“I don’t think the change in rates in other jurisdictions has that big of an impact on Ontario,” Weyman says. “Ontario has a proven track record of delivering high-quality production and post-production, both technically and creatively, at a cost-effective rate.”
Meanwhile, Canada has remained a world player as part of a 50-country co-production treaty. Canadian and provincial producers has partnered with countries around the world, in a move that further sustains their output. One of those successful co-productions was a film executive produced by – who else – Del Toro. His 2013 thriller Mama, a Canada-Spain collaboration, was shot at Toronto’s Pinewood Studios and made $146 million worldwide on a $15 million (U.S.) budget.
The treaty allows Canadian filmmakers the chance to secure money from foreign investors and a chance to use actors and crewmembers from other countries. “We’re not always dependent on American producers coming here,” Weyman says. “But we love it if they do.”