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BUSINESS

4 MIN

Low Dollar Results in Action for Canadian TV and Film Industry

Money isn't the only factor when producers choose where to shoot – but it's a big one, and Toronto and Montreal benefit

Ava Galgani began her career as an actress in 2007 when the economic recession made it nearly impossible to find acting roles in Canada.

“Being an actor is expensive,” says the Vancouver-based Galgani, who took on other jobs to help support her acting career. “It was really hard to break in,” she says.

Today, Canada’s film and television service industry is in high demand as the low Canadian dollar lowers costs for American producers, luring them north of the border.

“The more effective we are at being able to outbid other centres, the better that is for the industry, and the lower dollar plays a factor in that,” says Simon Peacock, an ACTRA council member and committee member for the union’s Montreal branch.

“The dollar going lower makes it even more attractive to companies that are already committed,” he adds.

“It’s a great time to be an actor in Canada, especially in British Columbia because we cater a lot to the American market,” says  Galgani, currently based in Vancouver. The film and TV production list published by the Union of BC Performers lists 48 productions that are underway in the province.

The picture is even rosier in Toronto: Among branches of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), Toronto boasts the longest production list, with more than 70 movies and TV shows currently in the making (to say nothing of the commercials). The productions include several high-profile U.S.-based television programs, including American Gods, an adaptation of Neil Gaiman's fantasy novel, along with Reign,The Strain, and the upcomingAmerican Gothic.

“Toronto has a history and solid track record of making high-quality film and television,” says Jim Mirkopoulos, Vice President of Cinespace Film Studios, where all of the above are being shot.

Courtesy Cinespace

The 300-seat section of the gladiators arena built for the film Pompeii, inside the exterior green screen stage of Cinsepace's Kipling Avenue studio in Toronto

Major attention focused on the city, meanwhile, in May when CBS Television Studios announced that an upcoming Star Trek television series will begin filming in Toronto this fall. Slated to premiere in early 2017, this latest Star Trek series is the first to be shot in Toronto. The upcoming film Star Trek Beyond, meanwhile,was filmed in Vancouver in 2015.

Hoping to build on the momentum, Toronto Mayor John Tory travelled to Los Angeles last February and made a pitch to several Hollywood studios – including CBS, Paramount, Sony, and Warner – to bring more productions north. Mirkopolous and Blake Steels, President of Pinewood Toronto Studios, lauded the mayor’s efforts and were represented as part of his delegation in California.

Peacock, the ACTRA committee member in Montreal, says there are benefits for the local economy when a city experiences an upswing in film and television production, regardless of whether the projects are domestic or foreign.

“Any time there's more work in the city as a whole, that keeps more of our skilled professionals in this particular area of expertise working in that area, so in the long term, that helps everybody,” he says. “They keep their skills up to date, they keep their equipment up to date, they can feed their families – so it makes the industry sustainable overall if those projects are here.”

With the influx of American films, Galgani says she is auditioning for more roles that matter to her as a black actress, such as When We Rise, a miniseries on the history of the LGBT rights movement that is being filmed in Vancouver.

“From an actor’s point of a view, a few days on an American project can pretty much make their summer,” says Peacock.

Mirkopoulos says when Canadian production facilities and infrastructure are overwhelmed by American content, the knock-on effects benefi the domestic industry.

“As the industry becomes bigger, more colleges and universities are churning out graduates who are interested in [working in television and film],” he says. “It's an organic growth that will have some growing pains, but it eventually will become a stronger industry.”

Cinespace recently launched the Nick Mirkopoulos Canadian Content Initiative to provide Canadian film, TV, and digital media projects with rent-free studio space. The initiative already has productions underway at a time when studio space is at a premium in Toronto.

Galgani also notes an increase in the number of Canadian productions, including the upcoming River of Silence, shot in B.C., in which she plays the best friend of a woman whose daughter goes missing in a film about missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada.

When a production determines where to locate its shoots, there are factors at play beyond the obvious ones of currency exchange rates and the aesthetics of the locale. Producers also scrutinize the professional level of the local crews – not to mention tax credits, which states and provinces offer to film and television productions in a bid to attract the economic activity into their backyards. In Canada, attractive tax credits help persuade foreign productions to locate here even in times when the loonie is high.  Peacock says federal and provincial tax credits will help to “soften the blow” for American producers when the Canadian dollar goes up again.

He says tax incentives played an important role in drawing producers of films such as 2013’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, followed by X-Men: Apocalypse in 2015, to Quebec for filming and post-production.

“All their special effects were done in Quebec as well, which meant they got a big break for that,” says Peacock. “It makes us extremely competitive with other markets.”

American producers must also consider whether a location works creatively for their project, says Glenn Williamson, a lecturer at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.

“I produced Hollywoodland with Ben Affleck and Adrian Brody, and we shot the bulk of the film in Toronto and only two weeks of exteriors in Los Angeles,” he says. “We only decided to shoot there after a thorough location scout convinced us we could make it work."

Published Thursday, June 30th 2016

Header image credit: An action shot from Pompeii, filmed inside the studio on the main Pompeii city street showing actors running away from the volcano and a digital green screen in the background/Courtesy Cinespace Toronto

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