Lights, camera, and continued action, in Hollywood North
The 43rd Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) comes to a close Sunday and Toronto was again at the centre of the film world with new screenings, Oscar and award hints, high profile events and business deals.
The festival attracts the world’s top stars but is also an important platform to showcase Canadian content and talent. Toronto is home to a thriving film industry that in 2017 generated $1.6 billion in revenue for the city’s economy, hosted close to 7,000 productions and employs close to 32,000 full time equivalent jobs, making it the third largest employer by sector. This is an incredible achievement that need to be celebrated and protected.
Back in March, I had the pleasure of accompanying Mayor Tory on his third annual mission to Hollywood. I was representing The Hazelton Hotel and was joined by like-mined leaders in various industry sectors, such as production, post production, unions, accommodation, support services, and hospitality.
The goal was to further solidify the relationship for making TV and movie magic north of the border. The mission had a strong sense of community and a Canadian win-win mentality — a quality that is fuelling further success and positive reputation for the industry outside Canada.
The success of Hollywood North can be attributed to a few areas working in tandem, including: the depth of our talent pool; a top down commitment exemplified in Mayor John Tory’s continued advocacy for the industry; the key role of the sector development office; a bottom up activism and sense of community; the quality product services that the city offers, and much more. Like in the hotel business, everything starts with people. In our city’s film industry, we see this at multiple levels.
The private sector experience of our Film Commissioner Zaib Sheikh and Sector Development Officer Magali Simard and their expertise has accelerated the strategic alignment, policy shaping, and this perfect scenario of private-public partnership.
For example, with the The Shape of Water, in addition to award-winning producer J. Miles Dale, the top-notch crew was almost a full Canadian contingency. Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro is known to sing Toronto’s praises on various occasions saying: “You can feel film in Toronto and then you can make it in Toronto. It’s one of the best film towns in the world.”
What the film and TV production industry has managed to achieve in our city is a true economic success story that needs to be celebrated, however, we cannot rest on our laurels.
Despite all these great successes, competition remain fierce. Other cities including Vancouver, Atlanta, and increasingly Montreal, are increasingly competing for the film industry’s attention and investments. We must keep listening and improving.
It is disappointing that the city lost and estimated $130 million of potential revenue last year because of a lack of studio space. Solutions for more studio space is on the way, however.
The tax credits extended for productions remain one of the most important incentives for studios and production companies when considering Toronto, something that has been repeated by film executives to Tory when we were in L.A., and we need to firmly protect this advantage.
Talent development will remain key if Toronto is to cement a leading position in this industry. We need to continue enriching our talent pool and xoTO Schools, a Toronto District School Board co-op student placement program, that enables enhanced access for location filming in 11 pre-approved Toronto District School Board properties across the GTA. It has been a promising initiative in this area.
Falling short on any of the areas above might compromise a key economic sector in our city.
The presence of movie productions in the city cast a massive spotlight here that ripples outward to include adjacent industries such as hotels, caterers, shops, transportation, and bars — all benefiting from our entertainment ecosystem.
Films allow us to showcase our city and our country and tell the Canadian story to the world. They are a form of artistry that bring people together. When Toronto is in the spotlight, on screen or in real life, we are all winners.
Hani Roustom is the general manager of the Hazelton Hotel. Follow him on Twitter: @haniroustom
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