How to Shoot a Project in Canada
This story first appeared in the Sept. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
As it doubles for New York, Moscow and elsewhere, Hollywood's neighbor to the north plays host to Twilight and scads of TV series.
Recent Shoots: The CW's Supernatural and its upcoming Arrow, the TNT sci-fi drama Falling Skies, Fox's Fringe and the ABC fantasy series Once Upon a Time.
British Columbia has, for well more than a generation, served as Hollywood's backlot for its varied locations, from arid deserts and cattle ranches to rural ghost towns and glittering skyscrapers. Multicultural Vancouver has doubled for Moscow, Los Angeles, Shanghai and London. While the city offers a range of diverse settings, popular shooting locations include Chinatown, the University of British Columbia and Stanley Park.
That, plus local tax incentives, saw The CW shoot five of its eight pilots for the 2012-13 season in Vancouver, including Arrow, Cult and First Cut.
Shooting in the city also offers proximity to the coastal beaches and rainforests of Vancouver Island. In recent years, the island has played host to shoots for The Big Year, with Owen Wilson and Jack Black, and The Twilight Saga: New Moon.
In addition to a developed film and TV production infrastructure, backed by about 30 soundstages, Vancouver has a growing digital animation and visual effects industry, complete with dedicated tax credits and a talent pool. That makes British Columbia a top production center for the major Hollywood studios, one that rivals Los Angeles and New York. Says Tim Iacofano, producer on the upcoming ABC drama Red Widow: "Vancouver is a short flight and in the same time zone as Los Angeles. If need be, you can have people on the first flight out of Los Angeles and have them working in the afternoon."
Recent Shoots: ABC Studios' Zero Hour pilot, Relativity Media's Mirror Mirror and the Bradley Cooper starrer The Words.
Source Code producer Hawk Koch recalls how shooting the psychological thriller in Montreal was made easier because much of the film takes place inside a relocated Chicago commuter train. That meant the Jake Gyllenhaal starrer could be produced on a soundstage at Mel's Cite du Cinema complex, with cost savings to boot. Before choosing the Canadian city, Koch and his team scouted Pennsylvania, New York and Atlanta. So why Montreal? In part because of Quebec's generous 25 percent all-spend tax credit. Says Koch, the new president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, "We went there because the movie took place 90 percent in a train and we needed a stage and, from a monetary standpoint, it made the most sense."
Foreign location shooting helps fuel annual production volume of about $800 million in Montreal, most of it coming from French-language film and TV projects. So the local crews and acting talent are busy, experienced and speak fluent English. In addition to its greenscreen soundstages, Montreal has a historical old quarter, providing a wide range of settings for modern or period shoots on locations that can appear North American or European. The city also has more than 40 visual effects companies, making it the world's seventh-largest postproduction hub.
Recent Shoots: Silent Hill: Revelation 3D, the RoboCop reboot, the Jake Gyllenhaal starrer An Enemy and the Stephen King novel adaptation Carrie.
Genre auteur Guillermo del Toro didn't just shoot his sci-fi epic Pacific Rim on a few of the stages at Pinewood Toronto Studios. The creature feature was shot on all seven stages of the megastudio, with one stage divided into two to create yet more space for del Toro to move his cameras. The shoot follows a busy year for Canada's largest production center as it continues to entice L.A. producers with a potential 54 percent of labor expenditure savings, thanks to traditional and digital tax credits and the federal government's 16 percent tax credit. Toronto also has a slew of studio facilities and a vast supply of technical and creative talent, and it routinely doubles for New York, Boston, Washington and Chicago while offering an array of services to help calm anxious filmmakers. Says Pacific Rim executive producer Callum Greene, "It's not just a tax break that steers a film of this size into port -- it's also the needed security of knowing we'll be taken care of at a higher level wherever we land."
Recent Shoots: The William Shatner TV show Weird or What?, the Jason Buxton debut feature Blackbird and the third season of stand-up series The Candy Show.
Tom Selleck should qualify for a Canadian passport by now. The actor was recently in Nova Scotia to shoot Jesse Stone: Benefit of the Doubt for CBS, the eighth in the series of TV movies shooting there since 2004 that has the Atlantic province double as Massachusetts. There's strong local government support for foreign location shooting, with Nova Scotia offering some of Canada's most generous tax incentives. The province also offers a regional and frequent filming bonus to entice returning shoots like Jesse Stone. Nova Scotia boasts varied locations, from urban streets in Halifax to historic villages and scenic coastal towns like Lunenburg.
Says producer Mark Montefiore, who shot Picnicface, a series for Canada's The Comedy Network, in Halifax, "It's one of the only places in Canada where you get invited over to dinner by the crew after you wrap."
Recent Shoots: The Universal sci-fi series Rewind, Resident Evil: Retribution and Lifetime telefilm The Cold Spring.
When Anthony Zuiker, the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation creator, teamed with Yahoo to make the online thriller Cybergeddon, a 90-minute scripted drama, he didn't follow the herd and shoot in Toronto. Instead, he took his crew and talent an hour south to Hamilton, Ontario, to tap a 10 percent regional tax-credit bonus. Other advantages include skilled technical and creative talent, readily available soundstages and equipment, diverse locations and a local film commission to help at every turn.
Says Zuiker, "We're still stretching every dollar we can to make the best content possible, but that's all part of the fun."
BY THE NUMBERS
- 16: Percentage of tax credits that can be combined with the Quebec film and TV tax credit.
- 10: Percentage of the regional tax-credit bonus offered by Hamilton.
SHOOTING NORTH OF THE BORDER: Canada is so competitive that even the major urban centers vie with one another for location shoots. Here's what each specializes in.
Montreal: European Settings
Old Montreal has period buildings and cobblestone streets dating to the 17th century. The Words, starring Bradley Cooper and Olivia Wilde, saw the city pass for Paris and New York.
Halifax: New England
The city's marine setting on the Atlantic makes it ripe to double for New England, as on the Syfy drama Haven and in the Angela Bassett starrer Jumping the Broom, in which Halifax stood in for Martha's Vineyard.
Toronto: Visual Effects
As Canada's top visual effects hub, the city lures Hollywood to bring FX-heavy movies such as Still Seas and Total Recall to take advantage of tax credits that can chop off 60 percent of a project's budget.
Hamilton: Working-Class Grit
They don't call it "Steeltown" for nothing. The 2005 action film Four Brothers used the Stelco and Dofasco steel mills as a backdrop, and Ron Howard's Cinderella Man shot a dockside scene at Hamilton Harbour.
Vancouver: Big-Budget Shoots
With about 30 soundstages, the city routinely hosts tentpoles such as Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol, Man of Steel and Rise of the Planet of the Apes.