As Toronto Restarts Production, Strict Travel Orders Are a Barrier for Hollywood

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Netflix has multi-year leases four stages at Cinespace Studios in Toronto.

Pinewood Toronto Studios chairman Paul Bronfman predicts: "Nothing significant will be shooting until after Labor Day."

Ontario film studios were allowed to be back in business on June 12, yet the reopening has been tentative since film and TV sets shut down in mid-March.

"We've got a greenlight. We're issuing permits for small productions," Toronto film commissioner Marguerite Pigott says. But the major studios and streamers must figure out new COVID-19 safety protocols and strict travel and quarantine orders before Toronto can return to pre-pandemic production levels.

While entertainment work is considered nonessential, American actors, directors, producers and crew can secure temporary work visas to get across the closed U.S.-Canadian border. "But the big barrier is the mandatory 14-day quarantine," says a streaming exec. (Travelers are expected to provide an address for where they're self-isolating for two weeks.)

Pinewood Toronto Studios chairman Paul Bronfman predicts: "Nothing significant will be shooting until after Labor Day. Things will take time to get used to, production will take more time on set, and it will cost producers more money."

On June 26, Canadian broadcaster Corus disclosed that per-hour TV production costs will jump 15 percent until there's a vaccine, given new safety protocols for shoots. U.S. TV series on hiatus in Toronto amid the pandemic include Apple TV+'s See, Netflix's Sex/Life and Alcon's horror pic Lullaby. Cinespace Studios, which before the shutdown hosted shoots for MGM's Condor series, Netflix's Locke & Key and Warner Bros.' Titans, expects to resume filming in July.

Meanwhile, Studio City Toronto has back-to-back Canadian TV series set to shoot beginning Aug. 1. To meet that demand, around 235,000 square feet of production space has opened since mid-March. As for bigger-budget, VFX-heavy American shoots, Ontario film commissioner Justin Cutler notes, "There's a tangible interest in getting those productions up and running in the near future."

Yet jumping the gun on reopening the Canadian border and relaxing quarantine protocols could lead to another film production shutdown in the fall. "California's on fire," Bronfman adds, noting that Los Angeles County reported a spike in coronavirus cases as it reopened. "Why would the government allow people in from a jurisdiction that's on fire?"

A version of this story first appeared in the July 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.