Ashtead Group Acquires Movie Equipment Rental Giant William F. White International

William F. White International facility - Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of William F. White International

The U.K.-based company is buying the Canadian production equipment and services company as a local Hollywood film boom gathers pace.

As Ontario's Hollywood film boom grows, The Ashtead Group has acquired William F. White International, Canada's biggest film, TV and digital production equipment rental business.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the U.K.-based equipment rental giant, which drives most of its revenues from its North Carolina-headquartered Sunbelt division, is entering the related film production equipment rental business as deep-pocketed Hollywood streamers and studios aggressively lock up studio space, talent and crews in and around Toronto.

Ashtead is also using the Whites acquisition to diversify away from the U.K. market, where the low value of the British pound and Brexit is weighing on the construction industry and is getting into the rental of specialist film production equipment.

Whites' customers include major Hollywood studios Warner Bros., Walt Disney, Universal Studios, MGM and Lionsgate and Silicon Valley players like Amazon Prime and Apple as they enter the TV streaming space and require original content of their own.

Paul Bronfman, chairman and CEO of Whites and parent Comweb Corp., tells The Hollywood Reporter the deal for Whites will accelerate the company's growth trajectory by securing the latest in production equipment as Hollywood makes the province its latest home away from home. "This deal will mean more gear and the latest gear as, with all the studios shooting here, Whites needs to be the best at what we do," said Bronfman, who becomes co-chairman of Whites along with Ashtead Group CEO Brendan Horgan.

Whites operates out of 13 locations across Canada and has over 400 employees. Besides specialist production equipment including lighting, grip and cameras, the company rents out six production studios in Vancouver and Toronto.

“Whites significantly enhances our capability to provide equipment to the film and television production market where increased demand for content is driving high growth opportunities," Horgan added in his own statement.

To accommodate its Hollywood production boom, Ontario is seeing a record number of new studios being built. CBS Television Studios recently opened a 260,000-square-foot studio with six soundstages in Toronto after Netflix launched its own production hub in the city by taking long-term leases on eight soundstages at separate studios, Pinewood Toronto Studios and Cinespace Films Studios.

And Pinewood Toronto Studios, which currently has around 325,000 square feet of soundstages and hosts shooting for the Star Trek live-action TV series for CBS All Access, has plans to build another 200,000 square feet in production space.

The U.K.-based Ashtead Group, which trades on the London Stock Exchange, is an international construction and industrial equipment rental company with an expanding North American business, including its Sunbelt Canada subsidiary.

Founded in 1963, Whites was acquired by Bronfman in 1989 and offers Hollywood and local producers film, TV and digital production equipment for everything from tentpole studio movies down to experimental proof-of-concept web shorts. Having led Whites through three decades of growth, Bronfman hired investment bank Lazard earlier this year to manage a sales process that centered on identifying a corporate culture in the new owner that mirrored his own.

"Our employees are my Whites family. I found the right people to look after the great people who have helped get us to this point in our history," Bronfman explained. The deal with Ashtead Group for Whites is also the culmination of an entertainment career for Bronfman that started in the late 1970s when he entered the film and TV industry, initially with Astral Media.

In 1988, Bronfman founded Comweb Corp., which built and managed Canada’s first Hollywood-style studio, North Shore Studios in Vancouver, in partnership with well-known writer/producer Stephen J. Cannell. North Shore Studios was the original home for the hit TV series The X-Files.

In 1989, Comweb acquired Whites as it branched into production equipment and technical expertise. Bronfman, who is also chairman of Pinewood Toronto Studios, told THR that he will expand his Comweb Foundation to help train and secure jobs for young Canadians looking to break into film and TV production amid a shortage of skilled talent to work on local Hollywood shoots.

Said Bronfman, "This business has been good to me and my family and I want to give back."