Canadian Studio Giant Opens Calgary Facility Amid Hollywood Production Boom

Fortress+ Support
Courtesy of William F. White

William F. White International's 100,00-square-foot Fortress studio complex targets major studios and streamers shooting tentpole movies or series in Canada.

Studio operator William F. White International has opened its first facilities in Calgary, Alberta, Fortress and Fortress Support.

Fortress Studio in southeast Calgary targets Hollywood tentpole movie or series production as it offers 97,500 square feet of stage space with a clear height of 36 feet on around 12 acres in the city's downtown core. And nearby Fortress Support offers another 70,000 square feet of support space and around 20,000 square feet in office space.

WFW, which already operates nine other studios in Toronto and Vancouver, has around 30 soundstages with over 1 million square feet of production space filled with local and foreign production shoots. Garin Josey, WFW's executive vp and chief operating officer, says expanding in Calgary and soon into Winnipeg with two purpose-built stages and one retrofit stage comes as film studios in Toronto and Vancouver are filled to bursting with Hollywood production, despite the pandemic, and Hollywood is looking to lock down space for production of originals.

"We're planning on building the next production hub for Canada," Josey told The Hollywood Reporter as Fortress Support already has its first tenant and the Fortress facility, set to open May 15, is fielding offers from Hollywood studios and streamers eyeing a long-term lease for the Calgary studio. WFW also supplies production equipment to the nearby Calgary Film Centre and its three purpose-built soundstages with 50,000 square feet of space, in addition to workshops and warehouse spaces.

The first Calgary studio for WFW comes as Canada experiences a locations boom thanks to the steady flow of Hollywood shoots heading north of the border amid the pandemic. "Filming in Canada is booming, and the Calgary and Winnipeg markets are ready and we're looking to partner with everybody to grow this industry in a safe and productive way," adds Rob Rowan, the newly installed general manager of WFW's Calgary and Winnipeg offices.

Alberta's film and TV production sector is thriving, despite the pandemic, as cameras recently rolled on Robin Wright's directorial debut Land for Focus Features, which was shot in the Rocky Mountains west of Calgary, APTN's Tribal drama, a reboot of Fraggle Rock filling the Calgary Film Centre, and the third season of CTV and Hulu's Jann.

At the same time, oil-rich Alberta has long lagged neighboring British Columbia on Canada's west coast in attracting Hollywood production. “For decades, we’ve been discussing the potential of the film industry here in Calgary, but over the past few years, our momentum has really started to grow,” Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said in a statement.

That new momentum follows the provincial government introducing a generous film tax credit for Hollywood producers to get behind Alberta's recession-proof film, TV and digital production sectors as it looks to diversify an economy impacted by slumping energy prices.

"The province's government has given us clear messages that this isn't a flash in the pan, that they're not going to get interested in the film industry and then drop it when a barrel of oil goes back to $100," Paul Bronfman, WFW co-chairman and senior adviser, tells THR. Before the pandemic, Alberta hosted movie production for Jason Reitman's Ghostbusters: Afterlife and a unit shoot for Jumanji The Next Level, both for Sony Pictures; Focus Features' Let Him Go; and Walt Disney's Togo, which starred Willem Dafoe and portrayed a famous sled-dog relay.

During the COVID-19 crisis, the province has also hosted shoots for Netflix zombie drama Black Summer and Syfy's fan favorite Wynonna Earp.