Canadians Thrive as Soft Money Well Runs Dry in U.S. and Europe

Canada sees foreign location shooting rebound as Los Angeles producers seek stability as tax credits shrink or end in rival U.S. states and Europe.

TORONTO – With the well running dry stateside, the Canadian production sector is rebounding on stable film tax credits on offer to Los Angeles producers shooting north of the border.

“For the first time we’re juggling stages. We’ve got conflicts in episode TV shoots. It’s a great problem to have,” Paul Bronfman, chairman of Pinewood Toronto Studios, said Tuesday from February Freeze, the annual trade show for sound, lighting and video technology aficianados in Toronto.

Guillermo del Toro’s At the Mountains of Madness 3D, to be produced by James Cameron, is prepping at Pinewood Toronto Studios ahead of a summer shoot to start on July 4. And Sony Pictures' Total Recall, which is set to start production in May, will also park at Pinewood in Toronto.

It’s not so much that the production environment in Canada is rock solid, as rival locales in the U.S. and Europe look shaky as governments end or trim tax credits and other lucrative subsidies to woo Hollywood to their backyards.

Bronfman insisted Hollywood producers experienced the “good, the bad and the ugly” of shooting elsewhere overseas in search of front-end production savings, and are now returning to Canada for certainty and stability. “People know what they’re getting when they shoot here,” he insisted. Canada has lost something it isn’t likely to win back: a low Canadian dollar that meant steep savings for Los Angeles producers that shot here until the loonie and greenback recently went to parity. So the Canadian industry is rolling out a contingency plan: higher and permanent tax credits, and diversified digital technologies.

An example: forget expensive honeywagons or 18-wheel production trailers. Canadian camera equipment supplier William F. White International is rolling out viral vans, or a compact production van digital producers can rent for run-and-gun filmmaking on music videos or webisodes.

Jonathan Root, manager of Whites Interactive, said digital produces these days require less gear and more agility on location shoots. “Mobility is key. Filmmakers just drive away,” he said.

A strong and mature Canadian production sector is also attracting American retailers of digital technology.

Bruce Richardson, president of Videolink Inc., was at February Freeze showing off the Texas-made Tricaster HD production studio  that shrinks a traditional truck to deliver live sports or entertainment events into a compact box. “This is an IPTV solution that’s affordable,” Richardson said.

Recent Canadian customers of the HD production technology include broadcasters like the CBC, CTV and Corus Entertainment, smaller ethnic broadcasters and pro sports organizations like the Toronto Maple Leafs and Raptors.