Hollywood Productions Spent Record $1.12B in Toronto Area in 2019

The Handmaid's Tale-Publicity Still-H 2019

Deep-pocketed streamers continued bringing high-end TV originals like 'Umbrella Academy' and 'Star Wars: Discovery' to Canada for currency and tax credit savings.

Hollywood's arms race to take on Netflix was good business for Ontario in 2019.

Canada's top media market last year saw foreign, mostly American, producers spend a record $1.12 billion in local film and TV expenditures in and around Toronto as major studios and streamers continue investing heavily in content for a new wave of video-on-demand platforms. That compares with $1.04 billion in total production expenditures in the province made by foreign producers in 2018, and $821.6 million in overall spending two years ago, Ontario Creates, which markets Ontario to Hollywood, revealed Friday.

Across the local production sector, U.S. studios and streamers are locking up studio space, talent and crews for bigger and ever more elaborate sets, mostly for high-end TV dramas. The 2019 tally for Hollywood production in Ontario was mostly for small-screen production, with $947 million going towards TV series and another $127.1 million being invested in locally produced TV movies, miniseries and pilots.

Toronto, which routinely doubles as Boston, New York City and Chicago, provided the backdrop to recent streaming series like Hulu's The Handmaid’s Tale, Netflix's Umbrella Academy, CBS All Access' Star Trek: Discovery and Amazon Prime's The Expanse. Local players insist Ontario's growing status as a TV production hub for Hollywood represents long-term stability, as American TV series with audience success tend to run for multiple seasons and elaborate TV sets can be left standing year over year on local soundstages.

Elsewhere, local Hollywood expenditures on feature films in 2019 slid to $46.1 million, or 11 movies, against 30 movies being made with $231.8 million in local budgetary spending in 2018, as peak TV dominates the provincial production boom. Ontario's overall film and TV industry fueled a record $2.16 billion in total film and TV budget expenditures last year, as the domestic spend for film and TV series in 2019 rose 23 percent to $1.04 billion.

But as streaming giants like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon make big bets on Ontario as a long-term production base, Ontario heritage minister Lisa MacLeod, who oversees the province's film tax credits for Hollywood, told THR more needs to be done to ease a continuing shortage of local soundstages and usher in still more Hollywood production.

"There needs to be more collaboration," MacLeod said after earlier this month naming a 15-member Ontario film and TV advisory panel to help strengthen the underlying financial sustainability of the province's production sector. That view was echoed by Jim Mirkopoulos, vp Cinespace Film Studios, which hosts shoots for MGM's Condor series, Netflix's Locke & Key and Warner Bros.' Titans.

"All the owner operators need to get together from an operational standpoint and figure out what we're building, when we're building and how we can grow the sector," he said. CBS Television Studios last year opened a 260,000-square-foot studio in Toronto, and Netflix launched its latest global production hub in the city by taking long-term leases on eight soundstages at Pinewood Toronto Studios and Cinespace Films Studios.

And William F. White International opened four soundstages in May 2019 at the 152,000-square-foot Whites Studios Edwards Boulevard facility in west Toronto, with Disney as a long-term tenant, and this week announced a second four-stage studio in nearby Mississauga, to open in early 2021.

Ontario film and TV production last year was also spread across the province, as Hulu's Cardinal shot in North Bay, Starz's American Gods was lensed in Durham region and Cambridge played host to shooting for Netflix's Anne With an E.