Major Ontario Film, TV Production Studio in the Works (Exclusive)

Hamilton Escarpment Skyline - H 2019
Courtesy of City of Hamilton

Six new soundstages planned for Hamilton, an hour from Toronto, come amid a studio building boom in the Canadian province.

A giant film studio comprising six studio soundstages over 150,000 square feet is planned for Hamilton, Ontario, an hour from a booming Toronto film and TV production sector and the U.S. border.

Aeon Studio Group, a local developer and operator of film and television studios, plans to build a 200,000-square-foot film and TV production hub for the city, with one 40,000-square-foot stage, another at 30,000 square feet and four more at 20,000 square feet each.

ASG, through its affiliate Hamilton Studios Ltd., and the city of Hamilton have signed a memorandum of understanding that includes the purchase of the city-owned Barton-Tiffany lands, on around 15 acres, for the studio development to include office buildings, retail space and two residential buildings.

The initial six soundstages, to be a combination of purpose-built studio space and warehouse retrofits, are scheduled to open in summer 2020.

Plans for the proposed Hamilton Studio District development will be unveiled in Hamilton on Tuesday at a press conference to be attended by city mayor Fred Eisenberger, local city councillor Jason Farr and ASG partners Jeff Anders, Mike Bruce, Robbie David and Mark Sakomoto.

The proposed studio is to include around 50,000 square feet for production offices, crafts, set building and other ancillary services for VFX-laden Hollywood blockbusters and TV series.

In a statement, ASG partner Mike Bruce said, “Hamilton is the perfect place for a production hub in the west-end greater Toronto and Hamilton area because of its proximity to diverse filming locations, thriving arts and culture workforce, limited traffic congestion, supply of industrial buildings ripe for conversion into lower cost studio space, and because productions that film there qualify for additional provincial tax credits."

Ontario offers generous filming incentives, including a tax credit of 21.5 percent on Ontario qualifying production expenditures that is stackable with a Canadian film tax credit and the province's additional animation and visual effects credit. Additionally, domestic producers that leave Toronto to shoot movies and TV series in Hamilton or any other location outside of the greater Toronto region can apply for an additional 10 percent bonus on all labor expenditures incurred for the production.

Hamilton, which routinely doubles as Boston, New York City and Chicago, provided the backdrop to recent films and TV series like ABC's Designated Survivor, Hulu's The Handmaid’s Tale, Netflix's Umbrella Academy, Guillermo del Toro's Oscar winner The Shape of Water and It: Chapter Two.

At the same time, Hamilton has tended to draw location shoots for productions based in nearby Toronto, and a major studio for the suburban city aims to entice Hollywood studios and streaming giants to establish a more permanent local presence.

The proposed studio complex plans to also have facilities for postproduction, animation, visual effects and games development, with anchor tenants still to finalize deals. The news of a major Hamilton studio in the works follows new statistics indicating Ontario had a record high in 2018 when it came to Hollywood film and TV production, and that 2019 is even busier as foreign producers tap currency savings and generous tax credits.

To accommodate the production boom, Ontario is seeing a record number of new studios being built. CBS Television Studios is expanding in Canada as it gets set to open a 260,000-square-foot studio with six soundstages in Toronto before the end of the year.

Netflix is set to open its latest global production hub in Toronto, 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.