Ontario's Hollywood Film Boom Spreads Beyond Toronto

KEN WORONER/COURTESY OF TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL
Ontario doubled for 70s-era California in Semi Chellas' 'American Woman.'

With deep-pocketed streamers locking up the soundstages of its southern neighbor, Ontario's entertainment industry has traveled to regional cities like Hamilton, North Bay and Oshawa.

With deep-pocketed Hollywood streamers locking up Toronto soundstages, Ontario’s film and TV boom has spread to regional cities like Hamilton, North Bay and Oshawa. And a big draw is Ontario’s chameleon-like locations offering a flexible palette for directors. Take American Woman, a fictional take on the Patty Hearst affair from director Semi Chellas that debuts Sept. 12 at TIFF.

Chellas, a former Mad Men writer, had to capture the 1970s as California radicals and a wealthy heiress hide in plain sight across America. "We had an embarrassment of riches for motels and original signage," she recalls. "There’s amazing 1970s locations and even earlier landmarks still standing."

Veteran location manager John Rakich says Ontario, with its geographical diversity, is ideal for doubling as small-town America in movies and TV series that indulge in nostalgia. "We have a series using a section of West Hamilton to play Dallas in 1963," Rakich says of Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy, shooting on Ottawa Street for its second season. "With a little set dressing and signs that say Texas, audiences won’t know where it was shot."

"It’s not just Toronto," Karen Thorne Stone, CEO of Ontario Creates, which markets Ontario to Hollywood, adds as U.S. streamers and major studios increasingly shoot across the province. "There’s very little that we can’t manage in Ontario, with the exception of mountains, and we’ve even figured out how to make that work from the bottom of a quarry." Paul Bronfman, CEO of equipment rental supply giant William F. White, says the streaming giants recognize that the province is "very predictable and stable" and is "an experienced production market with the crews and the technicians and a variety of locations."

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Sept. 6 daily issue at the Toronto Film Festival.