15 May 2019 | | The Hollywood Reporter
After years of uncertainty surrounding its generous tax incentives, the province has doubled down on its commitment to Hollywood. The result? Netflix has set up shop in Toronto and the local government is rolling out the red carpet for Hulu and Amazon.
Netflix is looking to make its relationship with Ontario more than a fling. After years of renting studio space in the province, the streamer has now locked up eight soundstages in Toronto — four each at Pinewood Toronto Studios and Cinespace — by taking out long-term leases.
The province’s production space race has also seen CBS build a 260,000-square-foot studio in suburban Toronto, while Hulu, Amazon and others line up local stages and crews to generate their own original content.
All are taking advantage of generous film tax credit and currency savings, while drawing on world-class creative talent, technicians, suppliers and filming locations. Netflix’s production hub is an all-in bet on the province as a long-term production base, according to Ontario Creates CEO Karen Thorne-Stone, who markets the region to Hollywood producers.
“[Netflix] may not know what their productions will be three or five years out,” she says. “But they know that consumer demand is insatiable as more platforms come online and, based on their experience in Ontario, they’re putting down a real footprint.”
Rewind to September 2018, as top studio and streaming executives were headed to a crunch meeting with Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli at the Toronto Film Festival.
They were there to discuss whether Hollywood content makers would continue to fuel Ontario’s production boom despite campaign promises from since-elected provincial leader Doug Ford, brother of late Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, to find billions in budget cuts.
In 2015, Ontario’s tax credit was trimmed from 25 percent of all foreign production spending to 21.5 percent, leaving major studios wary that Ford’s cost-cutting talk could result in further reductions. Donna Skelly, a member of the Canadian Parliament based in Hamilton, Ontario, also heard that message last year when she held a roundtable in Los Angeles with execs from studios including Paramount, Disney and NBCUniversal.
“They made it very clear back in the fall, despite the fact we have great talent and infrastructure, that the number one issue was the tax credit,” she says. Fedeli insists there’s nothing to worry about and says the Progressive Conservative party is February announced the Toronto production hub.
“Cutting red tape, public infrastructure access and the willingness to find creative solutions to difficult production challenges are very important to us,” a Netflix rep tells THR. “We also appreciated the finance minister’s measures to ensure financial stability.”
Meanwhile, Cinespace’s Mirkopoulos in 2018 also placed a call to Netflix after signing a long-term lease with the city of Toronto to retrofit a waterfront cruise ship terminal.
“Netflix execs got on a plane last summer, came to see the facility and immediately entered into negotiations,” he remembers. The lakeside studio is set to open this summer.
As Disney+, Apple, WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal launch their attempted Netflix-killers amid the streaming wars, Ontario is on track for another record-breaking year for foreign location shooting — and local studio operators are set to launch an estimated 1.8 million square feet of new soundstages over the next two years.
“Because studio space is at such a premium, we know we will be running 90 percent capacity from day one,” says Frank Sicoli, founder of First Studio City, which is set to open a 400,000-squarefoot film studio in Markham, Ontario, in late 2020. “We’re already talking about building a second Studio City.”
Netflix is also spreading the wealth with projects shooting across the region, including I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (Ottawa), October Faction(Cambridge) and In the Tall Grass (Stratford).
Toronto Mayor John Tory plans to take full advantage of the wave and will travel to L.A. in mid-May to lure more players back to his city.
“You don’t have to build your own studio,” he says. “Just make it a hub, like Netflix did, and we’ll make sure there’s the studio space to accommodate you.”