I will admit: the day that I received news of my acceptance into Ryerson University’s Film Studies program, it threw me for a serious loop. I not only was convinced I had been accepted into the program by a complete fluke, but also that this was an opportunity I had to pounce on immediately because it was given to me. My 18-year old self felt excited and stimulated about studying film production in a city that has a globally recognized annual film festival, several reputable equipment rental houses and film processing labs, and, of course, the Toronto Film Studios lot and proclaimed “Film District” of the city, spanning along Eastern Ave.
Toronto has been a hot spot for film production over the last 30-40 years, there is no denying that. What could be more appealing than a metropolis that can be passed off as other globally recognized cities, in which international film crews, the majority being our American neighbours, can shoot on infinitely cheaper budgets without having to deal with their own dense population, in a (comparably to NYC and LA) small Canadian city with the hunger to boost its own global standing and reputation as the unofficial “Hollywood North” of North America?
Here’s the lowdown on where Toronto stands: In 2008, TFS was bought out by developer Mitch Goldhar, responsible for bringing the Wal-Mart Corporation to Canada and slated it for demolition for retail development. The proposal was rejected by the Ontario Municipal Board. The studios, with over 16 studio spaces and covering almost 800,000 square feet, now remain locked and vacant. During the G20 protests in June 2010, over 500 protestors, both peaceful and otherwise, were temporarily detained in the vacant soundstages. The incredulity of the G20 summit riots was enough on it’s own to seem like the plot of a film; you have to love Toronto’s ironic location to detain the victims of the mass arrests.
It is up to debate now, however, on how constant and sustaining this reputation is and will be in Toronto’s future. Construction began in 2006 on Filmport Studios, now named Pinewood Studios, located on Commissioners St. nearby such equipment rental houses as PS Production Services and Affiliated Equipment. Pinewood Toronto Studios has the largest purpose-built soundstage in North America, spanning 46,000 square feet on its own, with six additional soundstages. While TFS remains empty and lifeless, Pinewood seems to be an attempt for Toronto to get back on the film production radar and redeem itself as a valued asset for any feature filmmakers’ ambitions.
Yes, Toronto has lost opportunities to welcome certain blockbusters to be filmed in our facilities because of lack of production space during the TFS buy-out limbo. Yes, Toronto has an (unjustified) reputation of arrogantly trying to be as powerful and globally recognized as New York City or Los Angeles in terms of its entertainment value, tourist attraction and overall filmic popularity. Yes, Toronto lost film business after 9/11 when many American filmmakers chose to stay south of the border and keep American productions on their own land. And yes, Toronto now has a vacant film studio occupying a large amount of land, which eliminated hundreds of jobs and is only now considered fit to randomly house G20 activists. Can this be blamed on prioritizing constant shuffling of greenbacks between hands of real estate developers? And is Toronto finally going to lose its “Hollywood North” status?
I choose to see Pinewood as a positive force for Toronto, while not overlooking the slippery slope we’ve had along the way, which I believe is inevitable for any metropolis that wants to be as powerful as the actual soul-sucker destroyer that is Hollywood, California. Perhaps the failure of TFS is merely a stepping-stone for Toronto to become even more globally accommodating and recognizable as a film hub. $33 million dollars later, maybe we will create our own filmmaking identity that is actually our own and not be seen as a floundering Canadian city that tries to be more impressive than it actually is. I can just picture CEO's driving past TFS, quietly shaking their heads to themselves but laughing while simultaneously fingering bills in their pockets. Perhaps it is a waste of space but the point is, it hasn’t been torn down yet.
Four years later, after my completion of Film Studies at Ryerson, I have discovered that the job market is tricky and cutthroat to enter into and one should exercise with caution when deciding to become involved with the film business. This is, however, what we were told since day one. Toronto has what I believe Los Angeles and New York City no longer possess: an underlying film business modesty because of our situational circumstances. We appeal to worldwide filmmakers because we will take anything we can get. This is not to say that we bend over for every Ridley Scott production or Saw film that comes our way, but why not do that? The first thing we learned in film school was to start from the bottom because we have no other choice. That is the way the industry works and if Toronto does indeed have to start from the bottom up, so be it. Toronto already has quite a few reputable films under its production belt, including the new Michael Cera smash-bomb Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and the fast-approaching Toronto International Film Festival always draws attention to our enigma of a Canadian city.
Patience is a dying virtue of the 21st century but filmmakers need to possess a great deal of it in their line of duty. It’s truly what it will take to make Toronto a great film centre of the world, be it five, ten or twenty years down the road.
Photo: Pinewood Studios
Katya Verikaitis is an independent filmmaker and has worked on several films such as Grey Bruce and the F*uckbuddies. You can read more of her posts here.