Hollywood north: the film industry in Canada

Pretty in pictures and surrounded by talented crews, Lori McNulty explains why motion pictures are one of Canada’s fastest growing industries.

If you live in Vancouver, British Columbia, the film industry is always on your lips. Either you brag about being an extra standing not three feet from George Clooney on set, or you’re like my niece, who chased vampires all over town when they were filming the Twilight series. Movie fame? It’s just a hotel lobby away.

True, Vancouver and BC are North America’s third-largest production centre for film, video and TV - a $1.3 billion industry, according to the BC Film Commission. But the whole country is in on the Action! Cut! Print! Ontario and Quebec are also major players in film and TV, to the tune of an estimated $946 million and $65 million respectively. These provinces boast some of the most extensive and versatile production facilities in North America. Five minutes from downtown Montréal, Quebec, you’ll find Canada’s largest film production facility, La Cité du Cinéma; it’s Hollywood-blockbuster big with 39 multi-function stages. Toronto’s Pinewood Studios is Canada’s largest film, TV, commercial production and post-production complex.

Hollywood north: the film industry in Canada

“Toronto is a dead ringer for New York City”

Of course, where there’s film, there’s glamour. And cool cash. So what’s the industry worth in Canada? Take George Clooney’s salary for Ocean’s Thirteen and multiply it by 333. Film, TV, Canadian theatrical and foreign productions are a $5 billion industry in Canada, according to the Canadian Film and Television Production Association. In the last year, Canada has raked in an estimated $1.4 billion hosting foreign films shot or produced here. The BC Film Commission notes that some 239 motion picture projects (both foreign and domestic) were shot in BC in 2009.

Canada comes of age on screenWhy are US-based productions flocking north? With tax incentives and historically lower exchange rates, it’s often cheaper to film in Canada. Even with the strong Canadian dollar, increased tax breaks are helping create a 'package of incentives' according to Karen Thorne-Stone, head of the Ontario provincial government’s film development group. Think talent, tax credits, great infrastructure and incredibly diverse locations.

That’s right. We’re also good 'body' doubles. Location scouts find that Vancouver easily passes for the US Midwest; Toronto, ON, is a dead ringer for New York City; and Calgary, AB, can transport audiences to the American West. Quebec City, QC, recalls the Old World splendour of Paris, London or Vienna. In Brad Pitt’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Old Montréal doubled for 1940s Paris in summer and Moscow in winter.

So look closely the next time you watch the X-Men trilogy, Juno, Mean Girls, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, or Oscar-winners Brokeback Mountain, Unforgiven and Capote. Yep, all shot in Canada. We also produce plenty of MOWs (movies of the week), TV series and documentaries, and we’re increasingly known for our animation and computer-generated imagery (CGI). Canadian studios created some visual effects for such big-screen extravaganzas as Angels and Demons and The Incredible Hulk; the Oscar-nominated visual effects in 2009’s District 9 were created by Vancouver’s Imagine Engine. Rumour has it that Pixar, makers of the 2010 Oscar-winning animated feature Up, will soon open a satellite studio in Vancouver.

Even if we do export some of our award-winning Canadian filmmaking talent like actors Ryan Gosling and Ryan Reynolds or directors James Cameron (of Titanic - partially shot in Halifax, NS, and Vancouver, BC - and Avatar, the highest grossing two films of all time) and fellow Oscar-nominee Jason Reitman, sooner or later, everyone returns to make movies in Canada. They probably ask for bigger trailers, though.

Written by Lori McNulty
Courtesy of the Canadian Tourism Commission