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Monday, 13 December 2010 20:12

Eastbound and Up

Written by  Margie Barron
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OnLocation_Canada_Quebec_04mtl-nuitEastern Canada isn’t the center of the universe, yet its production hub seems to provide everything universally necessary to re-create almost any location in the world. Toronto is currently doubling for various international sites for the CW action-thriller series “Nikita,” while the city’s less glamorous locations were used as a nondescript Eastern American city for the new MTV series “Skins.” And Montreal was chosen for On the Road, the upcoming film version of Jack Kerouac’s classic novel based on his road trips across America, while Halifax, Nova Scotia has become the familiar small town outside of Boston where Actor Tom Selleck’s Jesse Stone mystery movies take place.

All the filming activity throughout Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick has produced an exciting list of Eastern Canada locations and landscapes that have been used for many film and television projects. In addition to a deep crew base and impressive incentives, another component is helping to steer productions to the region during these tough economic times: an ever expanding technology base. With digital and visual effects studios, Eastern Canada is becoming a leader in the 3D world and strives to stake a claim as the top technology center for productions.


The Toronto Film Festival brings filmmakers to town every year to promote major film releases and independent productions looking for distribution. But many find out that it’s also a great place to bring their next project if they’re interested in hopping on the 3D bandwagon. “3D is a good new message,” says Peter Finestone, film commissioner at the Toronto Film & Television Office. “I would say that it reinforces why we are truly the full-service location. This leading-edge dimension is added to world-class choices for postproduction, digital/visual effects, animation and gaming.”

Toronto has been very busy in 2010, with crews and equipment everywhere in the city. But according to Finestone, one of the most exciting developments is the emergence of Toronto as a leader in the production of 3D films. “In the past year, both Resident Evil: Afterlife 3D and Saw 3D were produced here,” says Finestone. “Bill White and his 3D Camera Company have pioneered a rig that is becoming a tool of choice around the world, and a consortium of companies has come together with York University in a project called 3D FLIC to learn from practice and investigate the neurology of 3D films. On top of this, Sheridan College is engaged in research work at Pinewood Toronto Studios.”

OnLocation_Canada_Toronto_JVA_6728_TiffProduction is particularly heavy in the business of making television series and pilots. Both Canada and the U.S. have found that Toronto, with its deep talent pool, skilled crews and locations to suit almost any script, is an appealing, cost-effective place to make TV shows. The services that are available make Toronto/Ontario the center of excellence for English-language production in Canada. And, according to Finestone, that excellence “just got better” with Ontario’s stackable tax credits. Potential film partners have the opportunity to capitalize on Ontario’s enhanced tax credits and save up to 45 percent on qualified labor and up to 35.2 percent on total production costs. There’s no individual cap per production and no limit on the number of productions that can access the credit.

The Ontario Film and Television Tax Credit (OFTTC) is 35 percent of qualified labor with a regional bonus of 10 percent if one shoots outside of the Greater Toronto area (generally about 50 km from Downtown Toronto North, East and West). And the Ontario Computer Animation and Special Effects (OCASE) Tax Credit supports the technology that’s currently flourishing, which is helpful to everyone.

The Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC) is an important source for finding out how to qualify a production. Its 30 years of experience has made the Toronto Film Office a success in delivering on promises to filmmakers. Producer/Director/Writer Mick Garris, creator of the “Masters of Horror” TV series and director of Stephen King productions, praises the Ontario/Toronto locations he has used along with their deep crew and talent base and postproduction houses. “They have a huge infrastructure with world-class facilities” says Garris.


Montreal has more than 50 soundstages, including one that tops 36,500 square feet, over 75 visual and animation studios, and a crew base of well over 2,500 technicians. Plus there are 100 acres of 19th-century winding streets and alleys in Old Montreal. “That’s why we continue to be the location of choice for many of the world’s most popular and successful directors,” says Nick Barker, the knowledgeable locations and resources advisor for the Montreal Film and TV Commission.

That’s no idle boast, considering all the directors who have flocked to the area. Recent shoots include the Jack Kerouac classic On the Road, starring Kristen Stewart and directed by Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries); Source Code, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and directed by Duncan Jones (Moon); Immortals, a mythological war tale starring Mickey Rourke and directed by Tarsem Singh (The Fall); and the sci-fi romance Upside Down, starring Kirsten Dunst and directed by Juan Diego Solanas. Montreal has also hosted big-budget films for Steven Spielberg, who shot important scenes for Catch Me If You Can and The Terminal; David Fincher, who shot the Russia and Paris scenes of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Martin Scorsese (The Aviator); Roland Emmerich (The Day After Tomorrow) and Zack Snyder (300).

The Quebec Film and Television Council (QFTC) boasts that it offers some of the most advantageous cash rebates available in North America. “There’s the offer of 25-percent cash back on all expenses, plus another 16 percent from the feds on local labor, which gives a labor cash back of 31 percent,” Barker reports. “And when labor for VFX and green screen and digital animation are involved, you get 44 percent cash back.” Barker praises the QFTC and Film Commissioner Hans Fraikin, who makes sure that Quebec enjoys a worldwide reputation as a leader in the fields of special effects and animation. And Quebec’s infrastructure and state-of-the-art resources make it possible to produce all kinds of incredible films. The recent release of Machete was the eighth collaboration between Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez and Hybride, a division of Ubisoft, a company that specializes in digital visual effects for international productions.


Nova Scotia is the fourth-largest jurisdiction in Canada, which is why it can offer the diversity that keeps its film community busy. The office of Film Nova Scotia focuses on the development of the province’s film, television and new media industry. It promotes the province as a film location in the global marketplace and provides support to both local and guest producers through its programs and services. “During the last decade, the total annual film and television production in Nova Scotia averaged $100 million,” reports Abbi Hennigar, Film Nova Scotia’s acting director of marketing. “This is a direct result of Film Nova Scotia’s investment programs and the competitive Nova Scotia Film Industry Tax Credit being the highest in Canada, ranging from 50 percent to 65 percent.”OnLocation_Canada_NovaScotia_Prospect_Bay-Nova_Scotia

In addition to supporting award-winning local productions, Film Nova Scotia has attracted studios, including Disney, Sony and 20th Century Fox, as well as internationally renowned filmmakers and actors, such as Harrison Ford and Kevin Spacey. Halifax has also had quite an impact on Tom Selleck, who is committed to doing more Jesse Stone movies for CBS. Selleck first shot the TV movie Reversible Errors in the area, and he says that because of that great experience he has returned with the Jesse Stone franchise.

Von Zerneck Sertner Films has also filmed in the area. Production partners Frank von Zerneck and Robert Sertner have brought their TV films to Nova Scotia, as well as Toronto, Montreal and other Eastern Canada locations. “Canada is extremely production friendly,” says von Zerneck. “They have good crews and incentives that bring in the films.” Hennigar reports that Film Nova Scotia “ensures that the film, television and new media industry remains a key driver of provincial economy and showcases the province on the international stage.”


The mandate of the Newfoundland and Labrador Film Development Corporation (NLFDC) is to promote the development of the indigenous film and video industry in the province and to promote the province’s film and television projects and locations nationally and internationally. The NLFDC administers two main programs: the Equity Investment Program (EIP) and the Newfoundland and Labrador Film and Video Industry Tax Credit. These programs are designed to assist and promote the development of the indigenous film and video industry in Newfoundland and Labrador. The eligibility criteria are designed to ensure maximum employment and growth for the local industry.

“This has been a year of many notable achievements,” says Chris Bonnell, NLFDC executive director and film commissioner. “[In] 2009 to 2010, [we] saw the highest annual total of production activity in our history, reaching $29.5 million.” Among the many highlights was the production of the TV series “Republic of Doyle” and three feature films, Crackie, Love & Savagery and Grown Up Movie Star. Reality TV series also flourished with shows that included “Mickey,” “The Skinny Dip” and “Soccer Shrines,” along with the region’s continuing tradition of hosting documentaries and short films. “NLFDC went from strength to strength as a high-tech postproduction and training facility,” says Bonnell, who’s also proud of local connections. “The St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival celebrated its 20th anniversary and the Nickel Independent Film Festival [looks] forward to its 10th anniversary.”

Newfoundland_GrosMorne2Based on the NLFDC’s most recent economic analysis, the 2009–10 production activity of $29.5 million created more than 375 direct, indirect and induced full-time employment equivalencies (FTEs). By the end of 2010, the Province had invested a total of $34.1 million (including tax credits) into motion picture production, creating a total of $154.3 million in total production activity since the inception of the NLFDC. That means the province’s investments have now leveraged over $120 million into Newfoundland and Labrador, and it’s estimated that more than 2,000 FTEs have been created as a result.

Bonnell notes that 2009–10 was not without its challenges. “The landscape for feature film production has been changed considerably, not least by the worldwide recession,” he reports. “Also, the national context for television production has dramatically altered. But the NLFDC are pleased and encouraged by government’s continued support of the local industry in general, and we look forward to the expected accomplishments of the coming year.”


New Brunswick is known for its diverse coastal scenery that includes dunes, sandy beaches and rugged, rocky cliffs as well as lush forests, rolling farmland and little fishing villages –– and all of these locales are attracting filmmakers. What’s even more alluring is the offer of a 40-percent rebate on all labor paid to New Brunswick residents during the course of production. “If shot outside 50 kilometers of the three main cities of Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John, the production company can access an additional rebate of 10 percent. Wow, 50 percent of labor rebate!” enthuses Ghislain Labbé, the senior industry development officer for the Arts Development Branch of the New Brunswick Film Office.

Labbé says that productions could benefit from New Brunswick’s multiple diverse locations: “We offer historical villages, miles of sandy beaches and picturesque cities in a blend of French and English architecture. It’s a film-friendly community with experienced crews and majestic scenery.” Local productions also find the area appealing. The Canadian network CTV has renewed the competition series “So You Think You Can Dance,” and the show’s fourth season has started filming tryouts in Saint John.

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