Steel City Shimmers
Hamilton, Ontario is marking its territory in Hollywood North

By Christina Commisso

Look beyond the smoke stacks of Steel City. While Hamilton, Ont. may not scream Hollywood, directors and producers are heading there to shoot in the diverse landscape. With films such as X-Men and The Incredible Hulk under its belt, the industry is providing an economic boost to the city.

“It’s a small piece of the provincial pie,” says Jacqueline Norton, manager of Hamilton’s Film and Television Office. “Provincially, it’s close to an $800 million industry. Here in Hamilton, we are looking at $10 to $15 million a year. It is a small piece, but it is big enough for us to warrant setting up a film office and putting some real effort into the industry.”

Photo By Dila Velazquez

Ryan Furlong is the director and producer of Fenian Films, a production company based out of the city. The Hamilton native has witnessed the growth of this industry firsthand. “In the States they know of Hamilton, but inside Canada there is still a stigma attached to it,” he says. “Sure the city has its down and out areas, but for the most part it is a beautiful place to live.”

The north end neighbourhoods have been used to replicate Detroit in John Singleton’s Four Brothers, and the downtown core has turned into Harlem when filming for The Hulk took place. The diverse landscape of the city has been the setting for zombie flicks such as Land of the Dead.

“We are an older city. We have some of the same looks as an older city like New York or Toronto. Or, you can get the 50s, 60s, even earlier. There is a lot of diversity that way,” says Norton. She cites older buildings such as City Hall built in the 1960s and the Auchmar Estate, a gothic mansion located on top of the escarpment, as examples.

The film and television office was created in 1996 as a division of the city’s planning and economic development department. Prior to 1996, filming in Hamilton had yet to take off. When the department realized the economic growth the industry could potentially bring about, over $10 million per year for the last five years, the office was established.

The cityscape was one of the reasons why Furlong based his company in Hamilton. “We are so diverse. We have the botanical gardens, the Bruce Trail, the escarpment, the lake, the industrial area, the east end which resembles Detroit, Buffalo, or the slum areas of New York,” he says.

Courtesy Shot Illustration By Dila Velazquez

Richard Campbell, a set director at Peace Arch Films in Hamilton, says people in the film industry are becoming more aware of Canadian locations. “Within 10 years, Canada will be a powerhouse in this industry. We just have to define our identity, we tend to be Americanized in this industry,” he says. Peace Arch Films is an international film distribution company with offices in Los Angeles, New York, Vancouver, and most recently Hamilton.

“There are better locations to shoot in Hamilton, and it’s a lot cheaper,” Campbell says. He recently moved back after living in Toronto for three years. “There is so much going on with films right now. It’s easier to find work.”

In addition to size, there is another advantage. “It is very easy for us to hire the best crews from Toronto and bring them over here,” explains Furlong. “Toronto is so congested, there are so many production companies, and so it becomes a lot more competitive. There is a huge untapped market over here.”

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