The Changing Face of Toronto’s Production Houses

Out with the Old, In with the Big

By Stephanie Stranges

Amidst the excitement of the opening of Toronto’s Filmport Studios a surprising contradiction emerges. The local film industry brings in millions of dollars and thousands of jobs. The city has long awaited a facility that could house big budget productions and place it in the market as a globally competitive production centre. However, focusing on new, larger studio complexes at a time when many existing studios are closing could actually mean a loss of business for the film industry, according to Toronto studio executives.


On February 21, 2007 Cinespace closed the doors of its Marine Terminal 28 studio when it unexpectedly received a letter terminating
its lease 16 months short of notice. The studio had to break contracts with filmmakers who booked the space, losing thousands of dollars
worth of investments. One of those affected was Daniel Jason Heffner, executive producer of SAW IV, who wrote a letter to Mayor David
Miller which says, “Such actions are cause for me as a producer to seriously re-evaluate my commitment to the Toronto film industry.”

In recent years, Toronto has also seen Corktown Studios and 373 Front Street Studios close. As leases expire, lots are being re-zoned
and more studios are closing down, leaving less space available for use, meaning low-budget productions may turn to other cities to film.
“Some of our smaller facilities seem to be at risk as the old warehouse facilities they have been operating in – many in the studio district
– become candidates for gentrification,” says Brian Topp, Toronto Film Board member and executive director of ACTRA Toronto.

Peter Lucas, president of Showline Studios, attempted to lease 10 to 15 acres of land from the Toronto Economic Development Corporation (TEDCO) to build moderately-sized studios. However, Lucas claims the corporation ignored his offers and just “wouldn’t get
back to us,” even though he says they were more than willing to pay market rates. Toronto Films Studios (TFS), which now operates Filmport, holds the largest share of studios at 629 Eastern Ave., but may be closing the site and is currently making an appeal to re-zone the land for retail use.

“That facility is still open for the moment, and as I understand it likely will remain open at least for awhile,” says Topp.

However to Topp’s understanding, “It does seem to be in their plans to fold 629 Eastern once they have a new, better facility up and
running.”

These veteran studios are preferable because they provide affordable space for low-budget productions. Jim Mirkopoulos, vice-president
of Cinespace, says Toronto’s film industry has long survived off a consistent flow of business from low-budget productions, and calls it the “bread and butter” of the industry. However, with fewer areas to film, many productions may have to take their business elsewhere -
devastating at a time where Canada is starting to turn out what Topp refers to as “first rate shows.” But, when it comes to booking space at mega-studios, “many Canadian dramas won’t be able to afford to,” says Topp, who says that now “attention has to focus on the smaller facilities and the challenges gentrification poses to them.”


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