Ontario’s commitment to stable tax credits for film, TV and digital media: What does it mean?

Growth.

Image of planned 400,000 sq. ft. studio in Markham (firstcitystudio.com)

In the last year, over two million new square feet of studio space has been announced in Ontario. Thanks to the support of all political parties at Queen’s Park and the Government’s strong commitment to the industry in the spring budget, we are well positioned to attract service production and support the growth of our domestic industry too.

In these days of global competition for quality and affordable production space, the investments in studio space could not be more welcome. Back in November 2017, FilmOntario, a consortium of film, TV and digital media companies including ACTRA Toronto, released a Studio Report that noted Toronto had been at full capacity for a year, and studio space was booked for the full year ahead. It was estimated that more than $130 million in production activity had been sent elsewhere due to the lack of studio space. Over 1,000 jobs lost. The survey results played a key role in discussions at all levels of government about what would help spur the existing and potential studio owners to expand and build. The answer—stability.

Ontario does not have the highest tax credits, nor does it have the lowest, but what it can offer is stability. Since the previous government’s surprise cut in 2015, FilmOntario has worked with all the political parties at Queen’s Park to raise awareness of the Ministers, MPPs and staff of how important the stability of government support is to Ontario’s competitiveness in the global entertainment market. As it can take a few years to raise funds for a production, producers need to be able to count on the stability of tax credits and other incentives when they are planning and budgeting their project. The new government that prides itself on being open for business, understands the value of the screen-based industry to the province and the importance of stability to its growth.

ACTRA Toronto appreciates the commitment of the Ontario government and the support of the opposition parties to the film, television and digital media industry in the province. On May 16th, ACTRA members met with over 20 MPPs and Ministers to say, “Thank you” and to talk about what the commitment to growing the industry means to performers and their families. ACTRA members shared examples of productions they have worked on, news of infrastructure investments and talked about the recent ACTRA census results. MPPs learned that performer earnings are the lowest in the industry and that performers are the most precarious workers in the sector. That’s why the commitment to stability of the tax credits to attract investment in infrastructure means so much to ACTRA. It is all about increasing opportunities to bring more stories to our screens and airwaves; creating more work opportunities for Canadian creators.

What will the studio space footprint look like? According to Ontario Creates, 2.15 million square feet of soundstage and support space will be developed over 11 facilities. A combination of purpose-built studios and converted warehouses will be available in Mississauga (CBS, William F. Whites), Toronto (Cinespace, Pinewood, Studio City), Pickering (TriBro), Markham (First Studio City) and Ottawa (TriBro). In February, Netflix announced long-term lease arrangements with Cinespace and Pinewood, providing up to 1,850 jobs per year.

The variety of locations means Ontario can be the go-to location for productions of all sizes meeting the needs of commercial producers who may only need a small studio in a retrofitted warehouse to the big tent-pole productions who need the large, open, high-ceiling, purpose-built facilities. And it means that when a big production sets up shop, there is still room for more. This is particularly important to maintain available and affordable shooting locations for first-time and emerging domestic producers.

Ontario Creates will be releasing the 2018 production statistics in the coming weeks. As with the Toronto production numbers released early in April, we expect to see that production volume surpassed the $1.5 billion level for the fourth year in a row. Thanks to the ongoing work of FilmOntario and the commitment of our government partners, we will continue to see the Ontario production ecosystem of domestic and service work grow and thrive.