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E-BLAST: Putting Toronto on the Big Screen & the World Stage

Last week, I joined Mayor Chow on a film mission to Los Angeles. Toronto’s Film Commissioner, Marguerite Pigott, puts together this mission every year. Toronto’s screen industry generates billions of dollars of economic activity for our city and region. It’s essential that we push hard to bring more projects and investment each year, and this annual film mission is the linchpin of our operation. This was my first mission with Mayor Chow, and I wanted to share some highlights of our work to keep growing Toronto’s economy and create meaningful job

opportunities for our growing population.

The “screen industry” refers to the film, television, and other digital media productions like advertising and game development that are central to our city’s economy. For many years now, the screen industry has been a particular focus of both Toronto and Ontario’s approaches to economic development. The industry represents $2.5 billion in direct spending in our local economy each year and employs over 35,000 skilled workers. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Our sector is unique in that 70% of the business comes to us from our neighbours to the south. Hollywood producers come up north to use Toronto and Ontario as the backdrop to their productions. Our city has been home base for Oscar-winners (The Shape of Water), Emmy-winners (The Handmaid’s Tale), popular streaming series (The Umbrella Academy), and so much more. This not only contributes significantly to the $2.5 billion in direct spending, it also results in indirect jobs, benefits, and tax revenues for the region. Is it any wonder that the Premier said he wants to see our screen industry grow to $5 billion annually as soon as possible?

What about the other 30% of the business? That is the part that helps put Toronto on the world stage and build a sense of cultural pride here in Canada. 30% of our screen industry represents domestic products that are written, created, and produced locally, but make no mistake—they are enjoyed widely and allow us to be proud of our Canadian identity. Shows like Schitt’s Creek, Workin’ Moms, and Pretty Hard Cases, and feature films including Brother, Away from Her, The Sweet Hereafter, and even good old Duddy Kravitz not only make us proud here at home, they show Hollywood and the rest of the world that Toronto is full of creative genius and technical expertise.

These images show a scene from The Shape of Water, an Oscar Best Picture winner that was filmed in Toronto. The first image shows the original shot, and the second image shows what made it into the movie. The CN Tower was taken out, but the Gardiner made it in!

This brings me back to our mission: putting Toronto on the big screen and the world stage. Every year, we lead a delegation of industry partners down to Los Angeles to meet with studio investors and learn how keep Toronto competitive. This year, that delegation included a very film-friendly Mayor who is continuing the longstanding tradition of supporting Toronto’s screen industry. We saw significant growth in Toronto’s studio capacity during the terms of Mayor Tory and Mayor Miller, and we have another campus in the works in the Port Lands district.

Our meetings were very positive. I was part of the political delegation that included Mayor Chow and Councillor Fletcher, and we had many productive meetings with studio head offices to pitch Toronto as the ideal location for every step of the production process. At the same time, the industry partners that travelled with us took meetings with a variety of studio officials in speciality areas of production, including post-production, visual effects (VFX), animation and more. In the evenings, we all came together and compared notes to capture everything that would be useful to shape our screen strategy once we returned home. 

The biggest takeaway from our mission is that there will be many more US productions coming to Toronto and Ontario, and a big reason is the additional studio space we’ve created. What we need to focus on now is workforce development. We have a good track record of developing skilled film workers that stack up against the workforce they have down south, but we need to train more as the industry continues to expand.

When you think of workforce development for the screen industry, you might be picturing camera operators and animators. We need those, but we need back of office jobs too. If anyone has sat through the credits of a movie to catch a bonus scene at the end, you’ll know that there are thousands of names listed for any production. There really is limitless potential for workforce development in the screen industry. Jobs like production accountants are essential to the production process, and you can be trained up in as little as a year. Once you’re in, you also get to learn about the other behind-the-scenes roles that make movie magic happen. These are the kinds of living-wage job opportunities that we must work hard to secure for both current residents and future generations of Torontonians.

After two mission days of covering the studio district, I took off my Film Board hat and put on my Toronto Global hat. I joined the Mayor for a day of meetings with Los Angeles businesses outside of Hollywood. Toronto Global works year-round to attract businesses from every industry to our city and region. When we can bring the mayor of Canada’s largest city along with us, it always enlivens the response we get. We met with venture capitalists and tech firms, and Mayor Chow made a great pitch on behalf of our world-class, diverse, and well-educated workforce. She also pressed on the need for green investing and active housing development.

One meeting with Toronto Global was especially exciting for me as your Don Valley North Councillor. We met with a firm called Phonexa that offers a full suite of tech tools to support business marketing. It just so happens that the young entrepreneurs who started this firm are Armenian and know our local Armenian community well. It was a pleasure to meet with their CEO, Lilit Davtyan, and Chief Creative Officer, Armen Karaoghlanian, to learn more about their plans to open a Toronto office. Armen wrote his Masters on the films of Atom Egoyan, a renowned Armenian-Canadian filmmaker, so he already has one very good friend in town. Now, he has two more in Mayor Chow and me. Toronto Global will be working hard to help Phonexa get established in Toronto.

These missions really do serve our city. This year, Toronto was ranked as the number one “Best Place to Live and Work as a Movie Maker” by MovieMaker Magazine, in recognition of our excellent crews, beautiful locations, and vast studio space. This accolade is due in no small part to the tireless work of our city staff, who work year-round to put Toronto on the world stage. I want to thank them for coordinating a well-oiled and highly effective mission this year. The Film Commissioner’s team kept us moving constantly, as did the team at Toronto Global. Not a single minute was wasted, and I know that’s what you expect.

The more we do to promote our city, the better able we are to attract new business and employ our growing population. This mission to Los Angeles truly “set the stage” for thousands of job opportunities, billions in economic activity, and a true sense of Canadian pride. I can’t wait to see what the Toronto screen industry puts out next.


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