With its modern multicultural cities, quaint small towns, spectacular national parks and landmarks such as Niagara Falls and the snow-capped Banff mountains, Canada has plenty to offer in terms of locations. But it has been thanks largely to a long-established incentive system — and an exchange rate that favours many outside producers — that the country has become known as ‘Hollywood North’, with a major production sector, leading VFX companies and a thriving animation business.
According to a report from the Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA), overall Canadian film and TV production was down 3% in 2016 to $5.1bn (c$6.76bn), due largely to a decline in in-house production by the country’s broadcasters. Foreign location and service production, however, was up 2% to $2.64bn, with the number of visiting feature films increasing 15% and the number of TV series jumping 36%. Canadian production was up 1% to $6.36bn (c$2.87bn), with a 5% increase in the value of TV production being offset by a 28% drop in the value of theatrical film production.
Most location and service productions come to Canada from the US — CMPA logged 261 incoming US productions in 2015-16, an increase of 32% on the previous year — but many visiting projects are dual-nationality productions made under one of the country’s 50-plus co-production treaties.
Canada has two federal incentives — the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit (CPTC), designed for Canadian or official co-production projects, and the Canadian Film or Video Production Services Tax Credit (PSTC), geared towards foreign projects. Most of the country’s 10 provinces and three territories have their own incentives that can be ‘stacked’ with the federal breaks.
Helpful exchange rate
Though some of the provincial incentives have been trimmed — most recently British Columbia cut its basic production services tax credit from 33% to 28% and its digital animation and visual-effects credit from 17.5% to 16% — the decline in the value of the Canadian dollar (which in the past five years has fallen more than 25% against the US dollar) has kept the local industry humming.
Over the past year, Ontario, Canada’s biggest producing province, has hosted features including Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, Molly’s Game, Kin, Saw Legacy and Wish Upon, as well as TV series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Designated Survivor and The Girlfriend Experience.
British Columbia has seen shoots for Casey Affleck’s directing debut Light Of My Life, Game Over, Man!, Wonder and Okja and TV shows Lost In Space, Arrow and Van Helsing (though it also lost two series, Lucifer and Legion, to California).
Quebec has been the site of filming on X-Men: Apocalypse, Arrival, Juste La Fin Du Monde and Shut In plus TV series Quantico, Billions and The Patriot.
Going forward, Canada’s production sector should benefit from the country’s recent admission into Eurimages, the Council of Europe’s cinema support fund with 37 member states. Though Canada already co-produces with a number of Eurimages countries, full membership will allow it to become a majority partner in Eurimages-funded projects, some of which are likely to add to production activity on Canadian soil.
The Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit (CPTC) for official co-productions is a 25% refundable credit on qualifying Canadian labour spend (net of provincial incentives) on projects that pass Canadian content tests. The Canadian Film or Video Production Services Tax Credit (PSTC) for co-venture projects is a refundable credit of 16% of the qualifying Canadian labour spend (net of provincial incentives) with a minimum worldwide spend of $750,000 (c$1m). Full details at Canadian Audio-Visual Certification Office
Provincial incentives include British Columbia’s basic production services credit of 28% and digital animation, VFX and post-production credit of 16%; Ontario’s 21.5% refundable production services credit and 18% labour credit on digital animation and VFX; and Quebec’s 20% production services credit, with an additional 16% for labour costs in computer-aided animation and VFX.
Infrastructure and crews
The industry is concentrated in three regional hubs, each of which has an extensive crew base and infrastructure. Ontario, with its Pinewood Toronto Studios and Cinespace Film Studios, is the biggest, with the city of Toronto alone recently reporting more than $600m (c$800m) of investment by Los Angeles-based production companies in 2016. Quebec, with Mel’s Cite du Cinema studio, is the home of the French-language film community. And British Columbia, with Vancouver Film Studios, Canadian Motion Picture Park Studios and North Shore Studios, is the focus of the country’s VFX and post-production business.
Canada is the second largest country in the world, with an area of 3.85m sq miles (10m sq km), 40% of it situated north of the Arctic Circle. The major cities in the east and west of the country are linked by the Trans-Canada Highway, but travel to the northern regions can be more difficult. The biggest international airports are in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal. Flight times from Vancouver in the west to Toronto and Montreal in the east range from four-and-a-half to five-and-a-half hours. Getting to Europe takes about 10 hours from Vancouver and seven from Toronto and Montreal.
Sherryl Clark, producer, Broad Green Pictures’ Wish Upon, says:
“We decided to shoot in Toronto based on many factors. Financial incentives are always a factor and the strength of the [US] dollar versus the Canadian dollar was absolutely a factor.
“We were doubling Toronto for suburban Cleveland, Ohio. They have great incentives in Ohio but there’s something about Toronto — they’re ahead of the game because people have been doubling Toronto for major US cities for so many years.
“Other factors are the depth of crew and the fact Canadians are very used to movies coming into their cities. They’re very accommodating.”
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Need to know
- DO consider teaming with a local producer who can help navigate provincial tax credit programmes. In some cases, working with a local can increase a production’s grant or credit. David Gross, head of Toronto company No Trace Camping, is among the local producers who specialise in helping international projects steer through the system.
- DO be aware daylight hours vary widely this far north. Vancouver has daylight for 16 hours a day in summer but only eight in winter. The variation is even greater farther north.
- DON’T neglect to check the weather. Climate conditions are different in different parts of the country and it can get very cold in winter. The average January temperature in Toronto is 19°f (-7°c). In Iqaluit, capital of Nunavut, it is a camera-freezing -17°f (-27°c).
- DON’T forget that a lot of big films are made in Canada and some locations have been, in the words of one producer, “shot to death”.
- DON’T overlook the opportunities offered by Canada’s regional industries. There are growing film-making communities in the western province of Alberta, the Maritime provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and the Arctic territory of Nunavut.