The province’s screen sector is reporting its strongest ever year last year with Ontario hitting record-high levels of film and television productions.
Ontario Creates, an agency of the provincial government, said it supported a total of 419 productions in 2022, contributing roughly $3.15 billion to the economy.
“There is an exciting growth of activity right across the province,” said Ontario Creates president and CEO Karen Thorne-Stone.
Thorne-Stone said the industry, like many others, was faced with challenges during 2020 and 2021 with COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, but it was able to come out of it stronger than ever.
“There’s no question that for this industry like many others, the last few years have been pretty challenging,” Thorne-Stone said.
“So we’re excited to see this kind of growth and in particular to see our domestic industry with these strong results.”
The provincial agency released figures Tuesday and said the amount of productions also helped create more than 45,000 jobs across the province.
Ontario Creates supported the production of Amazon Prime’s The Boys tv series, which became 2022’s most-watched superhero program, according to the agency. As well, the award-winning film Women Talking, which received international accolades, most recently two Oscar nominations and one win.
According to Ontario Creates, domestic production now drives nearly 40 per cent of total film and TV spending in Ontario, that’s up from 34 per cent in 2021. With the addition of commercial production and in-house production, which are estimated at over $1.4 billion in 2022, that brings Ontario’s total production activity over $4.5 billion for the year.
More homegrown shows, Canadian contributors
Lisa Michelle Cornelius, a Toronto-based actor, producer and singer, says she started acting in 2005 but she has never worked more as an actor than she has in the past three years.
“I’m noticing much more Canadian contributors, writers and creatives in shows as opposed to just being an American service town … a lot of the shows here are Canadian homegrown,” Cornelius told CBC Toronto.
“I’m also seeing positive shifts in diversity and inclusion … I feel like things are opening up and going in the right direction … [but] there’s still ways to go, especially behind the camera.”
Cornelius landed a recurring role on upcoming dramatic series Robyn Hood, playing the title character’s formidable mother, Tressie, set to premiere in 2023. Cornelius says the roughly three-month production, which was filmed last year, was her first recurring role on a primetime series. She has also appeared in Netflix’s Black Mirror, Handmaid’s Tale and The Color of Love.
Cornelius, who was born and raised in Mississauga, said she loves being able to pursue her career in Toronto because it’s home for her.
“I’m really grateful that [I get] to live and work in the career that I want to have, that I didn’t have to uproot myself and have a viable career here.”
“It’s not easy, but we have enough work here to at least be hopeful and try to attain because it is there.”
Province focused on building capacity
Ontario’s film commissioner Justin Cutler says the province has been able to generate interest from production crews worldwide due to many factors. That includes the Ontario Film and Television tax credit, which offers a refund of up to 40 per cent of the labour expenditures and an additional 10 per cent of the labour expenditures if it is a regional production.
“We offer fantastic financial incentives, a vast array of locations, great infrastructure and in a world class workforce and those things all come together to really create a complete package for producers worldwide, both foreign and domestic,” Cutler told CBC Toronto.
“We’ve also been very focused on building capacity, which I think is how we grew so quickly last year, especially in the areas of studio space, infrastructure expansion, workforce expansion, environmental sustainability.”
While the City of Toronto does not yet have updated numbers for its film and TV production in 2022, the city’s film commissioner and director of entertainment industries said the local sector is “flourishing.”
“A really clear benchmark of that is when you look at the amount of studio space that we have in the City of Toronto. We’ve done a study and we know that between 2021 and 2026 the amount of studio space we have in Toronto is going to expand by 68 per cent,” Marguerite Pigott told CBC Toronto.
“[That] is a massive growth and that growth is driven by the biggest players in the business globally investing in Toronto.”
In 2021, the city’s total production investment hit $2.5 billion. Toronto also experienced growth in all categories including major productions such as feature films, television series, music videos, reality TV and VFX and animation, and commercials.
Pigott said there are roughly 35,000 people working in film production in Toronto alone.
“Toronto’s industry really benefits from the fact that we’re a diversified industry, that international productions like Star Trek and Jack Reacher … they all shoot here, but so do amazing domestic productions. Whether it’s Women Talking or Pretty Hard Cases or Murdoch mysteries … we have both pieces of business.”
As for 2023, Cutler says the industry is projected to continue to boom in the province.
“We’re expecting another solid year,” Cutler said.