COVID-19 has forced Toronto’s $ 2.2 billion film and television production industry to a screeching halt. With 23 projects underway, insiders say it’s a comeback

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On a recent evening, TTC bus line 6 made a detour around the intersection of Bay and Richmond St. W. for a reason that wouldn’t have raised eyebrows before COVID: to host a shoot.

After a lockdown that lasted from mid-March to the end of June, one bright spot for Toronto’s economy is that film and television production is making a comeback, with at least 23 projects being filmed across the city, including filming on location. from the movie “Slumberland” in Bay and Richmond St. W.

“I would say the industry is definitely coming back and getting back into production and restarting,” said Marguerite Pigott, Toronto film curator.

“Production is certainly very busy now and will be in the future. But the ultimate impact of the lockdown remains to be seen. It’s not like the lockdown is over and production has resumed (immediately). Everyone had to take the time to reschedule their schedule, reschedule their physical factory because it was going to take up more space. It all took time, ”added Pigott.

A formidable collaboration between various unions and guilds, producers and levels of government from the start created a framework of health and safety protocols – known as Section 21 – which provided a blueprint on how to run safely. productions in the future, said Pigott.

Then each production has developed its own health and safety plan which is “specific to the needs of that production because each production is so different,” she said.

“These health and safety protocols are really very rigorous and so far they have served us very well. There are layers and layers and layers of rigor and protection that happen in (these) workplaces, and that really keeps us going, ”Pigott said.

Currently, 17 TV series are in production as well as four feature films – including ‘The Man From Toronto’, starring Woody Harrelson, Kevin Hart and Kaley Cuoco, ‘Nightmare Alley’ by writer / director Guillermo del Toro ( “The Shape of Water”), starring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara and Bradley Cooper and the Disney Channel film “Spin” – as well as a TV movie and web series.

The Star contacted the 23, and while most productions declined to share details, a handful did, offering details on site testing and other safety protocols.

“Like most producers, at ‘Kim’s Convenience’ we spent March through July planning and funding a return to work. I don’t think any of us saw that coming, ”said Sandra Cunningham, supervising producer of CBC’s“ Kim’s Convenience, ”which is filming season 5.

“Although we are an adaptable bunch very accustomed to change, our first attempt at implementing new protocols on the set was like trying to transform an ocean liner in no time. But with a dress / technical rehearsal, we smoothed out the wrinkles and within a few weeks we got used to new working methods, ”she added.

A major change: reduce the daily filming schedule to 10 hours maximum.

“I think we’re a more rested and healthier team because of this change,” Cunningham said.

The production budget was also increased by 10% to pay for personal protective equipment (PPE), cleaning, COVID testing and ventilation systems, Cunningham noted.

Suzanne Colvin-Goulding, producer / executive producer of the CBC series “Coroner,” in the production of season 3, took on a series of challenges, including a budget increase of at least 5%, strong competition for teams while other productions resumed work, difficulty in obtaining simple materials such as wood and plexiglass as well as in obtaining insurance.

“Emotionally, it was quite an adjustment for people returning to work after the lockdown. While there was a defined and varied level of fear and anxiety for all, people in film and television are incredibly resilient. At first, establishing, implementing and managing the requirements of the COVID-19 security protocol in this unprecedented time was overwhelming for the most part, ”said Colvin-Goulding.

“It continues to add a layer of stress each day, with all decisions now made through a COVID-19 filter, safety first, but the necessary changes have been made and are now part of our daily routines. It’s like doing two simultaneous productions at the same time, ”she added.

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The production team hired their own health management company, Oncidium, which oversees the daily real-time monitored online health screening questionnaires, daily temperature checks, and weekly swab tests of all actors and team, as well as compliance with protocols such as mandatory masks and face shields. . The health management team has more than 12 members, including two full-time nurse supervisors, Colvin-Goulding said.

Production has also gone from one to two studio spaces and reduced its daily filming hours, she added.

“With all of the industry-wide safety measures productions (put in place), I would say our industry has some of the safest and now cleanest workplaces,” Colvin-Goulding said.

Amy Cameron, executive producer of the fledgling ‘Lady Dicks’ series, said filming was underway earlier this year when COVID hit.

“The pandemic has forced us to rethink our approach to production, from economizing on funding the additional costs associated with new protocols and procedures to creative refinement of scenes to mitigate risk and ensure the safety of actors and staff. ‘team,’ Cameron said.

Safety protocols include regular testing of the cast and crew, physical distance, and wearing of PPE at all times, meaning cast members only remove masks during actual takes.

COVID came as Toronto’s film and television production industry was on a roll, emerging from a record-breaking 2019 year of $ 2.2 billion in total production spending, with a total of 1,500 projects. screen and 7600 days of production. The previous four years have been just as strong – $ 2 billion in 2018, $ 1.8 billion in 2017 and $ 2.01 billion in 2016 and $ 1.55 billion in 2015.

In fact, Pigott noted – despite the pandemic – that another 500,000 square foot studio is under development and is expected to open in 2021. City officials have also issued a request for proposals for 3.6 hectares ( nine acres) along Basin Street in the harbor grounds. for the development of additional studio space.

“We are a global heavyweight and we have firmly established ourselves in our place. The only obstacle to our growth as an industry today is space. We need more studio space. We are not following the demand. We turn down a lot of work every year because we can’t live with it, ”Pigott said.

“So I don’t know what this year will look like. But I know what the future will look like and I’m excited about it, ”she added.



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