Toronto set to challenge Vancouver’s Hollywood North crown with ‘Total Recall’

Vancouver has been the third-largest film and TV production centre in North America for the better part of a decade, but Toronto's reviving fortunes and a planned tax change in B.C. could present a challenge to the West Coast city.

The Toronto Star reports the city is on track to reach almost a billion dollars in production value this year, compared with $726 million in 2010.

The Vancouver-based industry hosted projects worth more than $1.5 billion last year, with more than a billion dollars of that spent in British Columbia. That was down from $1.3 billion in 2009 but the province was at or near a billion dollars for much of the last decade while Toronto struggled.

It reached $928 million in 2001 but dropped to $499 in 2008 as the recession began to bite.

Vancouver's eastern rival may make even more inroads after British Columbia scraps its harmonized sales tax in 18 months. The film and TV industry, like much of the B.C. business community, saw it as a big cost saver but in a referendum last summer, voters opted to return to separate GST and provincial sales taxes.

Ontario, meanwhile, is retaining its HST, which has many in the B.C. sector worried productions might head east.

One movie has helped propel Toronto's numbers this year: Total Recall, a remake of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi vehicle, has an estimated production budget of $130 million.

"This has been a total game changer," Paul Bronfman, chairman of Pinewood Toronto Studios, told the Star. "We have come through some dark days to get here."

The movie employed up to 600 workers at the peak of production, a union spokesman said.

"These are good quality, well-paying jobs," said Monty Montgomerie of IATSE local 873. "This has had a massive impact."

Like B.C., Ontario used generous tax incentives to lure film and TV projects as the Canadian dollar rose towards par with the U.S. greenback. Vancouver-based consultant Neil Clarence said they're the key.

"The single biggest factor for a studio is cost," said Clarence, of Ernst & Young.

Ontario has a 25 per cent tax credit on all expenses, which hasn't been matched by other jurisdictions, he said.

"It's taken a while to kick in but you're seeing the fruit of that legislation and infrastructure attract business."

L.A.-based film producer Dan Heffner, who was behind the Saw horror movie franchise, said colleagues ask him regularly about shooting in Toronto.

"There seems to be the kind of interest that I haven't seen before, from studios and from independent producers," he said.

(Reuters Photo)