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‘TREK’-ING INTO HOLLYWOOD NORTH: WHY FILMMAKERS LOVE TORONTO

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BY: DANIEL CAUDLE

It’s not often that someone is introduced to a career that they fall in love with for the rest of their life.

For Chris Gorys, this was his reality when he made his debut in the film industry at age four. From one of his first appearances on Jacob Two Two Meets the Hooded Fang, and after 17 years, Gorys has achieved the highest level of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Televison and Radio Artists that any performer can obtain. Members of ACTRA are granted generous benefit packages – such as dental care, medical care, pensions, and priority to work on shows.

“Being in the ACTRA union, and a full member has allowed me to continue this lifestyle as I wait to figure out what I want to do. The pay is well over double what minimum wage is, so I can work less and have more free time,” said Gorys.

Gorys has appeared in dozens of commercials and has had half a dozen speaking roles in movies and T.V. shows. In one week, he can go from being a student on Degrassi: The Next Class on Monday, to a soldier on Killjoys the next day, take a day off on Wednesday, play a vampire on Shadowhunters on Thursday, and by Friday be back to acting as a student on Degrassi.

For him, the industry is a means to make money, have fun at work, and enjoy the many benefits that ACTRA members are allotted. Chris spends his summers, the busiest time for actors, acting on dozens of different productions throughout the city, then he generally takes off on vacation for two months during the slow winter set season. Although this is not what Gorys plans to do for the rest of his life – he has dreams of getting into the trades industry – he says this is the perfect job for a guy in his early 20s to make a lot of money in a short period of time and enjoy life as much as possible.

A costumed extra on a movie set in Toronto.

Gorys is just one of thousands employed by the film and television industry in Toronto. Toronto’s film industry – also known as Hollywood North – has experienced a boom in recent years with American filmmakers coming north to take advantage of tax credits, and the low Canadian dollar. This influx of American film productions has rejuvenated Toronto’s film industry from the slump it experienced during the 2008 recession. According to a 2015 ACTRA study, Toronto’s film industry and television industries combined generate nearly 400,000 jobs, from assistant directors and set decorators to location scouts and actors. The film industry brings in over $1 billion for the city. It is a valuable commodity, which is why leaders in the city such as mayor John Tory have gone on record speaking to the importance of keeping these industry’s here.

Toronto recently boasted the filming of Suicide Squad, 11.22.63, Pay the Ghost, Downsizing and Goon Two: The Last of the Enforcers. These movies brought with them a star-studded line up including Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam, Kim Coates, Nicolas Cage, and many more. The city is also home to the successful Toronto International Film Festival, which premiered 13 movies that went on to win Oscars. In addition Room, which was also filmed in Toronto, saw Brie Larson win best actress at the Oscars in 2016.

Now Toronto will be home to the new Star Trek TV series “Star Trek: Discovery’ – which also happens to be the most funded TV series to ever come to Canada, according to ACTRA’s database. Spending $6-$7 million per episode, this series will contribute heavily to Toronto’s film industry.  The distributer for this series, CBS Television Distribution, has rented out Pinewood Studios, the largest sound stage in North America, and one of the largest studio spaces in North America for five years. Star Trek not only will provide thousands of people with secured jobs for the next few years, but has the potential to boost Toronto’s reputation in the world’s view of great film and television making cities.

Favra Bickerton, the owner of Bickerton Models talent agency, says that last year’s influx of productions was unlike anything she has seen since the early ‘90s.

“This last summer was nuts, I could barely keep up with all the orders for all the people they need to fill the small roles.”  

She adds that the film industry has grown so much since the 2008 recession when there was a huge drop in productions. “We are back and better now, I think the industry will slow down again, but for now we are getting ready for another busy summer.”

Gorys, who is represented by Bickerton Models has also felt the pressure of the saturated industry, but says he doesn’t mind.

“I mean, I get woken up a lot of nights from agents calling me to ask me to work…but I am already booked on a show the next day. But, I guess this is better than starving and begging my agents to book me. It doesn’t feel good to let your agents down when they need you… but this is a cutthroat industry, and I hope [if] it slows down that they won’t hate me for ignoring them during the busy times.”

Gorys fears that Star Trek coming to town could have some unforeseen negative consequences. For one, he’s worried that Star Trek could push some of the bigger blockbusters that usually come to town in the summer months away from Toronto and out to Montreal or Vancouver.

Another costumed extra poses with set props.

“I would much rather it did not come because they require males who are over 6 feet tall and are well built [with muscle], and being 5’10” and skinny I have no chance to film with them. I didn’t even go to the casting call, since I have no chance of being on it.  But I will give props to the actors that are portraying Klingons, they are making bank with this production,” says Gorys

While he appreciates that Star Trek chose Toronto, he says he relies on multiple feature films being in town to balance his income. “I just don’t like that it’s here and taking up so much space at Pinewood Studios.”

When it comes to studio space, Waxy Loraine, a full time set decorator with 17 years of experience in this industry, says that Toronto needs to address the fact that it is on the brink of production space. “Toronto is in need of studio space and they need to address this problem.”

With Toronto facing a housing crisis building a studio within the city is not a viable option, and with the need for hundreds of thousands of square feet it will be very expensive. According to Cinescape VP Jim Mirkopoulos, Cinescape uses nearly one million square feet of inside and outdoor studio space. Reign, Concord, and Good Witch, have all been filmed there.

Therefore ACTRA, and IATSE, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, have been in talks to expand outside of Toronto into smaller cities such as Durham Region’s Pickering, just east of the city. Which makes sense, since October’s feature horror film, IT, was filmed out in Port Hope, because the film needed a small-town vibe that you just can’t recreate in Toronto.

The studio district at Lakeshore and Carlaw is home to four massive studios that can handle two to five productions per studio. On top of this, some studios have popped up in the city’s west end Etobicoke region, including a new space at Evans Avenue and Dixie Road. that Shadowhunters calls home.

Although the industry has been over-saturated in recent years, 2017 has started off a lot slower, according to Bickerton. By this time last year dozens of productions were in full swing and recruiting people daily.

However, there is good news for the industry: it’s now “Pilot Season”. This is when dozens on new shows come to Toronto to film their pilot episode, which gives hope to the city these pilots will get picked up and remain as stable shows for years to come. This paired with Toronto’s staple shows, such as Degrassi Next Class, Murdoch Mysteries, Suits and Orphan Black, all beginning to film in mid-late April, will transform the city into one giant film studio spanning into the streets of downtown.

If you happen to be walking down the street and see orange pylons with the letters “LES” on the side, you have found a film production “on location,” that just may allow you to be in their film.

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