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Jobs of the Future: Burgeoning film and TV industry calling for homegrown talent

Millions are being spent, and hundreds of jobs are being created at productions across the North

Over the past decade, the film industry in Northern Ontario has become one of the key drivers in economic growth.

While hard rock mining is booming, so is the gold mine of studio space for television and film production companies. Many Northern Ontario municipalities are moving fast to take advantage of the burgeoning economic activity.

In Sudbury, the City of Greater Sudbury recently hired Clayton Drake for a newly created position of film officer. Drake brings a long history in the film industry and will help navigate the needs of film crews.

Lara Fielding, the city's manager of tourism and culture, shared that Sudbury was host to 10 productions, 365 days of filming, $11 million in local spending, and with 53 per cent local crews who are retained from the community.

Having resources such as film studios, casting agencies, hotels, catering, a welcoming community and substantial funding has been attracting film producers far and wide.

The award-winning television series "Letterkenny", and now its spinoff, "Shoresy", has made a home in Sudbury and is having a huge economic impact.

“Investment is more than $40 million since 2016,” said Fielding.

The Northern Ontario Film Studios (NOFS) was established in Sudbury in 2012, and at this time, is the only film studio in Northern Ontario that provides studio space, production offices, equipment, prop and set rentals. They have served more than 100 film and television productions across the North.

“Northern Ontario is a real film hub since 2012,” said Fielding. “With the changing landscape in television with streaming opportunities, it puts us in a great position to increase activity.”

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Most recently, both Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie have announced building developments for large scale-studio space.

In Sudbury, Freshwater Production Studios is a proposed 116,000-square-foot purpose-built studio that is anticipated to have three sound stages, offices and other resources for film and TV productions. Construction is scheduled for mid-2023.

Meanwhile, Justin L. Levine, a Hollywood/Toronto film producer, has taken ownership of the CTV building in downtown Sault Ste. Marie with plans to turn it into film and television production space. The producer worked with Sault Ste. Marie-based 180 Sisterhood Productions on their 2021 movie "A Christmas Letter".

Noella Rinaldo, Timmins Economic Development Corporation’s director of community development, said she is fairly new in her job, but jumping right into attracting television and film productions to Timmins.

“We know the economic benefits this brings to Northern Ontario and we realize the importance of pursuing a little more aggressively than we had been,” she admitted. The city’s first big production took place in February 2022.

“They were in shock and awe that everything was 10 minutes away,” explained Rinaldo, regarding the response they received from film crews on the time and money saved getting to multiple locations. “We are excited to see potential.”

The economic development departments are deeply involved because they are often the liaison between community supports, funding and workforce development.

“We are working with CION (Cultural Industries Ontario North) to develop our workforce,” said Rinaldo.

CION is dedicated to fostering and promoting the music and film industries in Northern Ontario, which includes promoting the North as a place to shoot television and film productions, linking to funding sources, and supporting communities to develop a workforce with experience. Producers can source the Crew Database that now boasts close to 1,000 members from location managers to sound and lighting to casting.

For North Bay, they report a very busy filming year with nine TV and film productions to date.

“Film and television has been a growing industry in the region as demonstrated through an increasing number of productions and investments in supporting infrastructure, including Canadore College’s digital cinematography and post-production facility and programming,” said Tanya Bédard, economic development officer for the City of North Bay.

“We saw an increase in filming activity in 2021 with a total of 17 productions, resulting in an economic impact of more than $31 million. This included a total of 207 filming days at 87 different locations."

There are considerable opportunities for young people seeking a career in film and television from acting to behind the camera, and significant economic contributions for Northern Ontario communities. A win-win for those involved.