Toronto was gearing up for another record summer in TV and film production when COVID-19 control measures abruptly stopped the cameras from rolling.
Now industry workers in Toronto — one of North America’s top five film production centres — anxiously await the green light from government officials so they can get back to work with safety protocols in place.
“We’re hopeful that some kind of work can maybe start as soon as June or July and that might just be opening offices for early prep,” said Monty Montgomerie, business agent for IATSE, local 873, which represents 1,500 film technicians in Toronto and southern Ontario.
“We’ll obviously have to abide by what can and cannot be done. Social distancing measures might have to be accommodated — (the number) of people who can gather — are going to be factors that have to be looked into,” he added. “And it’s not a one-size-fits-all scenario. There will be some types of production (like domestic) that will be more appropriate to start earlier than others.”
When the provincial government recently enacted phase one of its reopening plan, film and television post-production and animation studios were allowed to get back to business.
However, filming, or other on-site activities — especially those that require a large number of performers and crew members to be present — cannot resume.
The City of Toronto said in 2018, film, television, digital and commercial production supported 30,000 jobs, injecting nearly $2 billion into the local economy with 1,412 projects.
“We cannot afford to approach the return to work with anything other than the utmost care for everyone’s health and safety,” said Toronto Film Commissioner Marguerite Pigott in a statement.
Toronto also announced any new city-issued filming permits are on hold until June 30.
“We’re hopeful that some work will return in July, in a perfect world,” said Montgomerie. “But again it’s hard to say because we could see steps taken backwards at the government level as people are releasing restrictions all over North America and we’re going to see what happens in the next couple of weeks.”
Toronto cameraman Rob Duckworth was just about to start filming a pilot when COVID-19 stopped the TV and film industry in its tracks.
“Film sets are up to 100 people some days,” said Duckworth, 26, who is represented by IATSE. local 667.
“There’s an end in sight but it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be soon but you never know. Everyone wants to get back to work.”
Especially during the busiest time of the year.
“It was gearing up to be another busy one,” said Duckworth. “Since I joined the union, I’ve been (working) more or less, non-stop. So the last five or six years in Toronto have been amazing.”
LIGHTS! CAMERA! NO ACTION?
Here’s a sampling of productions that were listed by the city’s film office as either shooting or expected to start shortly in Toronto when the COVID-19 lockdown began:
Flint Strong, a boxing bio-pic
Nightmare Alley with Bradley Cooper from director Guillermo Del Toro
No Man of God with Elijah Wood as a member of the new ‘80s-era FBI Behavior Analysis Unit at the same time Ted Bundy was on death row
The Handmaid’s Tale, a series based on Margaret Atwood’s novel
See, a fantasy series with Jason Momoa and Alfre Woodard
Y The Last Man, a post-apocalyptic series based on a comic book
Odd Squad Mobile Unit, a kids series based on BB Easton’s self-published memoir
Best Intentions, a series about single did who’s a guidance counselor at his son’s high school
Freebirds, a series about superheroes
8 Bit Christmas, a Christmas TV Movie
Spin, TV musical about a grieving teenager juggling her family restaurant and interest in music