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Ryan Reynolds set to invest in ‘massive’ film studio in Markham

Ontario film productions set a record in 2022, bringing in $3.15B.
March 28, 2023
Kristin Rushowy

Ontario is taking a big piece of the action in the film and television industry -- racking up another record-breaking year for productions, raking in more than $3 billion for the economy.

The sector is doing so well that it has attracted the attention of Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds, who is reportedly prepared to invest in a new film studio in Markham -- which, if completed, could be the largest film and TV production facility in the country.

“The film and television production industries continue to thrive,” Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport Neil Lumsden said in the legislature on Monday, noting 2022 was “the best year ever -- hard to believe, but that goes to show you what a great industry it is.

“It is thriving ... it’s over $3 billion back into the economy. That’s 46,000 jobs.”

Domestic film and television production increased by 25 per cent, and “confidence isn’t just within Ontario, it’s from outside of Ontario as well,” Lumsden said. “There is a ... massive production studio being built -- 1.2 million square feet -- in Markham, Ontario. It’s being done by a gentleman who grew up in Canada and who is a star in the film industry: Ryan Reynolds. His company is building this. There are more than just a few people who have confidence in Ontario and what we’re doing.”

Justin Cutler, Ontario’s film commissioner at Ontario Creates, told the Star that “production levels remained strong the entire year” and he was thrilled to see the final 2022 numbers.

“It’s our first time exceeding $3 billion as a jurisdiction,” he said, noting Ontario is now one of the leaders in the sector around the globe. “We’ve built a strong international reputation with producers worldwide, and that’s based on the competitive financial incentives that we offer -- a vast infrastructure for studios, production support services, our highly skilled labour, and also the film commission services and the locations that we’re able to offer producers.”

In a statement, Reynolds -- the star of Deadpool -- called it “mind-boggling and humbling” to be a part of developing a new film production hub, reports Variety.

“I’m excited to expand our storytelling capabilities in new directions and to bring more production work to Ontario,” Reynolds said in the statement.

A spokesperson for the City of Markham said in an email that it “continues to focus on attracting film, TV and digital media investment. There have been preliminary discussions with various proponents expressing interest in developing facilities in the City of Markham. To date there has been no formal development submission. The City of Markham looks forward to receiving a development application as we prioritize the approval of these major investments.”

In 2022, the province hosted 419 productions -- which, in turn, generated $3.15 billion in production spending for the economy -- including popular Amazon Prime superhero show The Boys, as well as the Academy Award-winning movie Women Talking, directed by Canadian Sarah Polley and based on the novel by Manitoba-born writer Miriam Toews.

Exterior and interior scenes in Women Talking were shot on a farm in Pickering, and interior hayloft scenes in a Toronto studio.

“The vast majority” of people working on that movie were Ontarians, Cutler said.

The province has also seen a boom in romance movies shot here, which in part helped fuel the 2022 numbers -- which bested the $2.88 billion record set in 2021.

Mississippi Mills, near Ottawa, has been nicknamed “Hollywood of the North” given the number of productions shot there in recent years, and in particular the Hallmark/romance genre. Northern Ontario is also seeing a jump in productions, including Sudbury-shot series “Shoresy” and “Letterkenny.”

Ontario PC MPP Brian Riddell (Cambridge) noted in the legislature Monday that The Handmaid’s Tale -- the series based on Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s novel -- has become his riding’s “unofficial claim to fame on the small screen. While viewers greatly enjoy this show as it wraps up its final season, local businesses in my community greatly benefited from the production and the work completed here.”

Tax credits have helped give the film and TV sector a boost, and in the 2023 budget, the province extended tax credits for online productions and is looking to require productions that benefit from such incentives to include the province in end credits.

NDP culture critic Jill Andrew said while she’s “always happy to see film and TV supported -- they are great economic contributors ... It’s excellent news, but film and TV are not the only forms of art that we want to acknowledge and celebrate in Ontario” and that more funding is needed for the Ontario Arts Council and others.

Unlike other areas of the arts and tourism sectors, film and television productions thrived during COVID-19, as more people sought out streamed content they could watch from home during repeated lockdowns, a trend that has continued.