Pickering – ‘Hollywood North-East’ – hosting business event to help local companies take advantage of film sector growth

By Glenn Hendry

Published January 23, 2023 at 12:01 pm

William F. White Backlot in north Pickering

The film industry is a multi-billion dollar industry in Ontario and the City of Pickering – ‘Hollywood North-East,’ as it is sometimes called – has worked hard to get a big slice of that lucrative pie.

Home to the biggest backlot in Canada, a 23-acre ‘town’ created in 2021 for the Amazon Prime series ‘Reacher,’ as well as the 180,000 sq. ft. TriBro Studio, Pickering has been one of the more successful cities in the GTA for attracting filmmakers to town, both for the diverse locations and now for the production facilities available.

Catherine Hodge, the Senior Co-ordinator and Development Liaison for the City, said they’re only getting started and wants local businesses to learn how to take advantage of the opportunities the sector can provide.

Invest Durham – Film Durham and Pickering’s Economic Development Department are hosting an event February 23 – ‘Your Business. Their Next Film’ – to give companies a few tips on how to do business with the television and film world.

“We have experienced so much growth in the industry in Pickering over the past five or six years,” Hodge said, noting that even during the pandemic the film business in Ontario was quick to establish protocols to continue making movie magic.

“Production was reduced, absolutely, but Pickering never shut down. The protocols just made it a little more challenging.”

TriBro Studios on Sandy Beach Road in Pickering

Hodge said the movie sector needs services and supplies during their stay and industry experts such as producers, directors, location managers and union representatives will all be on hand to guide local business people in getting a foothold in the movie business.

“We’ve invited a panel of industry experts in the film industry – people who all a have part in the business,” she explained. “And we’re inviting local business people from across Durham Region to listen and ask questions and see what they can do to connect.”

Hodge added that movie production not only brings industry professionals to the locations and production facilities in Pickering, it also brings people to other sites in the city and around Durham to take out permits for other facilities and to spend their hard-earned cash at local shops and businesses.

Pickering has been busy in recent years – 65 permits were issued in 2019 and the City was averaging 20-25 annually even during the most difficult periods of the pandemic – but the area has had a long history in the film sector dating back more than 65 years. The 1957 television series ‘Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans’ (starring John Hart and horror movie star Lon Chaney Jr, who also had a star turn as Lenny in the Oscar-nominated 1939 film ‘Of Mice and Men’) was the first ever American-Canadian television production in Canada. The series was the first of many Hollywood productions to shoot here as industry people quickly become enamoured with Pickering’s location potential – and the lack of red tape.

The outdoor shots for the 39-episode series were shot on Valley Farm Road and in the Duffins Creek valley lands.

Since then the City has hosted productions such as the Black Stallion (1979), Strange Brew (1983), The Ref (1994), Canadian Bacon (1995), Bride of Chuckie (1998), Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle (2004) and the Stephen King classic It (2017), to name just a few.

The ‘Cheetah’ scene in Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle was shot at Woodlands Park in Pickering

Movie people come to Pickering for the locations, including numerous hamlets such as Whitevale that can stand in for Any Small Town, U.S.A, as well as other scenic shooting spots like Nautical Village and Frenchman’s Bay.

Production really stepped up when TriBro (owned by the Apostolopoulis family, who also own the Pickering Casino Resort) built their three-sound stage studio complex on Sandy Beach Road and William F. White opened its movie backlot, both in 2021 in the middle of the pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic the City had performed a gap analysis for what the film industry needed and determined the #1 desire was land for production. With a 90-acre plot of land near Seaton lying vacant, it was offered to Willian F. White, who already have production houses in Toronto and Vancouver, as well as in several other Canadian communities.

The company built a modern day small town on the site, purposefully built for features, TV series, and commercials. In addition to the 30 stores and shops currently on the property, the town is easily expandable and can be converted to suit productions of all types, from rustic western settings to bustling New York City streets.

William F. White have leased the property at least until 2030 – a deal valued at $3.5 million to Pickering in rent alone – when current plans have it being converted to a district park for the rapidly expanding Seaton community.

Hodge said her job is to make sure movie makers have everything they need to make their stay in the area as smooth and seamless as possible, from one-stop online shopping across all departments for any needed permits ($350 to $500 per day, effective February 1, 2023), to location scouting assistance, government contacts and information on available properties for rent and liaising with local residents on filming activity.

“Right across the province 2023 is projected to be a really good year for filming and we hope that bodes well for Pickering and the Region,” Hodge added.

The business event will be held at the Chestnut Hill Developments Recreation Complex at 1857 Valley Farm Road in downtown Pickering, on Thursday, February 23 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Free admission and onsite parking. For more information and to register visit ‘Your Business. Their Next Film.’

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