Copyright 2002 The Toronto Sun

[ February 7th 2002 ]

James Bond is coming to town - or rather his studio is - with a generous push at the baccarat table from city hall. That would be Pinewood Shepperton, the folks who brought you Bond, Batman, Harry Potter and Lara Croft. They'll be operating the new 150-million, million-square-foot lakefront mega-studio which was announced yesterday at the Docks by Mayor Mel Lastman and assorted local burghers.

One gets the sense this irks local operators - like Showline Studios on Eastern Ave., whose president Peter Lukas proudly stated yesterday that "Showline Ltd. has been building studios for 25 years, and we have not received grants or subsidies of as much as one nickel! "All we want is a level playing field," he said. But that is precisely what disappeared yesterday with the news that one of the biggest film studios in the world was setting up shop in Toronto. Fact is, the majority of movies we tend to make in this city end up on video shelves faster than you can say Steve Guttenberg.

Well, say goodbye to $10-million movies, and hello to $ 100-million ones. Consider that Pinewood Shepperton is a studio that formed from the merger of the two biggest studios in Britain, all because of Harry Potter. In the version told by CEO Michael Grade (a nephew of the legendary Lord Lew Grade) neither busy firm had enough spare studio space to accommodate the shoot, and losing Harry Potter would have been a national scandal. So they merged for reasons of grand scale.

Grade, a blithely boastful man, reassured Toronto's small studios of their own bright future. "To those of you who operate facilities here," he said, "let me assure you that when Pinewood is doing well, everybody else in town is doing well."

Of course, in their heart of hearts, Pinewood Shepperton wouldn't have left British soil. "We would hope (producers) would continue to use the U.K.," Grade said. "But we're conscious of the fact that this is an international market, and to be successful you have to offer every advantage." In other words, if you don't have travel money to burn, filming in the U.K. is not an option.

But Toronto does have every advantage - except for a giant studio space, of the sort that gave Montreal and Vancouver a leg up on us in recent years. Asked for an example of a movie that couldn't have been shot here, Grade offered Tomb Raider. "It was made at Pinewood in a 40,000 square-foot space." He said the studio has just completed arrangements for Tomb Raider 2, "and I don't imagine for a minute they considered bringing it to Toronto."

All this would be easier to envision if production in Toronto in 2002 weren't unusually light in the early part this year. And then there's the U.S. fever to stop "runaway production" - embodied by a feature in Variety this week in which unnamed producers dismiss the talent of Canadian crews. Grade dismissed the Variety piece as propaganda. "The fact is that the base of skilled labour in Hollywood has dwindled. It is simply too expensive to shoot in Hollywood, so (runaway production) is not an issue. People will talk about it, but they won't do anything about it."

But if no other benefits accrue, they do predict the end of Winnebago traffic jams caused by location shoots - since virtually any location can be reproduced in a facility like this. "When Stanley Kubrick shot Eyes Wide Shut (at Pinewood) he never moved off the lot," Grade said. Not even for the New York City scenes. "The reason was he didn't like flying."

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