Local businesses have trouble cashing in on growing film industry

Television crews this week temporarily transformed the Living Arts Centre into New York General Hospital for the CW TV show Beauty and the Beast.

And in the last two years, filming for shows with stars like Kristin KreukGregory Smith and Erica Durance have become a regular a fixture in Mississauga.

It’s events like this that Mississauga’s arts and culture director Susan Burt says are part of an increase in production permits, studio occupancies and interest from the film and television industry — but local businesses are still waiting to see a boost in their bottom line.

“If you go back to 2010 our number of filming days is just over 200. To date, in 2012, we’re not done yet and we have just over 800,” said film liaison Carmen Ford, referring to the number of shoots in the city this year.

When the loonie was low a few years ago, Toronto and Vancouver were often called “Hollywood North” as U.S. filmmakers found it cheaper to make movies in Canada than in L.A. or New York. Things have slowed a bit with the dollar at parity, but the  industry is still growing, with TV commercials, Canadian films and series leading the way.

Ford said Mississauga has become much more supportive and aware of the economic value of the industry. “We’re able to react quicker,” Ford said. “And as Toronto becomes more saturated then it’s an automatic that they will come across the border to Mississauga.”

Burt pointed to car commercials featuring the Marilyn Monroe condo towers and the viral Budweiser Superbowl commercial at the Port Credit Arena as two recent successes. “It was great advertising for Mississauga,” she said.

“We had news outlets calling us from all over when Budweiser leaked that commercial on YouTube,” said Ford.

But beyond increased exposure, the financial benefits to the city aren’t quite clear.

The staff at the Second Cup on Living Arts Drive has seen dozens of white trailers park across the street during the CW shoot. But while production crews and film staff regularly work only a few hundred feet away, owner and operator Rudy Sholaert said only a small number of people ever come over for a coffee.

“There’s not a lot of business from them because of all the catering on site,” said the longtime resident. “It’s really frustrating because they take up all the parking around here and then customers complain.”

Burt said that the city and the provincial government don’t track the economic impact of the film industry in Mississauga and often lump it in with Toronto due to proximity.

Ford emphasized the city does not provide tax incentives, only service, support and flexibility for things like fire, road closures or use of a public property through the city’s film office.

“They’re all facilitated through Carmen and her staff, making it a simplified process for the film people,” added Burt. “We make it for easy for them as possible.”

Ford and Burt would not disclose how much film permits contribute to city revenues.

Director of economic development Susan Amring added the film industry in Mississauga is also fairly young, making it difficult to track and not one of the city’s key priorities.

Orbitor Studios on Orbitor Road is one of the city’s largest filming facilities and has become the primary location for shows like Rookie Blue, supernatural medical drama Saving Hope and legal drama The Firm. Two of the shows have been renewed for the upcoming season.

But despite this steady business, local businesses haven’t seen a lot of benefits.

David Shim co-owns The Lunch Bag, a small deli on Matheson Blvd. behind Orbitor Studios. He said very few production or film staff come into his café because of Orbitor’s on-site catering. “It’s very hard to make a living,” Shim said, pointing to a few nearby vacant commercial buildings.

A production member who asked not to be quoted explained many unionized film and television technicians have catered meals as part of their collective agreements. However, he said sometimes they do get sick of “sterno-heated food.”

While the financial benefits are often hard to determine, there have been visible effects on the city. Ford said a remake of Carrie recently shot for six weeks in the Lakeview area. “They took over the whole street and practically rebuilt the whole front and main floor of a home down there,” she said.

“And one of the main homes in Robocop was filmed in a different area but I can’t say where because they’re coming back,” Ford said with a laugh.

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