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  • Vancouver, Toronto and even Halifax booming as TV production centres again

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    Published 11/22/2012 16:58:36
    Vancouver, Toronto and even Halifax booming as TV production centres again
    Enrico Colantoni as Sgt. Gregory Parker in CTV's "Flashpoint." THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-CTV-Jan Thijs

    If you make, star in, or even cover Canadian television, there's never been a better time to collect travel points.

    Vancouver, Toronto and even Halifax are booming as TV production centres again, after a decade-long slump due to everything from a higher Canadian dollar to aggressive U.S. state tax incentives to SARS.

    Rob LaBelle, executive producer of the upcoming CTV show "Motive," says the success of "Flashpoint" — now in its final weeks on the air — helped reignite Canada as a base of production for North American dramas.

    While the success of cross-border co-productions between Canadian and American networks can be debated (a hit in Canada is often a summer "bench player" in the States), LaBelle says the real legacy of "Flashpoint" is that it demonstrated to American network programmers that Canada can produce viable content.

    "It's wide open now, in terms of production," says LaBelle.

    Beyond the co-production craze, a new go-it-alone boom is generating some buzz. While both "Motive" and Citytv's upcoming comedy "Seed," to name just two, have international distribution deals, they are stand-alone Canadian shows developed and produced without a U.S. network partnership.

    For Canadian actors, writers, directors and producers, as well as hundreds of crew members, this finally means more opportunities to work in Canada.

    Sturla Gunnarsson, who has directed all over the world, is happy to be helming episodes of "Motive" in the city he grew up in: Vancouver.

    Gunnarsson, who now lives in Toronto and has directed episodes of "The Firm" and "Rookie Blue" in that city, cites recent changes to the way the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission grants network license renewals as a key factor to Canada's current domestic TV boom.

    The new requirements "are really, really essential cornerstones and are what has led to a robust industry," he says. In the past, the rules were more about, as Gunnarsson puts it, shelf space.

    "They had to put so much stuff on the air but ... you spent as little as you could on it and you threw it up there."

    Now networks have to spend a percentage of their revenue on creating Canadian content. That change, says Gunnarsson, has our private broadcasters much more invested in Canadian content.

    "We are in an era where the private networks are producing more content than the CBC," says Gunnarsson. "That's never happened before."

    Toronto is currently home to many big budget TV productions, both foreign and domestic, including the upcoming HBO Canada co-production "Transporter" starring Chris Vance, the Showcase/BBC America's "Copper," renewed for a second season, and the sci-fi series "Defiance," coming next spring to Showcase.

    CTV's "Saving Hope" and Global's "Rookie Blue" are shot in the same nearby Mississauga, Ont., warehouse. "Beauty and the Beast," "Covert Affairs," and "Lost Girl" (Showcase), "Bomb Girls" (Global), "Nikita" (CTV) and "Suits" (Bravo) all call Toronto home, as does the upcoming CBC drama "Cracked."

    Vancouver is still home to U.S. network productions such as "Supernatural," "Arrow," "Psyche," "Once Upon a Time" and "Emily Owens, M.D." Besides "Motive," new Canadian shows include the Citytv comedy "Package Deal" and "Rogue," a Canada/UK co-production coming to The Movie Network/Movie Central. CBC's "Arctic Air" also shoots south of Vancouver.

    Halifax is also becoming a busy Canadian production hub. Not just the home of "22 Minutes" anymore, it is also where "Call Me Fitz," "Mr. D," "Haven" and the third "Trailer Park Boys" movie are all being shot, as well as "Seed."

    "To come to Halifax and honestly work with the best crew I've ever worked with, so talented and generous, I feel proud to be Canadian," says Adam Korson, the Toronto-born lead on "Seed."

    For some Canadian actors, the boom in production offers the rare chance of working on two and sometimes three Canadian-based TV shows at once. "Mr. D" regular Jonathan Torrens has his own trailer which he hauls between "Fitz" and "Trailer Park Boys" sets.

    Roger Cross, who plays supervisor Boyd Bloom in "Motive," is also a regular on the Vancouver sets of "Continuum" as well as "Arrow." He even just "booked a day" on "Rogue."

    "Back when I was first starting, a lot of the shows that shot here with high production values were shows that came up from the States," says Cross, who guested on everything from "The X Files" to "Highlander." Canadian actors, he says, "got the leftover roles."

    Now Canadians are the leads on new shows such as "Motive" and "Seed."

    Kristin Lehman, who was born in Toronto but grew up in Vancouver, starred on the AMC series "The Killing," which was also shot in Vancouver. Having worked all over the States on shows such as "Prison Break" and "Drive," she pinches herself at landing the role of detective Angie Flynn on "Motive."

    "I get to drive from my house, 10 minutes away, to a great facility and work with wonderful people in my own country on something Canadians are going to get to see," she says.

    "I feel grateful every time I come to work."

    ———

    Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.

    Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version listed incorrect networks for 'Beauty and the Beast' and 'Covert Affairs'

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