The below article was originally written in Urbanicity, a Hamilton-based news outlet, by Michael Kras as part of a series of sponsored articles focused on the future of Hamilton and the ambitious city builders continuing its urban resurgence.
Crimson Peak. The Shape of Water. IT: Chapter Two. The Handmaid’s Tale. The Umbrella Academy. American Gods. The Good Witch. The Boys. Murdoch Mysteries. The list of film and television content shot right here in Hamilton keeps growing at a thrillingly rapid rate.
Our buildings have been visited by superheroes, malevolent ghosts, historical figures, and Chris freaking Evans. Our streets and neighbourhoods themselves have played parts from major metropolises to small, folksy townships. Academy Award-winning director Guillermo del Toro has repeatedly sung our city’s praises. The movies and television series shot in Hamilton have won Oscars and Emmys, and penetrated pop culture on an international level.
Hamilton is now one of the country’s hottest hubs for the film & television industry.
The overwhelming commitment to cementing our city’s film & TV scene speaks for itself. As a city with plenty of diverse shooting locations and a whole lot of character, the Hammer has long been a spillover spot for film productions coming from the oversaturated film scene in Toronto, quickly turning Hamilton into a major industry hub in its own right. The influx has now made the city the second largest in Ontario and third largest in Canada.
In fact, Hamilton is home to 9,140 talented people who work in the film industry as well as home to 902 film-related businesses. In 2019, Hamilton received $60 million in ‘direct spend’ from productions on things like hotel stays, prop and equipment rentals, and services such as traffic control.
With a glut of heritage buildings, sprawling urban exteriors, and greenery spaces, Hamilton’s appeal for location scouts makes plenty of sense. Recognizable local landmarks regularly show up on large and small screens, like City Hall’s front-and-centre appearance in the Oscar-winning film The Shape of Water, Dundurn Castle’s key role in the gothic horror period piece Crimson Peak, and multiple downtown core locations featured in the Amazon Prime superhero series The Boys.
Hamilton isn’t just a prime spot for on-location film shoots, though. Not only are we also home to some small film studios and production companies, but we’ve recently been singled out by Aeon Studio Group for an over $100 million project to develop a 200,000 square-foot film studio and residential complex sitting on between 12 and 20 acres of the Barton-Tiffany lands.
Upon its eventual completion, the gigantically ambitious Aeon Studios is proposed to not only house multiple soundstages and studio spaces, but also post-production facilities for visual effects and animation, a crew training facility, retail space, residential towers, creative incubation workspaces, and office space for film, media, and tech companies.
Though the finished product is likely a long time coming due to the enormity of its scope, the Aeon Studios project promises resounding impact on our city’s cultural footprint and job market upon its completion.
Until then, the city still has smaller-scale hubs already making major waves in the city, including the Hamilton Film Studios — a newly-established film studio and production supply retailer with an already-sizeable footprint after only a year since they opened their doors.
“As soon as we got the keys, the door was being knocked on,” says Zach Zohr, who co-owns the Hamilton Film Studios with partners Graham Purdy and Ken Woychesko.
All three owners are industry veterans with extensive backgrounds in film & television production, and they noticed an immediate need to fill in Hamilton. Not only that of studio space and location support, but also a local retail shop so production teams shooting in Hamilton would no longer need to make obnoxious trips into Toronto for necessary supplies and equipment.
The daily foot traffic at Hamilton Film Studios speaks to how essential they are to the city’s growing film scene. From shoots in need of space, to location scouting, to emergency shopping trips for supplies, there are “at least a half-dozen” productions that come through the HFS’ doors daily, according to Zohr.
Those productions have been everything from commercial shoots, to music videos, to television series shot for prominent streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime. Hamilton Film Studios was also home to the production of the independent feature film White Lie, which performed to critical acclaim at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival and is notable for not only being filmed in Hamilton, but also directly set in our city too.
Hamilton Film Studios isn’t the city’s only production resource, however. Barely a five-minute drive from the HFS building sits Digital Canaries, which resides along Burlington Street East and currently holds the title of Hamilton’s largest shooting space.
A film studio that offers flexible space for productions, Digital Canaries sets itself apart from the neighbouring Hamilton Film Studios by having over 50 impressive standing sets available ranging from office replicas, to prison corridors, to courtrooms, to hospital operating rooms, and beyond. On top of that, Digital Canaries also features green screen facilities, as well as an extensive prop and wardrobe house that carries well over 100,000 items of all sizes and types for production use.
Between the rich offerings of the two current spaces, Hamilton Film Studios and Digital Canaries have jointly made Hamilton an even more attractive locale for local, national, and international film & TV production; even ahead of the construction of Aeon Studios. Growth continues at a rapid rate, and according to the folks at Hamilton Film Studios, it shows no signs of slowing.
“We’re never going to be Toronto; that’s the mecca,” says Zohr, while noting that, as vacancies at Toronto’s film facilities are getting scarcer by the day, Hamilton’s status as Ontario’s second busiest centre for film production will likely continue to hold steady. “Filming permits are up every year. As long as people are watching movies, the industry is going to grow.”
Those filming permits are indeed on the rise. In 2019, the city saw 14% more filming days than it did in 2018, which itself was a record-breaking year that saw a 50% increase over the year before in film permits issued.
Hamilton now gets to play a leading role in that growth, simultaneously attracting huge investment and talent to the city on its way to becoming the new Hollywood.
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