The cornerstone of a brighter future

If you live in the Greater Hamilton Area, then you’ve seen the pylons. Most of them say L.E.S., meaning Location Equipment Services, their sole purpose being to direct incoming production people to their day’s shoot; however, they also represent the undeniable presence of Hollywood North.

Many folks in Hamilton are wary of what they perceive as being nothing more than an inconvenience, as productions take over entire streets, blocking traffic and hogging parking. Productions often interrupt the normal flow of life and business, and so the frustration is understandable; however, these productions are also a sign of better things to come. They represent the creation of jobs.

At the moment, Hamilton is treated like a suburb of Toronto, catering to its needs, while local industry workers are considered lucky to work here at all —but things are changing. As Toronto is running out of production space, Hamilton has become the viable alternative. The question is, are we ready for this potential influx?
The simple answer is yes, of course; however, the more complex answer is a resounding no.

What we need, before Hamilton finds itself entirely subservient, is greater involvement from City Hall. An actual Film Council could focus on expanding local industry while ensuring that local businesses and individuals actually benefit from incoming production activity. Until this happens, it will continue to be business as usual.

Now, this article is not intended to bash Toronto. If anything, we owe Toronto kudos for all that it has done to create Hollywood North, and it is thanks to Toronto’s Film and Television Office that we have a real industry presence. That being said, the problem is how Hamilton is perceived and treated, and that’s where the City needs to intervene.

Sudbury’s film office, for example, has a strict policy regarding how incoming productions must utilize regional resources, meaning that productions must hire a certain minimum of local crew and talent, a simple means of assuring fairness. The industry does, after all, generate more than $1 billion annually for the GTA, while the rest of Ontario shares less than a quarter of a billion dollars, collectively. So, how much does that actually leave for Hamilton?

The grim reality is that we’ve been hemorrhaging money for decades, and could have, at least hypothetically, generated more than a billion dollars in revenue over the past twenty years, had City resources been allocated to meet this end. As the adage claims, “one must spend money to make money,” requiring us to rethink the City’s involvement with incoming productions. Not only must we attract more productions, but we must also create a policy that keeps revenues here.

Aside from lobbying in Hollywood and appealing directly to producers themselves, Hamilton needs to focus on establishing a fairness policy of its own, which requires that a group of people with industry experience be brought together, to brainstorm how to best serve our City and its people. There is a way to make everybody happy – meaning the productions, the City, and the locals who earn their living via the industry – and all it demands is some strategic negotiation and a resulting policy, to request that incoming productions utilize local crew and talent.

This initiative can achieve many wins. The productions will benefit from our lower fees, from the unique diversity of our city, from our people, and from the ample space available; the City will benefit from the substantial increase in, and maintenance of, revenues; and, the people will benefit from a real increase in available jobs. Instead of merely being traffic burdens, incoming productions can acquire proper studio spaces, locally, while employing our people and benefiting immensely from our City’s existing policy of being a veritable financial haven.

Thanks to the recent endorsement by celebrity producer/director, Guillermo Del Toro, Hamilton is poised to experience a boom in its film and television industry, and the City is in a position to ensure that we, the people of Hamilton, are able to benefit and thrive from it. Therefore, those orange pylons, which make many locals cringe, represent the possibility of a brighter future; regardless, the industry is here to stay, so the only uncertainty is whether or not we, the people, will benefit too. Now it’s up to the City to make sure that happens, but, with a little bit of hard work and cooperation, they will.