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Entertainment industry blasts TTC

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Film, TV industry blasts TTC

Approval for shoots in subway system takes too long, meeting told

By JAMES RUSK

Thursday, March 25, 2004 - Page A12

The Toronto film and television industry yesterday assailed the Toronto Transit Commission for making it so difficult to get approval to film in the city's subway system that the city loses business to more film-friendly competitors.

"The TTC has successfully locked the industry out," Paul Kenyon, former co-chairman of the Commercial Production Association of Toronto, told a commission meeting yesterday. He quoted figures that show other cities allow far more days of shooting on their subways than Toronto. In 2002, filming was permitted in Montreal's transit system over 116 days, compared with just 50 days over the same year in Toronto, he said.

Mr. Kenyon was one of a parade of industry spokespeople who complained that the TTC takes so long to approve shoots that it in effect locks the Toronto industry out of certain kinds of business, including advertisements, television pilots and made-for-television movies. These are filmed quickly once a project gets a go-ahead from production companies.

What prompted the industry's appearance at the committee were problems encountered by a television pilot for a show called Summer of 77 that Two Kings Production Inc., a Toronto-based company, is making for the UPN Network in Los Angeles.

While the company has been dealing with the TTC since late February, it has yet to receive approval for a shoot that it wants to make at the TTC's Wilson yards on April 5. The company appealed to Mayor David Miller for help when it appeared unlikely that it would be able to get approval in time to meet the show's timetable.

Mimi Wolch, business agent for the Toronto local of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, said that making the pilot in Toronto was important because "if it does go to series, each episode will be $1.6-million (U.S.) approximately, 13 episodes, which would mean approximately $20-million (U.S.) brought to the city of Toronto."

At the mayor's request, the commission asked staff to move the approval for the pilot along so that the shoot could be done in time, as long it can be done safely.

The basic complaint from the industry is that the TTC takes much longer than other transit agencies to approve and organize filming in the subway, most of which takes place at an unused TTC station below the Bay-Bloor station.

Most cities approve a project in seven to 16 days, Mr. Kenyon said. While the TTC is supposed to have a 20-day turnaround on a project -- 10 days to assess it and 10 to organize its staff -- in actual practice it takes twice as long, he said, because the film company usually finds itself taking 20 days to prepare all the paperwork the TTC needs before it will assess a project.

This means the city loses business. One industry spokesman said that a company that wanted to spend $200,000 in a one-day shoot to make an advertisement at Bay and Bloor streets found out how long it would take to get approval and went to Chicago, where the ad will be shot today. Another spokesman said the TTC is unreliable in its dealings with the industry. When Michael Douglas was making the feature film Don't Say a Word in the city, the TTC doubled its price for the use of the Bay-Bloor station a few days before the shoot, the spokesman said. The film company paid up, but it left a bad impression.

Donna Zuchlinski, acting manager of film for the Ontario Media Development Corp., cautioned the commission that industry is losing ground. Spending on film and television production in the province fell by 11 per cent last year to $874.1-million from $984.5-million in 2002, in part because of SARS.

The commission asked its staff to work with the city's film office and the industry to try to make it easier to film in the subway, provided that safety is not compromised.

The TTC has a "rigid bureaucracy," chairman Howard Moscoe said. "The structure is not designed to facilitate unusual requests, but I think we can improve."

Commissioner David Shiner told reporters that "there's an opportunity to bring $20-million worth of production into the city. The TTC should go out of its way to try to provide a safe location for them to film, without jeopardizing any employees of the TTC system or any of the film operators. And that could be done in less than 20 days."

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