Film industry folk made a most cinematic pitch June 12 at the Ontario Municipal Board during community testimony on the Leslieville SmartCentres plan.
Film workers, who came out in force to push for keeping the site of the former Toronto Film Studios for their business, offered the jobs and money brought into the city by The Incredible Hulk as their soundbite.
But look below this big-box-entertainment vs big-box-store-set-to and you’ll find the roots of one of the city’s remaining cottage industries – one that many merchants in the area say they want as a neighbour.
It’s easy to grasp this if you consider what Alexandra Hooper, a member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, does for a living.
She’s a “buyer”; she finds things to dress sets. She also teaches me something about the film business: most purchases, ranging from random gewgaws to vintage furniture, are made locally, and companies consider the surrounding mercantile options when siting productions.
In other words, films employ people whose specific job it is to patronize local small business. A big box store, by contrast, would bring in 10 million people to do just the opposite.
If the land ends up generally zoned for retail, as the developer hopes, film use on the site would be banned. But so far there’s no guarantee that the city has any plan to guarantee it wouldn’t be zoned for smaller retail and commercial uses – keeping out SmartCentres and film studios.
The argument made by the developer, which could be made later by the city, is that once the new Filmport by the lake opens, business can move there. But Filmport will house flagship sound stages accessible only to massive productions.“We desperately need to maintain the small and medium studio spaces,” says Hooper. “They serve as a training ground.”
Charles Braive, a freelance film production manager, told the OMB much the same thing when he pointed out that small studio space is integral to film work’s ecosystem, and that losing the site would price TV and small film out of town.
“[TV and small film] employ the greatest number of technicians and actors for the longest period of time,” he said.
When I speak with him later, he elaborates. Smaller studios often rejuvenate old or abandoned properties and storefronts for sound stages and workshops and tend to go to local businesses for technicians, carpenters and the like, while the big studios generally do things in-house.
All of this suggests that as energy costs rise, box stores may simply become economically untenable, and their form a major frustration for any attempts at reuse or reclamation. What’s pitched by developers as economic opportunity now may be nothing but scorched earth in 20 years’ time, a ruined temple to a religion no one quite remembers.
“Democratic due process determined that the land should remain as employment lands,” said local activist Brian Moffatt, directly addressing OMB member James McKenzie.
“When you go home at the end of the day to Thornhill or Collingwood or Milton or wherever you live and your wife asks you, ‘Did you have a good day?’ will you say, ‘I had a great day. I rammed a big box development down a community’s throat?’”
McKenzie interrupted and calmly dismissed him. “You’re done.”He may be, but residents looking forward to the July 3 resumption of hearings at the OMB feel they’re just getting started.