After months of quiet on all sets, Toronto's film industry is back in action

After months of being out of work, thousands of people in Toronto's film industry are back on the job as shooting starts to ramp up again. But with all the new COVID-19 safety measures, sets look a lot different.

About 400 film permits issued since shutdown lifted, city says

At this Cinespace Film Studio set, everyone on location is screened, has their temperature checked and is required to get tested for COVID-19. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

FIlm producer J. Miles Dale is used to dealing with challenging logistics, but due to COVID-19 the world of film production is a completely new scene.

"For the last four or five months we've been working with the guilds and unions, medical professionals, figuring out how we can keep our set safe, keep our crew and cast safe and still have a work flow that makes sense," Dale said.

He says the Netflix show Sex/Life started filming last week and the film Nightmare Alley, directed by Guillermo del Toro starring Cate Blanchett and Bradley Cooper, will resume shooting in Toronto next Wednesday. 

"Many of the medical professionals have told us that we've kind of gone over and above what other people are doing in terms of our safety measures," Dale told CBC Toronto.

Months after Toronto's TV and film industry was forced to shut down due to the pandemic, production is finally starting to ramp up again. The city says it has issued around 400 film permits since the province gave the green light for the industry to start back up, but due to strict safety guidelines, it took a couple of months for things to get off the ground.

Oscar-winning producer J. Miles Dale says his role now involves a lot more planning around safety measures. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

Dale says some of the safety measures on sets include wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), getting tested for COVID-19 prior to shooting, temperature checks and screening. Lunches are packaged individually and there are hand washing stations around the set. The art department is working remotely when possible. 

"There's been some anxiety, given the fact that the virus is still out there and there's no vaccine," Dale said, adding that intimate scenes require extra precautions and more frequent testing.

"We're in a little bit of a trust relationship with each other right now so we're trying to encourage good behaviour."

'Things are definitely picking up,' city says 

Marguerite Pigott, the City of Toronto's film commissioner and director of entertainment industries, says July was quiet, but that was expected as productions figured out how to implement the new safety guidelines.

"Now we're finding that smaller productions have figured it out and they're back up and running," she said.

"Things are definitely picking up, but as with any other industry, things have just gotten a lot more complex, a lot more challenging so doing the work takes longer because there are many more considerations to think through."

Marguerite Pigott, the film commissioner and director of entertainment industries for the City of Toronto, says activity is 'definitely picking up' on film sets throughout the city. (Submitted/ Marguerite Pigott)

Pigott says shows like Murdoch Mysteries, Workin' Moms, Coroner and Kim's Convenience are all back and shooting, adding "those signs of life are amazing to see."

July and August are typically the city's busiest shooting months, but now everything has been pushed back. The fall and winter are going to be a lot busier.

WATCH| CBC Toronto's Talia Ricci on the city's film industry bouncing back from the COVID-19 lockdown

Toronto film industry back up and running

3 years ago
Duration 1:58
The city says around 400 film permits have been issued since restrictions were lifted, but being on set looks a lot different than it used to.

Pigott says it appears as though all the productions that went on hiatus due to the lockdown will return to Toronto to complete their shoots. And while there was substantial lost revenue and employment for the months during the shutdown, she says the industry is on a path to recover over the next two years.

"There's such a joy to see people back at work, to hear, 'Action' called on our streets again."

The new reality on set

Actor Gita Miller says it feels great to be back at work. She spent time in Montreal shooting a Christmas movie and most recently was on a set filming an episode of Nurses in Toronto.

Actor Gita Miller has been back on set recently. She says there are a lot of adjustments, but it's great to be working again. (Submited/Mark Binks)

"I didn't expect all of these productions to pick up right now so it's been great, but it's been a bit weird," Miller said.

"There's a lot more protocols; everyone is being a lot more careful and you kind of just have to be a lot more mindful," she added.

"Each set is a little bit different."

Miller says she was tested for the novel coronavirus, screened and had her temperature checked before her last shoot.

"For rehearsals, you have to wear your mask, which is a little funny because rehearsing without being able to see your scene partner's face is definitely different."

ACTRA, the union that represents performers in Canada, says work was down by 85 per cent in April, compared to the same time last year.

But August brought a rapid rebound. Miller anticipates like every other business, the industry will get used to the new reality.

"It's just a lot of adjustment, to be honest. You have to be malleable and as actors we're used to being asked to adapt."


Talia Ricci is a TV, radio and web reporter at CBC Toronto. She enjoys covering offbeat human interest stories and exposing social justice issues. Talia is also an avid traveller and photographer. Her photography has appeared in various publications and exhibits. She lives in Toronto's east end where she enjoys reading and going on long walks to discover the beauty in the city.