TIFF: interview with Pinewood Toronto Studios' chairman Paul Bronfman

L - R: Paula Fletcher (councilor, Toronto), Paul Bronfman (CEO, Comweb/William F. White and chairman, Pinewood Toronto Studios), and Blake Steels (president, Pinewood Toronto Studios). Photo credit: Megan Guy.

Pinewood Toronto Studios held their highly anticipated cocktail reception at the rooftop of the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Monday, September 10. Guests enjoyed canapés and wine while marveling at the CN Tower in the horizon, and a bird's eye view of the ever-bustling King Street West below. 

Pinewood Toronto’s chairman, Paul Bronfman, and president, Blake Steels, welcomed guests and announced the company’s Studio District Evolution Plan that aims to enhance the film, television and digital media cluster in Toronto.  

“We are planning to build a cultural hub for film and television. Our part is Pinewood Toronto Studios, and within that space we are planning to start an expansion that includes an office space and three new 10,800 sqft. sound-stages, designed specifically for small features, television series and live television,” said Steels.

 

Last year, Pinewood Toronto Studios housed Total Recall and Pacific Rim, the two largest feature film shoots in Toronto's history. Other films shot in their facilities include David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis, Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, as well as TV shows such as Breakout Kings, Nikita, and Happy Town, to name a few.

After the welcoming address, I managed to ask Mr. Bronfman a few questions about Pinewood Toronto, the new educational and training initiative of his company Wiliam F. White, how TIFF has improved over the years, and his advice for aspiring filmmakers.

VO: How did you get involved with Pinewood Toronto Studios?

Paul Bronfman: I was one of the two original shareholders in the film port, which started construction in July of 2007. The studio opened in August of 2008, and our timing was really as bad as it could ever be. My former shareholder, Sam Riesman of Rose Corporation, felt it would be best for him to find another group of shareholders to replace his 80 per cent. My company, Comweb Corporation, decided that if Sam was going to bring in the right partners, I would stay. And if they weren’t, then I would exit with Sam.

Once I met John Sterling of Return on Innovation, and Alfredo Romano of Castle Point Development, and Ivan Dunleavy, CEO of Pinewood UK – I thought, these folks are just my type of guys to move this project forward because we were in some financial difficulty too, understated. That was in June of 2009, and here we are in September of 2012 and the partnership has been fantastic. It’s been very collaborative, congenial, and a true partnership.

My new partners wanted me to act as the chairman of Pinewood Toronto and I graciously accepted. But we all have roles to play and it works very, very well. We complement each other a lot.

VO: You mentioned the studio’s financial difficulties and it had a slow start. As of late, however, with a slew of popular productions, what would you say is the main reason as to why you and your team have managed to turn things around?

PB: The main reason we turned everything around was because of Dalton McGuinty and the Liberal government. In June of 2009, they introduced a 25 per cent all spend tax credit to remain competitive with Quebec, and as importantly, to be able to compete on a level playing field with other jurisdictions such as Lousiana, Georgia, New Mexico, New York, on and on.

Despite the Canadian dollar being close to par or above par, we were able to sell Pinewood Toronto on a competitive pricing. Without Dalton McGuinty, Dwight Duncan and company, I would hate to think what would have happened. I couldn’t say enough good things about those folks.

VO: Your company, William F. White, has recently launched an educational training program for filmmakers. Can you tell us about it?

PB: We’ve always been into education and training but with business turn-around, we were able to bring in a gentleman by the name of Bruce Dale, who is our manger of education and training.

Bruce has been able to focus strictly on our relationships with the unions, the schools, the universities, the Canadian Film Centre and others – to encourage, foster, and develop talent. It’s our future. It is self-serving because we’re hoping that in the future, the people we are working with can become our clients. But even if they don’t, it expands and broadens the base of talent across the country.

VO: You have seen TIFF evolve throughout the years. When was your first time attending TIFF?

PB: My first time attending TIFF was in 1978. It was with my girlfriend at the time, Judy Nathan, and I brought her in from Montreal. I had just moved from there for a job in postproduction – working for a Montreal company in Toronto. Thirty-four years later, she’s my wife and here we are.

VO: How has TIFF changed or improved? What do you appreciate the most about this festival in recent years?

PB: What I appreciate the most about TIFF in the last five to seven years, is that it has gone from being a market place that was focused on attracting buyers and sellers of movies – distributors – to broadening its reach to the production community, which is now incredibly engaged with the film festival.

Whereas before, people in our production community felt like there wasn’t really anything for them to do because we were manufacturing content, not buying and selling movies. So I have to take my hat off to the TIFF organization because they recognized the problem and they did something about it. So now, we can go out virtually every day from the opening of the festival right through to the closing weekend, and every day there’s receptions and events that engage Toronto’s production community.

VO: You are a large supporter of the cultivation and expansion of talent in the country. What is your advice for aspiring and seasoned filmmakers?

PB: Find a mentor. Find somebody who will take the time and the energy to train you and allow you to make mistakes, someone who takes an interest in your career. And speaking from experience, I got very lucky growing up. I had a few mentors who I was able to learn from. They took the time and the trouble and the energy.

The first one who comes to mind is Harold Greenberg and there were a few others, but Harold was certainly the first man in my career to really give me a shot. My advice to young filmmakers is to find somebody that you can learn from. As for seasoned filmmakers, find someone who has complementary skill sets to you, perhaps different, but has common business values. 

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