Filming Commercials in Canada
For international production houses looking for trusted, supportive, nimble production partners in Canada, there are a few key factors that are important to know before starting your search. In this article, we dive into some of the specialties based on location, crew, and casting that may be critical for your project.
As always, we are here to help answer your Canadian production questions - contact us to help with your project.
What are the acting talent unions in Canada?
In Canada, the acting talent for commercials can be part of the ACTRA union. ACTRA has offices in every province including in these cities:
- St. John's, Newfoundland
- Halifax, Novascotia
- Montreal, Quebec
- Ottawa, Ontario
- Toronto, Ontario
- Winnipeg, Manitoba
- Regina, Saskatchewan
- Calgary, Alberta
- Vancouver, British Columbia
In British Columbia, ACTRA is also united with UBCP (The Union of BC Performers) which together operate under the same organization UBCP/ACTRA.
In June, 2022, ACTRA and the Canadian Advertising Agencies met to discuss the renewal of their contract negotiations. Not all formerly signatory advertising agencies have signed on to the new ACTRA contract. The agencies cited the ability to work with non-union actors for commercials as one of the main reasons for not signing on.
In British Columbia, there is a large pool of non-union commercial acting talent; which has serviced several American productions for national, broadcast, and online content all over the world.
What are the best service production companies in Canada?
Most regions have production companies that represent directors; however sometimes you may be in search of a service company in Canada to be boots on the ground for your director from outside of the country. That is totally reasonable and we'll let you in on the secret there...
Most if not all major roster production companies also do service work in Canada.
How do I go about casting in Canada?
The best way to get union or non-union talent hired is to work with one of Canada's wonderful Casting Directors. A few of our favourites are below.
- Kris + Kara Casting
- Kathleen Mayrs Casting
- Shasta Lutz Casting
- Mann Casting
Where are the best nature filming locations in Canada?
British Columbia (Canada's West Coast & Vancouver) has a distinct PNW vibe. Forests, ocean, mountains, lakes, rivers and some beaches all within less than 1 hour drive of the city's core. Not only is the west coast equipped with great locations, but it also has an entire production infrastructure designed to handle all the challenges that come with servicing large TV and Film productions for Netflix, Disney, HBO, Apple and Amazon Prime to name a few.
The benefit for commercial productions on the west coast is that the film infrastructure is there to support studio productions, but can also adapt for location shoots or combination shoots as well. This is why many automotive ads are filmed in Vancouver, BC.
In addition to natural settings, the city of Vancouver has played American sister cities like Seattle, San Francisco, New York, as well as smaller towns set in the American mid-west.
Further northwest about 2.5 hours driving there is Whistler, BC, the site of many events in the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. This place has much BC snowfall and cottage/cabin types of locations.
Yukon Territory present more rugged winter terrain and tundra. The territories are sparsely populated but features some of the Western Hemisphere's most epic glaciers and national parks. Canada's highest peak, Mount Logan, is situated in the Yukon territory. Though fewer crew and vendors exist further north, many productions can and have travelled specialized gear and technicians to film in these parts. Typically flying in from BC or Alberta. These areas are often used for filming remote settings, harsh climates, and lots of winter work.
Alberta, Canada is one of the three prairie provinces (which also include Saskatchewan and Manitoba). These locations will often encompass great flatlands, fields, and colder temperatures east of the Rocky Mountains. Alberta has its own mountain spots including Banff and Jasper, which are both excellent resort towns much like Whistler, BC.
In the prairie provinces, many projects feature more rural settings, farms, and agriculture backdrops; however Alberta also has two larger metropolitan centres: Calgary and Edmonton. The cities are about three hours drive apart from one another, and are both situated at a higher parallel (51st Parallel and 53rd Parallel) than Vancouver, which is located at the 49th Parallel next to the US border.
Western Canada as a group has a non-union commercial producers association represented by CPAWC. The association has a convenient list of production companies, resources, and location information for visiting productions from abroad.
Newfoundland, Canada is on the East coast of Canada and part of Atlantic Canada (including Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick) and sports even more unique landscapes including rocky cliffs overlooking the Atlantic, and smaller maritime towns & fishing villages.
Take a look at the photos at the end of this post for some beautiful imagery across Canada
Where are the best urban filming locations in Canada?
Toronto, Ontario is the biggest metropolitan centre in Canada. With a population of 5.5 million people, the city is dense with a tall downtown core and strong skyline, as well as character-driven neighbourhoods in every corner of the Greater Toronto Area. Toronto was founded in 1793. It has a strong film industry, with studios, equipment vendors, crew and union talent. Many fashion brands choose Toronto for it's incredible diversity.
Montreal, Quebec is Canada's 2nd largest city with a population of 3.6 million; it provides a more classic architecture style with some European and french influence. With a vast French and English speaking population, Montreal is the arts mecca of Canada, featuring the home bases of many legendary Canadian musicians and artists as well as the world famous Cirque du Soleil. Montreal was founded in 1642.
Quebec City, Quebec is situated about three hours driving East of Montreal. First founded in 1608, it is the second oldest colonized and settled city in Canada. The architecture style in the "Old Quebec" or "Vieux Quebec" downtown area is evocative of Nouveau France with shorter buildings, and a rich history of battle. Quebec is much smaller than Montreal with a population of 0.8 million.
Vancouver, British Columbia is Canada's 3rd largest city with 2.5 million inhabitants. The city was founded in 1886. It can be seen as Canada's city of glass referring to its heavy usage of glass on building exteriors. It's modern look has often been used for commercial shoots for technology brands like Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple.
What are the best roster production companies in Canada?
Canada has over 50 broadcast production companies across its 13 provinces and territories, and countless other content creation companies of all scales.
Traditionally, these companies represent rosters of exclusive directors. Between the various commercial producers associations and social media accounts, it can be confusing to narrow down the right options for your scale of production, so we've thought about curating a smaller list of friends who align on values of care, culture, and community.
We would be biased if we put ourselves on this list, but since you're on our website already, we figured you've found at least one place you'd like to look for great productions in Canada. Otherwise, we're going to add a list of our friends in the industry who we think are doing fantastic work.
Where do I find film crew in Canada?
In Canada, film crews can be part of local unions or they can work on a freelance basis. Many union technicians are part of IASTE 891 or the International Cinematographers Guild (ICG) Local 669 among a few other chapters.
For non-union film workers, many can be found on independently curated databases from CPAWC or through individual production companies. Many of these production companies receive resumes on a regular basis and are actively vetting and training new workers to move them up the ranks in production departments.
For commercials shot in Canada, the majority of crews are non union.
Who are the camera gear providers in Canada?
Much like other major production hubs around the world, Canada (a.k.a. Hollywood North) has well established gear providers for camera and lighting equipment across the country. Some of our favourites are:
What kinds of specialty film equipment is available in Canada?
Sometimes you need to include a high-speed chase in your cereal commercial, or a super technical motion control rig for those macro water bead shots on rain coats. We're not here to judge. Some of the worlds leading specialty equipment providers are also based in Canada.
Whether you need Process Trailers, Technocranes, Jib Arms, Camera Support, Drones, Car Tracking or even LED Volume Walls, many providers have what you're looking for in the major filming hubs of Canada: Vancouver and Toronto. Being that these cities are set up for major Hollywood productions for Apple TV, Disney, Netflix, Amazon Prime and HBO; the local Canadian vendors and technicians on the ground are ready to support your project.
For Vancouver and Alberta, these providers all make magic:
For Toronto & Montreal