Starstruck in Leaside, or just another Pie in the Sky?

Pie in the Sky Film Studios (Studio 2) is located on Laird Avenue in Leaside.
Pie in the Sky Film Studios (Studio 2) is located on Laird Avenue in Leaside. Image via

This coming April Fool’s day will mark 19 years for Tim Bewcyk as the “man behind Toronto’s first boutique film studio,” and this business is certainly not just another “pie in the sky,” but Pie in the Sky Studios! I was able to connect with Tim, even though he was in Africa. True to his reported proclivity for antics and humour (e.g., baking cakes using film studio lighting), Tim answered my question about how the food was in Africa with, “well there’s nothing wild here,” and so began our conversation. Pie in the Sky Studios operates a total of eight facilities spread across Toronto. With a dazzling list of A-listers on his roster (e.g., McDonald’s, HGTV, Ikea, Google, Tim Hortons), Leasiders driving past Tim’s nondescript 43 Laird Dr. studio might be unaware of the number of celebrities visiting the studio in our ’hood to produce some of the television series, music videos and commercials we see on the air each day. You would even be forgiven if you tried the front entrance looking to buy a cherry pie! (Tim’s favourite, by the way.)

Stewart, Jackman, Crosby and Drake in Leaside?

The 2,000 sq. ft. Laird studio is considered “medium-sized.” When I visited in person, a children’s TV series was being filmed. Perhaps it is because of this studio that you just might catch a glimpse of Martha Stewart at Charmaine Sweets, Sidney Crosby at the Amsterdam Barrelhouse, Hugh Jackman at Wild Wing on Bayview, or Drake at Longo’s as they make their way to and from Leaside to be filmed at the studio. For the record, Tim neither confirmed nor denied (wink wink) the number of celebrities who have worked from his studios over the past 19 years, out of respect for the privacy of his clients and the work they perform here in Leaside. He did acknowledge that “we’re all here to do a job, but on occasion, you can really be starstruck.” One celebrity name that did pop up was Steve Paikin of TVO’s The Agenda. Steve apparently told his audience several times (“with pride” according to Tim) that “we’re now based out of Leaside” when the show relocated to the Laird studio for three months because of flooding at TVO.

In my opinion, the secret to Tim’s success is the “boutique” aspect of his offer, in addition to the high level of customer service he and his wife Ayda provide, plus Leaside’s general attractiveness to his customers. Tim stated that “for support and services, Leaside is the handiest of all the locations because it has restaurants, grocery stores, banks and coffee shops all within walking distance, not to mention a Home Depot and a Canadian Tire when you need something quickly for the set, plus it is a clean neighbourhood to walk around.” In fact, at 2,000 sq. ft., the Laird studio is dwarfed by what major player Pinewood Studios has assembled in the Port Lands, with 11 stages, including a 46,000 sq. ft. one that can accommodate sets as tall as five storeys. It’s the second largest of its kind in North America, and there are plans to add five more stages by early 2022.

Could Leaside become part of Hollywood North? 

The Canadian Media Producers Association reported in 2019 that the total production volume of film and television production in Canada was estimated to be $9.3 billion, growing at 5.8% per year and employing 180,900 full-time equivalent jobs. One of the growth drivers of the industry over the past two decades has been foreign location and service (e.g., Netflix shooting Suits in Toronto), which has grown faster than the other segments over that period and now represents more than half of the industry’s total value. This segment is attractive to the government as the influx of foreign video production gets categorized as foreign direct investment and directly boosts Canada’s GDP. The growth of this segment has led to cities such as Vancouver and Toronto being dubbed “Hollywood North,” accounting for 80 per cent of the spend.

Building on what Tim has accomplished, could the Leaside Business Park be another piece of the Hollywood North ecosystem? Whether it’s Hollywood North or a series of Cleantech ventures or advanced manufacturing, the Leaside Business Park could be an attractive home for many creative or technical growth businesses.

Like me, I’m sure you’re wondering about the name. Tim told me that back when he and his original business partner were looking for that first location, their future landlord – a “gruff kind of guy” – was showing them some space. They were excitedly telling the landlord about their plans for starting a studio… “yeah, we’re gonna have actors, cameras, lights, put that over there, this could be this, that could be that…” and the landlord cut them off mid-sentence and loudly asked, “Is this gonna happen or is this gonna be a pie in the sky?” Tim looked to his partner and they both blurted out, “it’s gonna be Pie in the Sky.”

About Glenn Asano 60 Articles
Leasider Glenn Asano is a partner and principal consultant for the strategy and business development practice at Centred Performance. He is also an Instructor with the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University.