Q&A: Movie mogul Frank Sicoli on building a mega-studio in Markham
He’s raised $100 million in private funds to do it
You’re in charge of First Studio City, a new film production facility in Markham. How does someone get into the business of building mega-studios?
I’m from Hamilton, but I’ve been raising financing for feature films and TV shows in the U.S. for 15 years. My business partner, Dominic Sciullo, and I saw the lack of studio space in the GTA and realized a new facility could be very profitable. When courting investors, I didn’t have to sell anybody on the idea.
Is there demand for more studio space?
Many of my colleagues in Los Angeles want to shoot in Toronto, but the studios are booked solid. We are confident that we will be at 90 per cent capacity from day one.
Why Markham and not downtown Toronto?
I’m going to give you a curt answer. The problem with the Toronto Portlands, where the existing studios are located, is that you can’t expand. Markham has a lot of land, which we wouldn’t be able to acquire anywhere else in the GTA. Also, we’re right off the 407—it’s just 20 minutes from the airport to our studio. This is project number one in Markham’s downtown development plan. We’re their crown jewel.
You’ve already raised $100 million in private funds. Who are your investors?
I’ll tell you this, just to put it to bed. They are private individuals involved in this project who prefer to stay anonymous because they don’t want 10,000 people knocking on their door asking for money. All I can say is that it’s a private equity group out of the U.S., and they’re really excited about what we’re doing.
Why does it cost so much to build a studio? Aren’t they just walls and a roof?
This will be a real Hollywood studio—the first of its kind outside of Los Angeles— with the largest soundstage in North America. We’ll handle pre-production right through to post-production. It’s a producer’s dream. We’re also partnering with Seneca College on a film and TV program to train the next generation. Our industry needs more A-teams.
Do you think the talent pool in the GTA is inadequate?
If you were talking to Zack and Jamie [the heads of Apple’s new production division], the first thing they’d tell you is that they’d love to shoot in Toronto, but they’d need a production team. There are only three or four of what they call A-production teams here.
You’re planning to open in 2020. Have you already signed up productions?
We already have a major studio film franchise that will be shot in Markham, though I can’t say which one. I was a producer in Canada, and I moved my production company to L.A. in 2003. My wife, Monica Veiga, is senior vice-president of distribution at Sony, and most of our friends are senior executives in the studio system. We have relationships with Sony, Lionsgate, Apple and Netflix.
Doug Ford seems to like cancelling stuff. Are you worried he might scrap movie production tax credits and
scare away your business?
Ford is very supportive of what we’re doing. Keep in mind that most productions are booked years in advance. This studio is as sound an investment as you could possibly make. The support of the government is unwavering. We have no concerns that anything’s going to change.
You’ve worked as a consultant on Avengers: Age of Ultron and Transformers: Age of Extinction. Are those the kinds of movies we’ll see at this studio?
I live in Miami, and so does Michael Bay, who directed the Transformers series. Inevitably, when a colleague of mine is working on one of his films and needs an extra set of eyes, I get the call. I can tell you, as a Canadian boy living in the U.S., sitting on a big Hollywood lot, I’m still in awe of what I get to do. I was also on the set of Rock of Ages. Hanging out with Tom Cruise and all the other stars, you appreciate how many people are involved in a production. I watch Michael Bay work and realize I have a lot more to learn.
There’s a photo of you on IMDb with Bill Clinton. He’s not your main investor, is he?
No, it’s not Bill Clinton. He was in Toronto doing a talk. Guys, I’m not going to tell you who our investor is.
Okay, okay. Top five desert-island movies?
Glengarry Glen Ross, The Godfather, The Godfather II, The Pope of Greenwich Village—and anything by Quentin Tarantino.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.