The Shape of Canada
Oscar-winning producer J. Miles Dale keeps it local
This year’s unlikely winner for Best Picture at the Academy Awards— Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water—was a victory for more than just those that worked on the movie. According to the film’s Toronto-based producer, J. Miles Dale, it’s a huge win for Canada’s film community, proving that as a nation, we can compete with the best in the world. To preach the importance of tax credits, the genius of del Toro and why home is best, Dale’s got the mic.
During all my 37 years in this business, I’ve only worked out of Canada a few times. That’s for good reason. I like living at home, sleeping in my own bed, seeing my own kids. And I love the chemistry I have with what I consider to be some of the best crews in the business. Making a movie is like a Petri dish, where I’m the chemist, overseeing the interactions between director, actors and crew. Would I rather stay here and work with people I know, where there’s proven chemistry? Or would I rather go to Atlanta or North Carolina or Louisiana or Romania or somewhere with a bunch of people I’ve never worked with, and hope that they get along and like each other and do good work? For me, it’s simple. When I can, I always choose home.
We’ve got relatively stable tax credits here in Ontario—that’s critical. That’s a big draw, and that’s the song I keep singing. We’ve got a sustainable system: a green business that reaches to the far corners of the province, not just Toronto. Look at Hamilton, look at Parry Sound, look at Sudbury, look at the Sault, look at North Bay. And for every star in a makeup chair, there are a hundred guys in safety boots. Because our industry creates jobs. And now, after about 20 or 30 years of learning from the best, I think we’re at a high watermark: we can say we are among the best.
And I’m not the only one who feels this way. My producer and director partners are always happy to shoot here. They know the crews, they know where they can get gear, they know the restaurants, they know the hotels. It’s welcoming, it’s safe. And it’s the same thing in Toronto or Vancouver, where I’m currently prepping a movie. My partners love the time-zone friendliness; they love that you can get the sea and the mountains in one take. They love the moderate climate—when it’s not raining buckets, that is.
Take Guillermo del Toro: he makes no secret of the fact that he loves working here. He has a home in Toronto. He could live anywhere he wanted to, and people would welcome him with open arms, but he’s chosen this place. We should be pretty grateful about that. He’s a great director and producer, and he’s super smart. We did Mama together, we did the show The Strain together, we did The Shape of Water, and if he asked, I would make the phone book with him. He’s very demanding, and he pushes everyone beyond their limit, but as we’ve learned this year, it can be worth it.
When we started work on The Shape of Water, the little engine that could, nobody was thinking it would end where it ended. And the Oscar wins are recognition that Canada’s film culture has matured and has hit a point where we’re really as good as anyone else in the world. With the exception of Guillermo, of course, and several others, The Shape of Water was almost all Canadian from top to bottom. Canadian costume designer, production designer, sound department: nominated, nominated, nominated. Seeing those guys get recognized was really beautiful. I was so proud. Why would I want to work anywhere else?
As told to Andrew Addison for Indiescreen; transcript edited and condensed for clarity.