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Hollywood (Further) North? Sudbury, Ont., becoming hot spot for film crews

Last Updated Jun 25, 2015 at 5:01 pm PDT

SUDBURY, Ont. – “There’s no better place right now, anywhere, to shoot a TV show.”

Is TV producer Mark Montefiore talking about Hollywood, New York, Vancouver or Toronto? Not even close.

Montefiore, who runs New Metric Media with Patrick O’Sullivan, is talking about Sudbury, Ont.

“You can’t beat it anywhere,” says Montefiore of the Nickel City, which might just earn the nickname Hollywood (Further) North.

Montefiore makes the comments on a farm just outside of Sudbury, where an episode of “Letterkenny” is being filmed.

The comedy, co-created by and starring Jared Keeso (“19-2”), is a spin-off from the web series “Letterkenny Problems,” which has drawn over 10 million views so far on YouTube. Coming to CraveTV and The Comedy Network in 2016, “Letterkenny” features Keeso and Nathan Dales as two chirpy dudes verbally smacking down anyone not blessed with their superior southwestern Ontario charm.

They’re surrounded by a top Toronto-based crew, including director Jacob Tierney. Local crew members are involved and the all-important craft services folks are set to dish out snacks. By the barns are several trucks filled with movie-making equipment from top industry supplier William F. White.

“Letterkenny” is one of several productions taking place in Sudbury this summer.

Sophie Tweed-Simmons — daughter of KISS rocker Gene Simmons and Newfoundland native and actress Shannon Tweed — just spent a week in Sudbury filming the movie “Country Crush.” She plays a country singer in the musical written by Toronto director Andrew Cymek.

U.S. production companies have also discovered Nickel City. Hallmark, which orders 30 original TV-movies a year for its U.S.-based cable channels, is currently in town shooting “Lead with Your Heart” starring William Baldwin (“Backdraft”). This is the Baldwin brother’s second trip to Sudbury, having shot “Be My Valentine” there in 2012.

“Lead With Your Heart,” which also features Canadian actress Kari Matchett, has been good for the local economy, with ads placed looking for hundreds of extras for at least one party scene. The production is producer David Anselmo’s fifth Hallmark movie shot in Sudbury in three years.

Anselmo is from Sudbury and that’s where he’s based his production company, Hideaway Pictures. He built a soundstage in his hometown, Northern Ontario Film Studios, complete with portraits of Jack Nicholson and John Wayne painted on the outside of the barn-like structure.

Montefiore plans to follow “Letterkenny” with another Sudbury production this summer: “What Would Sal Do?” The eight-episode comedy series for Super Channel is about a 29-year-old slacker still living in his mother’s basement — who may or may not be the second coming of Christ.

“We’re actually going to play Sudbury as Sudbury for that one,” says Montefiore.

“Lead With Your Heart” is supposedly set in Minneapolis. Other productions have seen Sudbury stand in for Toronto — a switch since Toronto often stands in for American cities in other productions.

Also shooting in Sudbury this summer is “Stepchild.” The mystery-thriller stars Lauren Holly (“Motive”) and Sarah Fisher (“Degrassi”). American-born Holly’s change in citizenship several years ago makes this a 100% Canadian cast and crew.

That’s an important factor in drawing production to this northern Ontario city, which has a population over 160,000. If they qualify, production companies shooting in Sudbury can tap into generous provincial and federal tax credits. Sweetening the deal is the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund, which supports film and TV production in Sudbury. Factor in the slumping Canadian dollar, no city filming permit fees and reasonably-priced amenities, and Sudbury, as Montefiore says, is a producer’s dream city — “unless you happen to hate mosquitoes.”

Also in production or recently wrapped in Sudbury: “Ice Girls,” a Disney-like movie about clashing Canadian figure skaters featuring Kim Coates (“Sons of Anarchy”), and “Group Home,” a movie/possible series pilot about a single dad running a home for abused kids, starring Lyriq Bent (“Book of Negroes”).

— Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.