Nick Kozak for the Toronto Star
Case Studies

Film industry “one-stop shop” opens in the east end

Vital Stats
HangLoose Media
Sasha Crystal
28 Logan Ave, Toronto
Film/photography studio
Film/photo workshops, studio/office/equipment rentals, film/photo production, screening room

When visitors first arrive at HangLoose Media — nestled in the heart of the film district in Toronto’s east end — it’s immediately apparent that the company is still a work in progress. Construction workers are cleaning debris from recently renovated rooms, empty paint cans, ladders, and light fixtures lay on the ground, and the movie theatre has 30 leather reclining chairs facing an empty wall without a screen.

But while some might be distracted by the elements that are still missing, founder Sasha Crystal and project manager Steven Gordon smile at the transformation since signing a 10-year lease three and a half months ago.

“Before I took it over it was empty for just over 12 years,” says Crystal. “There were cobwebs everywhere, an inch of dust on the floor, windows broken, random noises, holes in the floor. It was in some shape.”

The formerly abandoned warehouse is now almost completely converted into 13,000 square feet of film production resources and studio space, including one 4,200 and one 1,100 square foot studio, a large screening room, two editing suites, an editing lab where classes will be held, three makeup and hair stations, five offices, four private bathrooms, shower facilities and change rooms.

After spending months working with a team of engineers and architects Crystal and Gordon are nearing their goal of building an all-in-one location where films and television shows can be taken from conception to the screening room.

“It’s not only a studio business, it’s not only a post-production house, it’s not a rental house, it’s kind of everything,” says Crystal.

Crystal recognized the demand for such resources last year when the independent film workshops he ran in Toronto continuously sold out, and founded HangLoose Media soon after.

The former warehouse is gradually filling with technical equipment, but he and Gordon were also sure to designate space for couches, refrigerators, a bar, and basketball hoops.

“The idea is to create not just a facility but a community, a place where people can come not just to execute their idea but to create,” says Crystal.

While building a community from scratch is a difficult feat for any small business owner, Crystal and Gordon have the added challenge of being relative newcomers to the landscape. Crystal, a native of London, England who’s spent the last two and a half years working in film production in Toronto, met Gordon as classmates at the New York Film Academy nearly five years ago. Gordon, on the other hand, just moved to Toronto last month.

In an effort to put the company on the industry’s radar, HangLoose hosted a “soft launch” event at their newly opened space in late February.

“We went around barging into people’s offices, introducing ourselves, saying this is who we are, come check us out,” says Crystal. “It was a lot of going door-to-door, meeting people and saying, ‘Look, we exist.”

The event drew in approximately 150 people, most of whom were members of the film and television industry.

“The party was a really big success. The reaction was better than I could have imagined,” says Gordon. “Some good deals were made.”

One of the first contracts to be signed was a three-year lease agreement for all five of the company’s available offices to an undisclosed company that produces major television shows and commercials all over the world.

While Toronto is no stranger to production studios, film and photography training programs, film equipment rental houses and rentable office space, Crystal and Gordon believe their level of service, price point, and community atmosphere will help attract established and aspiring filmmakers from across the city.

Only a few short years ago many such facilities sat empty, but since the recession film and television production resources are “being eaten up by increased demand,” says Paul Bronfman, chairman and CEO of Comweb Group Inc., which provides equipment, services, or studio space to approximately 60 per cent of all film and television productions in Canada.

Over the past decade Bronfman has witnessed the film industry move a majority of American productions north of the border, thanks in large part to tax incentives and the ease of doing business in Canada. While his company provided two thirds of its resources to American productions ten years ago, the tables have since turned, and more than two thirds of the major productions that utilize his company’s services are shot in Canada.

The boom in Canadian film production is providing a huge market for companies like HangLoose, but in spite of the local growth Bronfman cautions that they may be trying to do too much at once.

“It’s easy to say ‘one stop shop,’ its another thing to provide that,” he says. “It’s tough to be a jack of all trades. Our philosophy is to stick to what you know best, and be the best at what you do.”

Though trying to do too much at once can be risky, Bronfman also believes there is one surefire way to make an impression in Toronto’s film and television production industry.

“As long as they’re straightforward, as long as they’re transparent, as long as there’s no monkey business, I think they’ll be welcomed,” he said.

Fortunately for Crystal and Gordon, creating a straightforward business is their main objective.

“Everyone has space, but if everything goes the way we foresee it, nobody will offer the level of care we have to offer,” says Gordon. “That’s what separates us from the competition.”


As Interviewed by: Rosemary Westwood

The HangLoose Media team have a novel concept, solid training, an agreed upon vision, and increasing traction with the Toronto film community. The challenge will be in ensuring their “one-stop shop” excels in each area of service and meets the industry’s needs — it’s hard to be really good at everything. Crystal and Gordon have it right: Providing highest quality service as well as a community feel will be the key to raising the perception of what they offer from simply a subset of services, to an all-out experience. As an example, the team might consider hiring hospitality managers as well as area experts who stay through client engagements in order to provide next-level service with anything the client might need or want. Having a team that not only delivers service and expertise, but also community, fun, and engagement will get clients talking about their experience at Hangloose with others in the industry — and this will be critical for spurring the word-of-mouth advertising required for increased industry interest, credibility and patronage.

by Brynn Winegard - SEEC

Hangloose sounds fun, dynamic and cool. They have a bit of an incubator feel. And while you don’t make money from having people hang out, the sales will come from helping people connect and collaborate. Toronto’s film industry is in the midst of an expansion in the east end, creating a destination for the industry in the city, with studios and support businesses and cool bars and restaurants. To capitalize on that, Hangloose will need to realize it cannot be everything to everybody. When you’re starting out, you need to focus on your core service, your core expertise. Then build out the other services incrementally. If they don’t, they run the risk of spreading themselves too thin and doing some things poorly. Also, their website needs to be perked up. It’s not clear what they do, and many services don't have prices. Get some videos up there. They’re a media company with a site that’s not very exciting or informative. Finally, they could start a casual lecture series or other low-key events that continue to bring people in and create the community they’re hoping to build.

by Deirdre Fitzpatrick - GBC

I think it’s great that they’re taking a “go big, or go home” approach. They’re jumping right in. They’ve done some great promotion to get people to come out. It sounds like a premium service, so I hope their pricing will be premium as well, because they have a lot of fixed costs they’re going to be trying to recoup. Operations like this need to have the facilities filled as much as possible, and that’s obviously the challenge, and the risk with going big. On the plus side, the collaborative environment should appeal to young startups, and could draw the large, established production houses, as well, which might appreciate having everything under one roof and being exposed to the ideas of the younger startups. HangLoose is doing the right thing in hosting a party and networking in the tight-knit community. The fact they don't have a track record could also work to their advantage: when you’re young, you try things out you might not otherwise. But there’s only so much networking you can do, or parties you can throw, before you run out of money. Building the first sales will be key.

by Steve Tissenbaum Ryerson