Storyline, script, special effects and charismatic actors draw people to their favorite movies and TV shows. But action on the screen couldn’t be produced without an undergirding of support from location rental equipment. That’s where Whites Location Equipment Supply, with bases in Toronto and Vancouver, British Columbia, becomes the star of the show.
Whites Location Equipment Supply specializes in servicing location departments, which are tasked with managing filming locations for film production studios. The company supplies pop-up tents, tables, chairs, HVAC solutions, safety supplies, traffic control equipment and more for films and television series.
“Location departments are the unsung heroes of production in my humble opinion,” says Jason Cox, director of sales and business development for Whites Location Equipment Supply West, which covers British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. “They are in between production and the public. For example, if they’re going to shoot a scene for ‘The Flash’ at somebody’s house, they make sure that they put one of our location mats down, so they don’t ruin the owner’s $20,000 cherrywood floor.”
Of the productions Whites Location Equipment Supply works with, Cox says “We’re a bit of a grinder. We do The CW stuff: ‘Arrow’; ‘DC’s Legends of Tomorrow’; ‘The Flash’; ‘Supernatural’; tons of movies of the week; and then the bigger budget stuff: ‘Deadpool’ and ‘The Adam Project’ with Ryan Reynolds; ‘Tron,’ back in the day’; ‘Godzilla’ — we touch most of the productions in town.”
Whites Location Equipment Supply is a division of William F. White International, a Canadian firm with more than 50 years’ experience in servicing the studio, grip, power and camera needs of the film and television industry. In the early 2010s, the organization sought to add location rental services to its repertoire. The strategy led to the company’s acquisition of rental businesses that specialized in the genre like Parallel Rentals in Vancouver, for which Cox served as rental manager, and Location Equipment Supply in Toronto.
In addition to its Toronto and Vancouver bases, Whites Location Equipment Supply maintains supply hubs in Calgary, Alberta; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Sudbury, Ontario; and Halifax, Nova Scotia.
In 2019, William F. White International was acquired by Sunbelt Rentals, but its location rental services division still operates under the William F. White brand. “We are under the Sunbelt Rentals umbrella, which has added great synergy and support, but we play Whites Location Equipment Supply ‘in this character in this show,’” Cox says with a metaphorical nod to his company’s line of work.
With a presence in the two major east and west film hubs of Canada, backed by the organizational support and equipment leveraging power of Sunbelt, Whites Location Equipment Supply can accommodate a head-spinning pace of production work.
“We are doing 40 or 50-plus shows at a time these days,” Cox says. “And it’s not just location departments that we service. We also rent out to the construction, props, the set deck departments and the actual production itself. We have our hands all over the place.”
“A movie of the week for us is about three weeks of rentals. A TV series can be from eight to 10 months, a feature film can be anywhere from one to four months. We rent them what’s called ‘run of show’ kits. It’s tables, chairs and common items that they can roll from location to location. We give them a decent deal on that because we don’t want them to buy their equipment; we want them to rent our equipment,” Cox says, adding that the kits “allow us to rent and service the ‘dailies’ per production. This is what we live and breathe on; 80 percent of our business revenue and logistics-wise.”
Whites Location Equipment Supply also caters to clients outside the film and TV production world.
“There’s a roller coaster vibe with the film industry. You have dips, and they tend to be around the summer, so that’s where events pick up with us. We’re able to offset those slower months with rentals that way,” Cox says, offering as examples “a lot of nonprofit work, like Union Gospel Mission, which is big thing for our downtown east side that has seen some tough times; BC Cancer; juvenile diabetes walks; John Smith who wants a couple of tables and tents for his kid’s birthday party; larger events such as Fusion Festival and Khatsahlano Festival; and many more. It doesn’t really matter to us because it’s about servicing the community around us. We touch a little bit of everything.”
As with all industries associated with events, the coronavirus (COVID-19) impacted Whites Location Equipment Supply severely. “In 2019, we had significant growth on the event side — it was getting close to $1 million in revenue and that was outside of film. Then, on March 6, 2020, the first few cases of COVID happened. It was on the show ‘Riverdale’ and that had a domino effect. Every show, that same day, shut down,” Cox says.
But the company and the industry navigated the disruption adeptly and has bounced back in a big way.
“A number of us worked behind the scenes with the unions and guilds to find out how we were going to get back to work. I climbed the hills of Nepal looking for hand sanitizer stations and PPE [personal protective equipment]. It was slow going, but by July a lot of the movies of the week productions seemed to figure it out. The bigger series and feature films were waiting to see what the movies of the week were going to do and to see if it was going to be a big hullabaloo, and it wasn’t. So, by August and September, it was gangbusters. In 2022, it’s just as busy here as it was in 2019,” Cox says.
Moving forward, Whites Location Equipment Supply continues to solidify relationships with its clients while keeping an eye on being a sustainable organization.
“Our clients are friends at this point, and we do pretty well with around 80 percent market share, which is probably one of the highest in a competitive market in our line of business. That’s a testament to what we do, where we came from and what our clients think of us. And our company is on the committee of Real Green™ through Creative B.C., which is doing amazing things on the sustainability front. We rent out compost cans and recycling bins all the time to productions. Eight-plus years ago, you didn’t see that. So, we’ve made these inroads and do our best to lessen our footprint on this planet of ours. Those are important points that we try to instill into the next generation,” Cox says.