Hollywood North back in action

Category: 300 News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: August 22, 2005 | Publication: The Gazette (Montreal) | Author: BRENDAN KELLY
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The last 18 months have been hard on local crews, with few big U.S. film shoots here. That's about to change. At least one blockbuster is coming, with another one likely

After a disastrous 18-month period with little in the way of foreign filming in town, folks in Montreal's besieged film-production community finally see some light at the end of the tunnel - and it isn't an oncoming train. It's a couple of major U.S. movie shoots. At least one Hollywood blockbuster - and probably two - is heading our way in the coming weeks, which is the first bit of positive news in a while for the thousands of Montrealers who toil in the film milieu.

No pricey U.S. flicks have been shot here since early this year. Montreal hosted two big Hollywood productions at the start of 2005: sci-fi flick The Fountain, with Hugh Jackman, and gangster film Lucky Number Slevin, starring Bruce Willis and Morgan Freeman.

The Hollywood film that's confirmed to shoot here is 300, a $70-million (U.S.) swords-and-sandals historical epic based on the story of 300 elite Spartan fighters who clashed with the massive invading Persian army at the battle of Thermopylae in Greece in 480 BC.

Legend has it these Spartans' bravery inspired Greece to rise up and eventually defeat the Persians, a victory that is seen as an important milestone in the development of democracy in Greece.

The Warner Bros. film will star Scottish actor Gerard Butler (The Phantom of the Opera), will be directed by Zack Snyder (who helmed last year's remake of Dawn of the Dead) and is based on the graphic novel of the same title by Sin City author Frank Miller. Like Sin City, which has grossed $126 million U.S. around the world, 300 is going to make much use of high-tech effects and virtual sets to try to faithfully re-create the striking visuals of Miller's book.

The producers of 300 have already opened an office here, and filming is set to kick off Oct. 17. Butler - whose previous credits include the Montreal-shot Timeline and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: the Cradle of Life - will play King Leonidas, the leader of the 300 Spartans. The screenplay is by Snyder and Kurt Johnstad, adapted from Miller's graphic novel.

The other film on the horizon is of another magnitude altogether. Sunrise is rumoured to have a budget in the neighbourhood of $140 million U.S., which would make it one of the most expensive movies ever shot in Montreal. But very little is known about this project and whether or not it is confirmed to shoot here.

In preparation for the Sunrise production, 20th Century-Fox opened offices in Montreal late last year - then abruptly closed them several weeks later. But the studio has reportedly just signed Stephen Sommers to direct the film, and the addition of Sommers - one of the world's most successful filmmakers - seems to have put the project back on the front burner.

Sommers directed Van Helsing, The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, and his films have grossed an astonishing combined total of $557 million U.S. in ticket sales.

The filmmakers have sets already built at Mel's Cite du Cinema studios, they've kept a number of top local technicians on monthly retainers since last year, and word is they will officially announce the shoot tomorrow. But the movie is so top secret that nothing is known about the plot, actors or anything else other than the title. Everyone involved has signed strict confidentiality agreements, and several local behind-the-scenes craftspeople who are usually quite talkative refused outright to say anything about Sunrise.

Finnish-born director Renny Harlin - who used to specialize in big-budget blockbusters like Die Hard 2 and The Long Kiss Goodnight - is here preparing for the filming of The Covenant, which sports a $20-million (U.S.) budget, making it a low-cost affair by Hollywood standards.

The film, which begins shooting in town in October, is described as "Harry Potter for 18-year-olds" by the film's line producer, Manon Bougie. She calls it a fantasy film a la TV series Charmed, noting it will have a cast of teen actors.

The Covenant is produced by Lakeshore Entertainment, a Los Angeles company that has shot several films here in recent years, including The Last Kiss with Rachel Bilson and Zach Braff, Wicker Park with Josh Hartnett, and The Human Stain with Nicole Kidman and Anthony Hopkins.

bkelly@thegazette.canwest.com
The Gazette (Montreal) 2005