Movie industry gets into top gear

Category: 300 News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: October 10, 2005 | Publication: The Gazette (Montreal) | Author: BRENDAN KELLY
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Movie industry gets into top gear: American, Quebec productions are going gangbusters

For the first time in months, folks in the Montreal film-production milieu are in an upbeat mood. That's because, after a six-month break, the Americans are back with three major new projects to be shot here.

Better yet, the Quebec production scene is also going gangbusters thanks to a slew of franco TV series and movies, like the currently shooting romantic comedy Duo starring Anick Lemay, Francois Massicotte, Serge Postigo and Gildor Roy.

Filming began last Monday on The Covenant, a $20 million U.S. movie directed by Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2) and adapted from the graphic novel by Crossing Jordan writer Aron Coleite. It is a Harry Potter-esque story about four young aspiring warlocks who are in warlock training. The flick stars Sebastian Stan, Steven Strait, Toby Hemingway and Chace Crawford.

Director Zack Snyder, who's been in town for several weeks, begins production on his latest film, 300, next Monday. This ambitious project, reported to have a budget of $70 to $80 million U.S., is also based on a graphic novel, this one by Sin City author Frank Miller.

Scottish thespian Gerard Butler - best known for playing the title role in the film version of The Phantom of the Opera - stars in this swords-and-sandals epic, inspired by the true story of 300 elite Spartan fighters who clashed with the massive invading Persian army during the legendary battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC Greece. Like the movie Sin City, 300 will be shot almost entirely in studio and will utilize the latest in special effects and virtual sets to faithfully bring to life the remarkable visual style of the Miller novel.

The third big Hollywood production on the horizon for Montreal is Night at the Museum, a family comedy from 20th Century-Fox about a bumbling security guard at a museum of natural history who accidentally sets off an ancient curse that allows the animals and insects in the museum to come to life. This causes no small amount of mayhem. The budget is said to be more than $100 million U.S.

Stephen Sommers - the director of The Mummy, The Mummy Returns and Van Helsing - had been signed on to direct Night at the Museum, but sources close to the production said he has left the film and producers are frantically looking for a replacement. Sommers's departure will apparently not stop the shoot, though it may delay the start of production by a few weeks. The filmmakers have already opened production offices at Mel's Cite du Cinema studios and shooting will begin in January or February.

Montreal film commissioner Daniel Bissonnette notes that the city had a good start to the year for Hollywood productions, with the Hugh Jackman sci-fi flick The Fountain and the Bruce Willis/Morgan Freeman Mob comedy Lucky Number Slevin.

"But from April to the end of August was slower than expected," Bissonnette said. "From September to the end of the year, I think every sound stage we have will be busy."

Bissonnette is even more encouraged because the long-awaited Quebec Film and TV Council, a provincial commission designed to attract more Hollywood production, is set to open its doors in the coming weeks.

But Bissonnette isn't sure foreign filming this year will hit the 2004 total of $130 million, which was itself a big drop from the previous few years.

"But we're on the way up," said Bissonnette, who adds that a number of American producers are due to scout the city this week for films that might shoot here early in 2006.

He is also happy to report an upswing in local production, particularly TV shows.

"The amount of TV series has almost doubled," said Bissonnette. "It's always a fine balance between local and Hollywood, and we need all of this."

Hollywood's return to Montreal is all the more surprising given the strength of the Canadian dollar, which makes it more expensive for Americans to shoot in Canada.

"The reason (the shoots) weren't coming before was a lot to do with bad luck," said Brian Baker, business agent with the Quebec film technicians union AQTIS (Alliance quebecoise des techniciens de l'image et du son). "We had some big things in the air and they fell through. Now the Canadian dollar is up and they're coming. But the American dollar is down everywhere. Also, Los Angeles is going full-tilt and they don't have any space. New York is having a great year and Toronto and Vancouver are also full. It's a very active year and we're getting some of it."

One person particularly pleased with the return of the Hollywood filmmakers is Michel Trudel, who runs film-equipment-rental company Location Michel Trudel and co-owns Mel's Cite du Cinema studios.

"It was rough," Trudel said. "Now we're out of the woods. But we're still walking on egg-shells. If the Canadian dollar goes up again, that would be critical. So we're working hard. We give the best service in the world. I've got three big movies and I'm happy. But we'll see in the future."

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