Well, it's about time: After several relocations and delays, Timeline film shoot lands here

Category: Timeline News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: April 16, 2002 | Publication: Montreal Gazette | Author: BRENDAN KELLY
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Over the years, Hollywood film-makers have used Montreal to stand in for any number of different cities, but the $80-million (U.S.) Paramount Pictures flick Timeline is the first major Hollywood film to shoot the Montreal area as 14th-century feudal France.

Timeline, based on the best-seller by Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton, is a tall tale about a gang of archeologists and students who time-travel back to medieval France. The sets include a full-scale medieval castle, complete with 60-foot towers, currently under construction in Terrebonne, just north of Montreal.

Producer/director Richard Donner, best known for the Lethal Weapon series, along with most of the cast, met the media yesterday in an airplane hanger near the Saint-Hubert airport. They were setting up to shoot a scene in which the characters are whisked away in a pair of corporate jets. The cast on hand included Paul Walker (The Fast and the Furious), Scottish actor Gerard Butler (Dracula 2000), Frances O'Connor (A.I.), Ethan Embry (Vegas Vacation), Neal McDonough (Band of Brothers), Matt Craven (Dragonfly) and Rossif Sutherland, son of Canadian actor Donald Sutherland. The cast also includes David Thewlis (Naked) and Anna Friel (The War Bride), who didn't attend the press conference.

Donner - whose directing credits include Maverick and Superman - said the film went through a long, winding, obstacle-strewn development process before they finally settled on shooting Montreal as rural France circa 1357.

"We couldn't do it in France because France is very expensive to shoot in and extremely unco-operative, especially to foreign film-makers," Donner said.

"We were going to shoot in Wales. We had all the locations picked and were ready to go when we got hit by (the fears about) hoof-and-mouth disease. And we were thrown out of the country. That was two years ago.

"Then we came back to the States, were regrouping and we hit the potential of a strike (last year) by the writers and actors. The studio said: 'There's no way we'll do it on time and we'll get caught by the strike,' So we got shut down for six months.

"Wales still wouldn't let us in. So we looked all through Europe and found Germany. Found some great locations, great studio space, everything was set to go, and then 9/11 happened. The studio thought it wouldn't be too smart to have a high-profile American film in Berlin at that time. So we pulled out. Then we looked across the United States, and found a great place in North Carolina."

That's when the studio rejected the budget and the producers were forced to shoot north of the border - and save $10 million U.S. At that point, Donner wanted to shoot in B.C. and stay on the West Coast, closer to Hollywood, but the Rockies made it impossible to replicate the flat valleys of the story's setting. It was only then that Montreal nabbed the high-profile shoot.

The plot focuses on a group of archeologists working on a dig at a medieval site in France. When a history professor mysteriously goes missing, they discover that the technology company sponsoring the dig has created a method of faxing objects back in time. The elderly professor is stuck in 1357 France, which leads some of his colleagues to go back in time to attempt a rescue mission.

Several studios bid for the film rights to the Crichton novel three years ago, with Paramount winning the auction. Donner said he's been keen for years to make a movie based on a Crichton best-seller.

"I've always wanted to do a Michael Crichton book," Donner said. "So when this one came along and I got the opportunity, I grabbed it."

The veteran director makes no apologies for shooting in Canada, even though there is a growing movement in Los Angeles to try to convince Hollywood film-makers to stop making movies outside the U.S. Last week in the Hollywood film-biz newspaper Daily Variety, Donner harshly criticized union and government efforts to halt runaway production, saying, "The U.S. government and the film unions are stupid." In Montreal, he was a little less vitriolic in discussing the runaway production issue.

"I think (the anti-runaway production) people are really smart, but they're not studio people and they're not putting up the money," Donner said.

Shooting on Timeline, which kicked off last week, will continue for the next four months.

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