Franco Fare Spurs Quebec Prod’n Rally

The production biz has picked up in a big way in Quebec after a couple of disastrous years in the early ‘ 90s, and most local industry veterans expect the positive trend to continue given the strength of the local homegrown scene.

The province’s entertainment industry has not yet felt any real effect from recent political squabbles, although no one is quite sure what the long-term effect of the separatist movement will be on the industry here (see story, page 64).

In sharp contrast to Ontario and British Columbia, the two most prosperous production centers in Canada, the majority of the dollars spent by film and TV producers in Quebec comes courtesy of Quebec-made, French-language projects. Producers here feel the almost-limitless appetite for indigenous fare gives the Quebec industry a stronger, more secure base than regions more dependent on U.S. shoots.

Overall production reached the C$325 million ($240 million) mark last year, with homegrown Quebec films and TV shows accounting for roughly $148 million of the total. The remaining $92 million was generated by foreign and coventure projects.

The non-Canadian presence has grown steadily since the bottom fell out in 1992 when the province failed to attract a single foreign feature film shoot. Quebec film commissioner France Nadeau has spent much of the past three years selling Quebec’s distinct character and setting to Hollywood producers, and her work is finally paying off. Fine Line lensed the Nick Nolte starrer “Mother Night” in Montreal this fall; the Family Channel telefilm “Heart to Heart,” with Joan Collins, was also shot here this year; and NBC Prods, lensed three Danielle Steel miniseries in the area during t he year.

Nadeau, who runs the film office at provincial funder SODEC, says the strength of the industry comes from its healthy mix of foreign and local fare.

“Since our industry does not live only from the American industry, we want to get growth from the American market, but gradually, ” Nadeau says. “Quebec is a place where you do quality movies. I think we serve a certain type of production. The strength of Quebec is the variety of its locations and the quality of its crews.”

One of the busiest Montreal producers is Filmline Intl., which specializes in features and TV series co-produced with American and European partners. This year, Filmline produced projects with budgets in excess of $52 million, including the features “Hollow Point,” with Donald Sutherland and John Lithgow; “The Algonquin Goodbye,” a thriller toplining Dolph Lundgren; and “Rainbow,” a Canada-U.K. co-production directed by and starring Bob Hoskins. Late last month, Filmline began shooting “Natural Enemy,” another thriller with Sutherland.

The Quebec government’s support, notably the popular tax-credit program administered by SODEC, is essential to maintain the health of the industry, according to Filmline topper Nicolas Clermont.

“The various tax incentives are really the oxygen that drives us, and for the industry to keep building, we need to keep them,” Clermont says. “It’s not a handout. It’s a very smart way of helping the industry, and then the industry gives money back to the government.”

The year started badly for Telescene Communications when its syndicated series, “Sirens,” bit the dust, but the Montreal production house bounced back with the acclaimed Showtime miniseries “Hiroshima,” the first-ever Canadian-Japanese co-production. Telescene currently is co-producing two miniseries with partners in England and Luxembourg.

Telescene prexy Robin Spry is upbeat these days about prospects for the Quebec film and TV industries. “If they keep the tax credit and don’t do anything too weird politically, we’re in good shape,” says Spry.

Cinevideo Plus also is thriving, mainly thanks to its knack for crafting Canada-France co-productions, a specialty of the Quebec industry. Last year, Cinevideo Plus produced the “Tales of the Wild” series of TV movies in partnership with Gaumont Television and Ellipse Programme, and the Montreal company just wrapped lensing on a series of four telefilms, produced with the same partners.

“It’s easy to find the projects, but it’s hard to find broadcasters in Canada who are interested and who will give a decent amount of money,” says Cinevideo Plus topper Justine Heroux. “The broadcasters here don’t like co-productions – they find it’s not Quebecois enough. I’m trying to be more international, but it’s not easy.”

Traditionally, Quebec’s French-lingo feature films have generated better numbers at the box office in the rest of Canada than the nation’s English-language pics, but the moviegoing public here has not been kind to locally produced films over the past couple of years. Quebec film finally broke out of the B.O. doldrums this fall though, with four successful homegrown pics that managed to garner in the neighborhood of $2 million at the box office.

The B.O. boom was led by first-time helmer Jean-Marc Vallee’s sexy courtroom thriller, “Black List,” which has grossed more than $700,000 for Astral Distribution, and Robert Lepage’s “Le Confessionnal” also did well for an arty, auteur-style pic.

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