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Shooting slows in major cities

Lack of prod'ns worries Canadian industry

MONTREAL — Many in Hollywood continue to complain about production “running away” to Canada, but shooting has actually slowed down in Canada’s main production centers this year. Lensing in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal was sluggish in the first six months of 2002 and the negative trend is particularly worrisome for the Canuck industry because all three cities saw dips in production activity last year.

There were fewer productions shot in Vancouver in the first six months of the year, leading to fears that the B.C. boom is a thing of the past.

In Montreal, the year kicked off in robust fashion, with five U.S. pics lensing in town, including George Clooney’s “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” the Nicole Kidman/Anthony Hopkins pic “Human Stain” and the Billy Bob Thornton starrer “Levity.” But no new U.S. pics have started production in Montreal this summer.

The lack of Hollywood pics in Montreal is a cause of major concern for the local film milieu because overall production dipped C$180 million ($113 million) last year, for a 2001 year-end total of $406 million.

In Toronto, there were more projects in the first six months compared with last year, but filmmakers spent less money. One of Toronto’s big problems is that the U.S. networks are producing less TV movies, a traditional staple for the city.

In 2001, the Canadian film commissioners could blame the drop on the threat of a SAG and/or Writers Guild strike, which effectively killed activity in the summer, and 9/11, which practically halted shooting in the fall. But explanations for the 2002 slow-down aren’t as easy to find.

Many point to a global downturn in production and the disappearance of many international financing sources.

“It’s due to the economics of our business generally,” said Michael Prupas, president of Montreal-based Muse Entertainment, one of the country’s busier producers. “The Americans are pointing the finger at us as the bad guys, but the financing sources for so many studio and independent producers have dried up. The best example is the lack of German money.

“The international buyers’ appetite in both theatrical and television is way down.”

One of the unique Canadian factors is the federal government’s decision to cut the lucrative tax-shelter program for foreign producers, which provided up to 6 percent of the budget for pics shooting in the Great White North. Some also believe that the anti-runaway production movement in Los Angeles is beginning to have an impact in terms of convincing filmmakers to shoot in the U.S.

“That’s definitely going to have some effect,” Toronto film commissioner Rhonda Silverstone says. “Some have decided to say home because of the runaway production issue.”

Even worse, Canadian drama production is down big-time because the Canadian broadcasters are buying less homegrown fare. Perhaps cities like Vancouver simply can’t keep growing film production at 10 or 15 percent per year, says Kenny Diebel, veepee of operations at Vancouver Film Studios.

“Maybe it’ s just the market leveling off,” Diebel adds. Though concerned, film folks in Canada say it’ s too early to panic.

“It’s down, but we should get back a lot of projects this fall,” Montreal film commissioner Andre Lafond says.

And some studios say they’ve remained busy through the downturn. “We’ve been full for a few months,” says Ken Ferguson, president of Toronto Film Studios.

There is also hope within the industry that the government will help out by introducing a long-awaited tax credit for foreign producers to replace the just-axed tax shelter program.

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