Union rift shakes up Quebec pix

Prod'ns avoid filming in area due to guild woes

MONTREAL — A bitter rift between two rival film unions has put a major damper on Hollywood filming in Montreal. There has not been a single major American pic lensed in Montreal so far this year because producers have been scared off by the fight between the Quebec film technicians union and IATSE.

Meanwhile, American filming is going strong in Vancouver and holding steady in Toronto. One Hollywood production, “Jumper,” which had been slated to shoot in Montreal, moved to Toronto earlier this year because the producers feared the union woes might endanger the production.

The unions have been in negotiations for several weeks over who has the right to represent technicians working on film shoots in Quebec. But the talks broke down last week because the Quebec union’s leadership felt the two sides were too far apart.

Celine Daignault, interim president of AQTIS, the Quebec union, claimed in a letter to her members that IATSE wants to take control of all American filming in the province of Quebec.

“Contrary to their original announcement, IATSE doesn’t just want a piece of the pie,” said Daignault. “They want the whole pie.”

The Quebec union had proposed to the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees that the New York-based union be allowed to represent technicians working on all Hollywood studio films shooting in Quebec, a significant concession on the part of AQTIS. In return, AQTIS wanted to be able to keep the independent U.S. films shooting here.

According to Daignault, IATSE rejected this proposal, instead suggesting each producer be allowed to choose which film technicians union they want to work with.

IATSE would not comment on the negotiations.

At least two Hollywood films have not been scared off by the union conflict. Paramount pic “The Spiderwick Chronicles” set up offices in Montreal last week and will be shooting there starting in August. Also coming is Walden Media’s 3-D version of “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” starring Brendan Fraser. It is not known if these pics will work with AQTIS or IATSE.

Until recently, AQTIS had the Quebec film scene to itself. But the IA began signing up Quebec film technicians last year and now represents between 800 and 1,000 Quebec technicians.

The Quebec union has been aggressively trying to keep IATSE out of the film biz in Quebec, arguing that it’s illegal for IATSE to operate in the province because of Quebec’s Law on the Status of the Artist. This opinion is not shared by IATSE.

But it is unclear how AQTIS members feel about their union’s opposition to IATSE. Most of the technicians who have signed with the IA also remain members of AQTIS; clearly there is discontent among members with the Quebec union.

The union unrest comes after a couple of sluggish years for U.S. filming in Montreal. There was only C$191 million ($170 million) in U.S. filming in Quebec in 2005 and ’04, way down from $341 million in 2003.

One reason for the long-term dropoff is the Hollywood studios are unhappy with the demands of the Quebec producers association, which forces visiting producers to pay $12,000 for the privilege of shooting in la belle province.

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