Union strife scaring away U.S. production

A conflict between the Quebec film technicians union and IATSE is scaring away American filmmakers, according to local industryites.

Lakeshore Entertainment had planned to shoot “Elegy,” based on Philip Roth’s 2001 novel “The Dying Animal,” this spring in Montreal. But that pic will now shoot elsewhere because of the bitter turf war between IATSE and the Alliance Quebecoise des Techniciens de l’Image et du Son (AQTIS), which reps 2,500 local technicians.

Producers are considering a move for the production, which stars Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz, to Winnipeg, Vancouver or Portland, Ore., according to production manager Manon Bougie.

Bougie said Lakeshore had two other films set to lense in Montreal later this year, “April 23″ and an adaptation of the Roth novel “American Pastoral.” But Bougie said none of the pics will shoot in Montreal if the two unions don’t quickly resolve their differences.

IATSE has spent the past two years trying to break into the Quebec market and rep technicians in the province, but it has met ferocious resistance from AQTIS.

The Quebec union claims it has exclusive rights to represent local technicians because of the province’s Law on the Status of the Artist. IATSE disputes this interpretation of the law and argues it is allowed to operate in Quebec.

The producers of “Elegy” had planned to work with IATSE, and Bougie had gone to AQTIS last week to ask the Quebec union to guarantee that it would not disrupt the production. But the Quebec union refused to give any such guarantee.

Hollywood filmmakers are wary of Quebec because Paramount Pictures’ “The Spiderwick Chronicles,” which shot here last fall, is still mired in a legal dispute with AQTIS. When “Spiderwick” came to Montreal, many in the local industry felt that was proof the technicians conflict was not scaring away American productions. But then the IATSE-AQTIS battle erupted again over who had the right to rep techs on the shoot.

Timing of the new flare-up in union hostilities in Montreal couldn’t be worse; the strike by actors union ACTRA is scaring off other productions. Paramount was set to shoot some of Brad Pitt starrer “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” in Montreal but decided against it when talks between ACTRA and the Canadian producers association broke down again late last week.

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