Film industry touts dependable crews, facilities

MONTREAL — Times are tough for the production biz north of the U.S. border. Hollywood filming in Canada has slowed to a trickle this year as a result of the stronger Canadian dollar, lucrative tax credits in many U.S. states and the labor strife in Hollywood.

But all is not bleak on the northern front. Many in the Canuck production milieu argue the country has some strong selling points that still make it a viable place for location shoots.

Ken Ferguson, president of Filmport Studios, the giant lakefront facility in Toronto that just launched, firmly believes Canada has something many of the U.S. states simply can’t offer.

“It’s predictability and dependability,” Ferguson asserts. “A lot of the new places filmmakers are going to are still trying to build a film industry. But the main centers in Canada have a long-standing film industry. We have knowledgeable people. We’ve been doing this for a long time. We have good facilities, good bench strength. You know what you’re getting, and you’re getting a good product.”

Of the three main production centers in Canada — Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal — the hardest-hit by the cutbacks this year has been Montreal. Canada’s main Franco city has not had a single major Hollywood shoot all year, and there is nothing on the boards for the rest of ’08. But Quebec film commissioner Hans Fraikin remains confident Montreal will keep attracting Hollywood producers in the future.

“Every production center has its unique advantage, and in Montreal it’s the European architecture,” Fraikin says. “If they want to shoot Paris or London or St. Petersburg, we’re the place. With ‘Get Smart,’ we did Russia. For ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,’ we did three cities — Paris, St. Petersburg and Moscow, all within two weeks and within five city blocks of each other in Old Montreal.”

Montreal-based producer Michael Prupas of Muse Entertainment also underlines a long-held dedication to cinema in his city: “We have a passionate film culture, and that’s hard to imitate. That’s why Steven Spielberg comes to Montreal when he films in Canada. That’s why Todd Haynes did ‘I’m Not There’ here.”

In this downtime, however, it is Vancouver that’s fared best of the three main shooting cities this year, with a number of U.S. series and two major pics lensing there this summer: “Night at the Museum 2″ and “Farewell Atlantis.”

Peter Leitch, president of North Shore Studios in Vancouver, sums up the appeal of British Columbia succinctly: “It’s the fact we’re in the same time zone as Hollywood and our competition is not right south of the border.”

The other thing Canada can offer is access to co-production with other countries that have public funding for film.

“Canada has never had the financial stability to support bigger-budget productions, so we’ve always had to look to international co-productions,” says Jan Miller, director of Strategic Partners, a market that runs in conjunction with the Atlantic Film Festival in Halifax in September. “For Americans and the Europeans, Canada is a terrific partner because we have 49 co-production treaties. So we can be a conduit for U.S. producers to work with other countries.”

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