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Great white gloom

Canuck confab tackles off year for pic prod'n

MONTREAL — Montreal film commissioner Daniel Bissonnette confirmed Wednesday what everyone in the local film biz already knew: This has been a terrible year for film production here.

Hollywood shooting in town is down by roughly half, Bissonnette said, with the year-end tally for American film shoots in Montreal likely around C$170 million ($143 million), down from $322 million last year.

That major-league dip comes after more than a decade of steady growth for foreign film shooting in the city.

“The biggest factor has been the new competition, both from other provinces in Canada, which have increased their tax credits, and from Europe and the U.S.,” Bissonnette said. “It also depends on what projects are shooting. Last year, ‘Taking Lives’ was set here, so we got the shoot.

“For ‘The Terminal,’ Steven Spielberg needed a giant empty airport and so he came to shoot at Mirabel. This year, we almost had ‘The Fantastic Four’ but at the last minute they chose Vancouver.” There have only been a handful of Hollywood films shot in Montreal in 2004, including period golf drama “The Greatest Game Ever Played” and “The Wool Cap” with William H. Macy. Shooting is under way on sci-fi pic “The Fountain,” directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Hugh Jackman.

But there are some glimmers of hope for next year. Twentieth Century Fox has already hired 25 people and is in pre-production on “Sunshine,” set to shoot in March.

There will be a one-day film-business summit today to discuss the problems facing the industry, and that will be an ideal opportunity to come up with solutions, said Brian Baker, business agent for the film and video technicians union AQTIS.

“The (high Canadian) dollar is killing us,” Baker said. “Everyone else is doing promotion, and we don’t do that well.”

Francois Macerola, spokesman for the one-day forum, noted that film production is one of Montreal’s leading industries, with annual salaries of $1.2 billion and 35,000 full-time jobs.

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