Written by James Peak on Nov 24, 2010. Posted in Interviews

Québec doubles for pretty much anywhere

I was asked to find out what's happening with filming incentives in Québec because TLG told me that's where a lot of the action is. So I phoned Hans Fraikin, boss of the Québec Film & TV Council.

In a bid to attract global projects, Canadian location one-upmanship has reached unprecedented levels this year. Manitoba recently dangled a 30% across-the-board tax incentive to bite its thumb at Ontario and Québec. I wanted to ask Hans (pictured below) if they have anything else to throw down.

Hans Fraikin

But first, Québec is Canada’s largest province and home of arguably the cheatiest location in the world: the city of Montreal. Recently, Benjamin Button doubled Montreal for Minsk. Steven Spielberg pretended the city was Marseilles for Catch Me If You Can and then New York for The Terminal. George Clooney’s Confessions of a Dangerous Mind shot New York, Helsinki, LA and Philadelphia in and around Montreal, and, perhaps most impressively, The Day after Tomorrow managed to turn the city into both Scotland and India.

Variously, in the last few years it has also stood in for Munich, Las Vegas, Rome, Ancient Sparta, Washington, Nevada, the Arctic, the centre of the Earth and Beirut.

So why is Montreal so accomplished at duping the global viewing public? Hans explains with a question of his own:

Did you know that Québec has both of the two oldest functioning cities in the whole of North America?

I did not know this and am quietly impressed. Hans continues:

“Montreal and Québec City were founded over 400 years ago by French colonialists. As a result all the architecture is 16th and 17th century French in a very classy, beautiful, European style. So Hollywood has realised it can come here instead of both Western and Eastern Europe.”

This is, as usual, very astute of Hollywood. I am about to ask Hans about the new incentives, but he immediately reels off a whole bunch of movies that decided shooting Montreal for other places wasn’t enough, and so shot Montreal for Montreal:

“Recently we had The Score with Robert De Niro, and then Blades of Glory and The Whole Nine Yards - oh yeah, and Die Hard With A Vengeance and Barney’s Version with Dustin Hoffman, and Taking Lives with Angelina Jolie."

As I am struggling to get to grips with this second list, Hans fires out a third category of films that did not double up as anywhere else, nor did they shoot Montreal for Montreal, but instead were set in historical, sci-fi or otherwise odd settings, requiring use of Montreal’s versatile and up-to-date VFX industry.

“Then, we have had 300, Journey To The Centre of the Earth and Immortal. All these productions took advantage of the special tax incentives for green screen, VFX and computer animation productions.”

Further investigation bears this out. There are certainly some succulent all-qualified tax credits to be had from Québec at the moment, reaching a mouth-watering 44% off total spend for projects that feature the right combinations of green screen, VFX and computer animations work in Montreal’s studio complexes.

So how come you get all these movies to come to you, Hans? I ask. He thinks about this for a second.

“I suppose because for the last three years we have been concentrating on a full-service production centre. We are only as strong as our weakest link and we wanted to be in a position that a producer simply cannot say ‘no’ to what we offer.”

But how? Hans explained that he needed a large number of specialist committees to work on strengthening every single link in the filming chain.

“We now have about a dozen committees and we've implemented lots of new stuff to make filming as easy as possible. For instance, we created new union laws that make it easier for producers to deal with unions. Then we built a VFX Committee that united Montreal’s 40 VFX companies, who might all be working on the same blockbuster, to get these guys working harmoniously and efficiently.”

I bet you set up a fiscal committee, I say, intelligently.

“Then we set up a fiscal committee.” Hans continues. “And that is where all the new incentives came from and, ultimately, the work of all these committees, and the astonishing range of services, professional crew and amazing locations are what is winning us business.”

So, I ask, is it fair to say it’s going pretty well in Québec right now?

“Yes. It’s non-stop. The biggest feather in our cap is our relationship with Relativity Media, who have just finished the four-month, USD80 million shoot Immortals, directed by Tarsem Singh and starring Mickey Rourke and John Hurt. Also, we just wrapped on Source Code with Jake Gyllenhaal, directed by Duncan Jones.”

‘Ahh.’ I say. Was that a VFX movie? Or a Montreal-for-Montreal movie? Or a Montreal-for-somewhere-else-movie?

“That one all happens on a train.” Hans says.

Clearly, in Québec you can do any kind of film you want. So I go back to my original question: has Québec got any more incentives to throw down soon, in response to the other Canadian provinces vying for business from Hollywood? To which Hans replies enigmatically:

“Well, incentives are certainly not going to decrease, and let’s leave it at that, eh?”

And so ends our almost-a-scoop conversation, leaving me to scrabble around for a pithy end line that sums up the jewel in Quebec’s crown, the best version of which is something like. ‘Come and shoot in Montreal, for all your real Montreal, fake-Montreal and strange sci-fi, historical and hinterland setting needs. And movies on trains.'

Images courtesy of the Québec Film & TV Council.

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