Canada stockpiling films for fear of strike

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TORONTO -- Despite a soaring Canadian dollar, now at a 30-year high against the American greenback, Canadian studio operators are reporting brisk business here as the major studios stockpile product ahead of possible labor strife back home.

The Canadian dollar touched 96.46 cents in value Tuesday compared with the U.S. dollar. But despite the Canadian dollar nearing parity with its U.S. counterpart, Hollywood film and TV shooting here is booming.

"It's pretty hot right now. The studios are ramping up production to build an inventory in case there are strikes," Quebec film commissioner Hans Fraikin said Tuesday of local movie shoots, including the Brad Pitt starrer "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and "The Mummy 3."

Toronto also has seen strong in-flows of production dollars from Los Angeles.

"As the dollar touches 96 cents, production has definitely picked up significantly in Toronto over the last month or so," said Paul Bronfman, chairman and CEO at production equipment supplier ComWeb Group. "One of the reasons might be some of the studios down there are thinking of stockpiling shows in anticipation of a strike. It really does go against logic to suggest that production is up when the dollar is meeting new highs, but that's the case."

The WGA is in talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers for a new contract for movie writers and primetime broadcast scribes, with the current pact set to expire Oct. 31. The main film and TV contracts at SAG and the DGA run through June 30.

Major studios have been ordering extra episodes of hit TV shows and developing more reality programming to fill the airwaves in case writers or other talent walk at some point. Sources also suggest there's a discernible hurry-up in film development of all sorts.

Despite such reports, guild officials in Los Angeles signaled relative nonchalance on the issue.

"Our general perspective is that stockpiling has never been a significant factor in a negotiations," WGA West assistant executive director Charles Slocum said. "We'd rather see the companies devoting resources to negotiating."

Meantime, Toronto studio operators say they are enjoying the boom, however long it lasts.

"The good news is, at 96 cents, we're still getting exploratory phone calls from Los Angeles for projects beginning late this year and early next year," said Jim Mirkopoulos, vp facility management at Cinespace Film Studios in Toronto.

Cinespace is hosting Paramount's Mike Myers starrer "The Love Guru," Twisted Pictures' "Repo! The Genetic Opera" and "The Echo," produced by veteran Canadian producer Don Carmody ("Chicago").

Elsewhere in town, New Line Cinema is shooting "The Time Traveler's Wife"; Marvel Studios is shooting "The Incredible Hulk," which stars Edward Norton and Liv Tyler; and Christina Applegate and Rainn Wilson are toplining "The Rocker," a Fox Atomic theatrical comedy.

This year, the Canadian industry settled an actors strike as well as a technicians dispute in Quebec, bringing labor peace here ahead of the major studios contract talks with their own unions and guilds in Los Angeles.

Carl DiOrio in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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