The Don of Hollywood North Hits 100-Film Milestone

Oscar-winning Chicago producer Don Carmody, who led the exodus of Hollywood studio pics to Canada from the 1980s, to receive industry tribute in Toronto on Saturday night.

TORONTO -- Having racked 100-plus movie credits during a 40-year Canadian producing career, Don Carmody has earned the status of public enemy number one with Los Angeles runaway production opponents.

“I kind of started it, bringing those early movies up here and it opened up the floodgates,” Carmody, known on Hollywood studio lots as the Don of Canada, recalled.

Starting in the 1980s, he convinced the major studios to bring their films to Canada, where he matched Hollywood production values with lower budgets.

For helping start and sustain Hollywood North, Carmody will be honored this Saturday night in Toronto with a career tribute at the Four Seasons Hotel to benefit the Canadian Film Centre and the Special Olympics.

Lining up to toast and roast Carmody will be a slew of Canadian directors, cinematographers, location scouts, studio operators, equipment suppliers and post production houses, all of whom have done well by his patronage over the years.

And more than a few Hollywood bean counters will be sending their good wishes.

For the major studios, crunching the numbers during the 1980s and deciding they could not longer afford Los Angeles with certain pictures, embraced the low Canadian dollar and the tax bribes and gave Carmody their films.

Early converts to Canada included the late Sidney Lumet, who’d shot the studio portions of Network north of the border, before pacting with Carmody on Physical Evidence, Guilty as Sin and Critical Care, where Toronto doubled as New York City.

"He (Lumet) was a joy to work with. He'd rehearse for two weeks before camera time, the actors would know before they came to the set exactly what they had to do, and production started at 8 a.m and we were in dailies at 5 p.m.," Carmody recounted. 

There were also early conquests with Columbia Pictures, including The Big Town, starring a young Matt Dillon and Diane Lane, and Switching Channels, and Walt Disney Studios with Squanto and Lumet’s Guilty as Sin.

Then came a major run with the Weinstein brothers at Miramax that started with Sharon Stone’s unlikely serious starring role in The Mighty, and included Studio 54 and In Too Deep. 

“It (The Mighty) went well and soon it became six or seven movies,” Carmody remembered, though not without constant challenges.

With Good Will Hunting, Carmody showed an initially skeptical Matt Damon and Ben Affleck that Toronto could stand in for Boston.

Lucky for Carmody, as a native New Englander, he'd lived in Beantown before moving with his family to Montreal.

“When they said we can’t get this or that or in Toronto, I’d say ‘yes you can,’” producing location pictures to compare the two cities, he recalled.

“And they (Damon and Affleck) would go, ‘that does look like this or that,” Carmody added.

The high-water mark for Carmody with Miramax was Chicago, which he shot in Toronto with a co-producer credit, and whose road to the 2003 best picture Oscar was paved with endless rewrites, until Rob Marshall found a hook to make the picture work.

That, and a tight-fisted Harvey Weinstein insisting Chicago would never go over a tight budget.

Carmody did manage to get the Miramax musical in under the wire, before it won best picture and five other Oscars and cemented his status in Canada as the country’s most successful film producer.

It also underlined a producer career in which Carmody, in a seemingly endless series of urgent phone calls, has spent his career assuring Hollywood studio players, often from across the continent, that all is going well on set in Canada, and that their picture will get done on time and on budget, come hell or high water.

Carmody’s other screen credits included the Keanu Reeves-starrer Johnny Mnemonic, The Boondock Saints, with William Dafoe, The Third Miracle, starring Ed Harris and Anne Heche, the Bruce Willis-starrer The Whole Nine Yards, and 3000 Miles to Graceland, with Kevin Costner and Courtney Cox.

Earning industry trust as a film producer for Carmody began during the early 1970s in Montreal when, while with then indie player Cinepix, he produced the early David Cronenberg horrorfests Shivers, Rabid and The Brood, or teamed up with Ivan Reitman to make Meatballs

That Bill Murray-starring classic camp comedy, a commercial success and still a cult classic with Canadians, paved the way for both Reitman and Carmody to march on Hollywood.

But not before Carmody started producing his own indie pictures, including the Weekend at Bernie’s films, Chuck Norris favorites like The Hitman and Sidekick, and Bob Clark’s A Christmas Story.

Carmody’s later success as a studio magnet occasionally gets under the skin of fellow Canuck producers that have spent their careers clawing their way free of Hollywood to become part of the Canadian system with personal, signature films.

“I’ve always been an independent. It’s always hard scrabble. You’re always trying to raise money. And I don’t use the Canadian system to finance my movies,” Carmody insists.

In more recent years, he’s turned to international co-productions to finance successful video game-to-movie adaptations like the Silent Hill and Resident Evil franchises.  

Resident Evil: Afterlife 3D, the fourth installment in the franchise structured as a Canadian-German co-production, to date has grossed around $300 million worldwide.

That Resident Evil: Afterlife box office surpassed the previous top-grossing Canadian movie, Porky’s, produced by Carmody in 1982.  

Despite Resident Evil: Afterlife being shot in Toronto with a raft of local talent, Carmody accepts there will always be sniping in some local quarters that his films are not quite Canadian.

“We’re about zombies. There’s no Mounties,” he said of the Milla Jovovich-starring horror pic.

That said, Canadians love their zombies, too.

Resident Evil: Afterlife last year took in just over $7 million at the local multiplex to become the top-grossing Canadian film of 2010.

For Carmody, it’s just raw business.  

“I try to make movies for a world audience, to entertain the greatest number of people and not to bore anyone. Fortunately, I’ve been successful,” he said.