Hollywood North. That’s how the American film industry describes the phenomenon of filming in Canada instead of California. Lower taxes, provincial government aid, amenable police departments, accessible crews, and with the Canadian dollar sinking ever lower in value compared to the States it’s a no-brainer. Hollywood, we’re open for business!
Well, Vancouver and Toronto are too. Those two metropolises are hotspots for film helping them rake in the cash. Film and television in those cities alone are each bringing in over a billion dollars a year.
So where’s Montreal in this mix? Is our intrepid city encouraging creative movie types to come here and make their masterpieces? If you guessed “no,” then you’d be absolutely spot on.
What Montreal Could Have Been
Those over the age of thirty-five will remember that Montreal was aiming to be the third city in the Hollywood North pantheon. A beacon for the entertainment industry with an even more inviting environment than those offered by those cities to the west of our formerly fair metropolis.
By 1999, Montreal had made nearly $700 million from film production. By the turn of the millenium, 14 movie titles had been filmed here including significant hits like 12 Monkeys and Batman & Robin. The next decade almost tripled that number to 40 with major productions such as Catch Me If You Can, The Day After Tomorrow, The Notebook, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Those were the golden years. What followed was a steep drop off netting Montreal little more than 10 movies; a sharp left turn from the trajectory it had been taken.
There are more movies being shot now in our city, of course. We might see the number jump back up but it’ll be a drop in the bucket compared to the massive amount of work being done in Toronto and Vancouver. It’s embarrassing, really.
Montreal’s Brain Drain
Educated and talented professionals leaving Montreal for greener pastures is a reality every Montreal citizen is acutely aware of. Every year it seems we have to weigh the benefits of staying versus moving in search of more opportunity.
This drain is true for many industries (as evidenced by the decreasing number of graduates who become permanent residents), and especially true for those in entertainment. Stories of actors, comedians and writers getting fed up with the low ceiling in Montreal regularly reach their breaking point, opting to uproot their lives seeking success elsewhere.
It would be one thing if they were only moving to Toronto or Vancouver, as there is something to be said for keeping them in the Canadian family. But for them to head 4,500 km away to another country, across the continent, due to a shortage of opportunity and hope… well, that’s just plain awful.
Another One Bites The Dust
I suppose this issue particularly hits home for me as a stand-up comedian. I look around me for examples of successful black male actors and comics and am crestfallen. Not at the lack of talent, but at the struggle they go through trying to make a living in the career of their choice.
The latest example of Montreal failing its ambitious performers is Andrew Searles
The latest example of Montreal failing its ambitious performers is Andrew Searles who is now firmly ensconced in the loving, smog-covered bussom of L.A. looking to reach higher there than he could here. What insanity that a skilled actor/comedian feels that he can’t make it in a major city such as ours.
Searles has been performing for over ten years appearing in comedic and dramatic roles such as Sharkboy (2004), Geeks Underground (2009) and Cereal Killer (2014). He’s been in McDonald’s and Moores commercials. He had a principal role in Remove (2015) that won heaps of awards including Best Drama, Best Cinematography, and the Canadian Award of Commendation. It was lauded by critics around the world. Did I mention that he also produced his own comedy shows selling out five weekends?
Seriously, what does a performer have to do to make it in this city?
Is there hope for the rest of us? Are we making a terrible decision wasting our time in a city that seems to care more about pretending to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit?
A New Hope
Of course giving up on Montreal shouldn’t be the plan. There is hope, I hope.
Maybe the plummeting Canadian dollar will increase demand to the point where Vancouver and Toronto will be overly saturated making Montreal more appealing.
Maybe cost of producing indie films will continue to drop and major hits will come out of Montreal, unexpectedly sparking an movie revolution the likes of which we haven’t seen since Bollywood.
Maybe Donald Trump’s America will cause an exodus of talent and producers triggering a migration to their nearest English-speaking country, incidentally making Montreal great again.
One thing is certain. There is no shortage of Montrealers who love this city. I know I certainly do. And I look forward to the day that we’re part of the Hollywood North triumvirate once more. I just hope that it happens soon before more of our best and brightest say goodbye to our lovely island leaving behind everything they’ve ever known.