Copyright 2002 The Ottawa Sun

[ February 22nd 2002 ]

Billy Bob Thornton, decked in a flamboyant get-up, fronting his band at a local club, waiting for his wife Angelina Jolie to get back in town from Salt Lake City; George Clooney making the rounds of the finest restaurants; Julia Roberts feeling right at home; Nicole Kidman shopping up a storm; Drew Barrymore blending with the local in-crowd; Matt Damon and Brad Pitt checking out the night life. Hey, is Montreal a hip place or what?

It's true. All or most of the above Hollywood deities, and a goodly number of other lesser luminaries, are in Montreal as of this writing. They're in town shooting some of the dozens of films the city will welcome from the U.S. and elsewhere this year, as well as scores of Quebecois productions.

While Toronto gets five minutes of bad Canuck jokes on the Simpsons and thrills at Sideshow Mel Lastman's plans for a blockbuster movie complex down by the lake, Montreal is already well-established as the preferred shooting location in Canada for Hollywood producers. And it's obvious actors love the place too.

Those who've seen Robert DeNiro in The Score, where he plays a classy thief who owns a jazz club in old Montreal, can't help but notice how comfortable he seems in the cool, cosmopolitan ambiance of a city but an hour by plane from New York. Thornton, for example, ever the eccentric, has actually been seeking out local media to let the townsfolk know he appreciates their hospitality. The feeling is mutual, of course, with Montreal appreciating Thornton, his wife and, perhaps to a lesser extent, his band.

Clooney, by the way, is directing and starring in the movie version of game show host Chuck Barris' book, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Roberts, Barrymore, Pitt and Damon are in the cast. Billy Bob is shooting the drama Levity in the company of Morgan Freeman, Holly Hunter and Kirsten Dunst. Kidman, Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris and Gary Sinise are doing the movie of Phillip Roth's novel, The Human Stain, directed by Robert Benton. Are we missing anyone?

The fact that Montreal is crawling with movie stars and crew is actually indicative of a growing problem. The city has reached the point where its production facilities are saturated and pricey movie productions are being turned away. Oddly enough, a defunct Korean car plant may provide the solution to Montreal's movie glut. Where Hyundai failed, Hollywood may prosper.

Although some skeptics may say they'll believe it when they see it, the vast Hyundai plant in Bromont, less than an hour, traffic depending, south-east of Montreal, may soon become North America's largest movie production facility. The plant has been idle since 1994 and ever since has been the subject of numerous schemes to find a new vocation.

The promoters of Studios Bromont, Jocelyn Parenteau and Thomas Rioux, said last week work will begin in earnest to prepare the 1.2 million square foot building, which sits on a 420-acre lot, for its first production. The refurbishing will cost an estimated $ 24 million, which is addition to the $ 20 million paid for the massive building itself.

Rioux has an answer for doubters. He says a study conducted by Arthur Anderson consultants -- insert Enron-induced snicker here - concludes Studios Bromont investors are "sitting on a gold mine." Those investors, naturally, include Investment Quebec, an agency of the Quebec government which would dearly love to see the gigantic Korean white elephant transformed into a movie studio, generating jobs, economic spin-off, and of course gratitude to the ruling party come election time.

The restaurants and night life of Bromont or Granby or Cowansville, may not be up to the standards to which Hollywood stars have become accustomed, but then again merveilleux Montreal is only a brisk limo or chopper ride away.

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