While productions continue to take advantage of Montreal’s photogenic locations and ability to stand in for European and American cities, the president of leading studio MELS wants to reposition the city in line with its legacy of innovation.
“Montreal dates back to the NFB and the Softimage software used to create dinosaurs in Jurassic Park,” says Martin Carrier. “Today it has all the basics for moviemaking, so we’re playing from a position of strength as we bring new technology into the mix.”
MELS remained active during the recent lockdown, building for the future. And now that shooting has resumed on its 20 soundstages (totalling about 225,000 square feet), it has launched its cutting-edge virtual studio capability.
The virtual stage — which can be set up in any of MELS’ rooms — allows for the integration of imagery played back on a 35′ x 16′ video wall consisting of Absen M2.9 LED screens. Epic Games’ Unreal Engine technology links the resources required for in-camera VFX, replacing the need for traditional green screens and compositing. Filmmakers can credibly and efficiently shoot scenes set on a Paris rooftop or in a subway car without ever leaving the studio.
“Virtual production comes up in every conversation with the big studios,” Carrier says. “It’s a great tool and Montreal is best positioned to bring it to fruition. It’s all happening within the downtown hub — within five kilometres of our studios you will find great videogames and VFX teams with a deep understanding of moviemaking.”
He confirms that a major TV production has already used the virtual setup, adding that it is aimed at the indie crowd as well. “We haven’t priced it out of reach for local filmmakers and have several of them slated to use it,” he says.
Productions can have many of their needs met at MELS. Last Fall, the studio’s audio-post department received Dolby Atmos Home Entertainment 9.1.4 certification, acknowledging its state-of-the-art sound-mix design technology. The shop provided sound-mixing services for Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, which was Oscar-nominated in that category and which also shot on MELS’ stages.
The studio has its own VFX department that can contribute to projects as early as preproduction, and which has racked up credits ranging from AMC fantasy series Preacher to feature X-Men: Dark Phoenix.
The latter shot at MELS (as did X-Men: Days of Future Past and X-Men: Apocalypse) and used equipment from MELS’ onsite rental facility, which provides cameras, lighting and specialized gear. The studio’s post services also include offline editing, image finishing and one of North America’s few remaining Kodak-accredited photochemical labs for film-stock processing. Its services extend to deliverables distribution and QC and digital archiving.
Most of MELS’ stages are in downtown Montreal — conveniently close to hotels and restaurants — and typically service feature-film production. Its St. Hubert location half an hour away tends to host TV shoots.
Notable projects that have come through MELS’ doors in recent months include the Home Alone reboot for Disney+, Roland Emmerich’s sci-fi epic Moonfall, the fifth season of New York-set comedy-drama The Bold Type for Disney’s Freeform channel, and The CW’s drama series The Republic of Sarah.
“Pandemic protocols have added costs to producers, and they need to control their travel and spending as much as possible,” Carrier says. “So providing access to space, equipment and services all under the same roof is one of our great advantages.”