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Quebec: Versatility and top-tier infrastructure

Canadian Locations Showcase: Québec is renowned for its thriving VFX sector, wide diversity of landscapes and scenery, as well as infrastructure that makes it possible to produce both independent and large-scale studio productions at scale.

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Quebec: Versatility and top-tier infrastructure

Canadian Locations Showcase: Québec is renowned for its thriving VFX sector, wide diversity of landscapes and scenery, as well as infrastructure that makes it possible to produce both independent and large-scale studio productions at scale.

 

The pandemic has not slowed Quebec’s growing production sector. In 2021, despite worldwide disruptions related to COVID-19, the province enjoyed a record year with $2.5 billion in direct industry spending.

“We are seeing more high-end projects, including series and blockbusters,” says Christine Maestracci, president and CEO of the Quebec Film and Television Council (QFTC). “We have the capacity to accommodate those projects. We have ‘A’ crews that are deep and that also work on our local productions, which are similarly booming. Foreign producers are tapping into our creative and technical talent as well as our incentives, which we want to make sure will grow.”

The cycle saw peak totals for foreign production ($470 million in economic benefits) and visual effects production ($780 million), according to SODEC.

mels 4, a massive new 160,000-square-foot facility that should be ready next year. courtesy of mels.

MELS 4, a massive new 160,000-square-foot facility that should be ready next year. Courtesy of MELS.

Productions that shot in Quebec last year include Amazon mystery series Three Pines, sitcom Ghosts for CBS Studios and Lionsgate Television, Netflix holiday romcom Single All the Way, A24 horror-comedy Disappointment Blvd. starring Joaquin Phoenix, and Paramount’s Transformers: Rise of the Beasts.   

The latter, which Maestracci characterizes as possibly the largest production Montreal has ever welcomed, shot at MELS Studios and north of the city in the Laurentians and used Grandé Studios for set construction.

One feature keeping these studios in demand is their virtual production stages, which enable filmmakers to shoot actors in virtual environments displayed on an LED wall — a far more efficient and controllable system than the traditional use of blue and green screens. “Producers need to know those facilities are there and available,” Maestracci says.

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts shot on MELS’s virtual stage, as did Disappointment Blvd., which set up its offices at Grandé and also shot there.

grand studios virtual production stage. courtesy of grand studios.

Grandé Studios virtual production stage. Courtesy of Grandé Studios.

While MELS offers 20 soundstages spread over various locations and Grandé offers 14, demand has outstripped supply as more international studios and streamers look to shoot in Montreal. That shortage is being addressed with MELS constructing a massive new 160,000-square-foot facility that should be ready next year, and plans at Grandé for two more stages (40,000 sq. ft.) with 35,000-sq.-ft. construction mills.

Productions are also making the most of the city’s exteriors, which are perhaps the most diverse of any Canadian city, thanks in part to its 17th-century Old Montreal neighbourhood.

“Montreal can pass for New York, Chicago, and Washington, but also for Paris, Prague, and London,” Maestracci says. “We have modern buildings next to structures with a European feeling and many  parks. There’s cultural diversity ranging from Chinatown to the suburbs. Here you can pretend you’re in eight different countries and 15 different cities with four full seasons.”

She estimates 15% of Quebec production occurs outside of Montreal, taking advantage of everything from the photogenic lakes, mountains and forests of the Laurentians (as did Transformers and France-Canada copro Falcon Lake) to the old mining town of Thetford Mines (as did CBC drama series Bellevue).

Montreal’s vibrant VFX industry — which according to the QFTC ranks in the top three beside L.A. and London — is a further selling point. While Roland Emmerich’s apocalyptic feature Moonfall is an example of a project that combined principal photography and VFX production in Montreal, the city gets many major VFX gigs from out-of-province productions.

In fact, all of this year’s Academy Award nominees for best visual effects — Dune, No Time To Die, Spider-Man: No Way HomeShang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Free Guy — were serviced by Montreal VFX shops including DNEG, Cinesite, Framestore, Digital Domain, Scanline VFX, Rodeo FX and Raynault Visual Effects.

Montreal’s world-class credentials are sweetened by competitive tax credits that offer productions a 20% rebate to expenditures paid to Quebec residents and companies, as well as 16% for eligible labor in VFX and computer animation and additional federal incentives.