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Stephen Greenberg and Jean Bureau, founders of Montreal production house Incendo.
Stephen Greenberg and Jean Bureau, founders of Montreal production house Incendo.

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Murder! Infidelity! Treachery! International sales! Add to ...

When Bureau and Greenberg were putting together The Rendering, they worked out of a 10-by-10 office in Montreal's Mile End district. “We had two chairs, two cellphones and a TV set,” Greenberg recalls. “That was about it.” Incendo has since expanded, with 12 employees in its Montreal headquarters, 15 in the main distribution office in Toronto, and two in L.A. (a development executive and a salesperson). Another office in Montreal houses production; seven department heads work here full-time, but another 70 contractual employees are hired when a shoot is in process - which is much of the year, though shoots are avoided in the winter. “Nothing against snow,” Greenberg explains. “It's the shorter days. Much harder to get a shoot done with so little light.”

Arthur Holden, a Montreal-based screenwriter and playwright who penned the 2008 Incendo entry Out of Control, is currently developing another movie for the company. “As much as the films are generic –the female lead, the red herrings in the plot – the Incendo team appreciates originality,” says Holden, insisting Incendo products are not entirely formulaic. “They are not looking for cookie-cutter stories. I put a bit more character development into my script, which they liked. What they do want is a roller-coaster plotline. You need a certain number of oh-my-god moments - these are thrillers, after all. You need a new twist or turn at about 10-minute intervals. And a dead body somewhere along the line helps.”

Though always shot in Montreal, Incendo films are usually set in U.S. cities such as Chicago, New York, Boston and Philadelphia. And Greenberg and Bureau concede that a big part of their success involves taking advantage of Hollywood cultural imperialism – that is, making the films “pass” for American. Each Incendo protagonist is played by an import from south of the border, including Doherty, Mena Suvari ( American Beauty), Ally Sheedy ( High Art, The Breakfast Club), Sherilyn Fenn ( Twin Peaks, Gilmore Girls) and Dina Meyer ( Starship Troopers, Saw). While not A-list stars, these actresses have just enough cachet and international recognition to ensure an elevated level of audience interest – and higher ratings.

The flip side of Incendo's star attractions is equally crucial to its business model: The company employs local crew members, and it casts supporting players and up-and-coming directors from the Quebec talent pool to create each project. While Incendo doesn't apply for financing from the federal film and TV funding agency Telefilm or its Quebec counterpart SODEC – which is highly unusual for a Canadian production company – the fact that it employs a high ratio of homegrown talent means that the company qualifies for provincial and federal tax credits. “We have more and more talented writers in Canada,” Bureau says. “And we've hired many great Quebec directors for our films, giving some of them their first opportunity to work in English.” The advance sales, plus the tax credits, offset the $3-million to $4-million budgets of each Incendo thriller. In the U.S., that would be considered a fairly low amount for a movie, but here in Canada it's considered to be a solid budget.

Hans Fraikin, who is film commissioner of the Quebec Film and Television Council, says Incendo has succeeded where others have tried but failed. “Their success is due to a number of factors,” he explains. “Some production houses attempt to churn out too much – they then overextend themselves by spending too much. Others put out too little, which means they have a lot in one basket. Stephen and Jean have perfected the formula, getting the volume right and balancing that with cost.”

The partners' extensive background in distribution has also helped, Fraikin is quick to add. “They are extremely well connected, and very worldly. They are very highly regarded. I thought I knew a lot of people. They are connected to many powerful producers and distributors in Hollywood.”

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