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Fifty shades of production troubles hit B.C. film business

Peter Leitch, chairman of the Motion Picture Production Industry Association of British Columbia, says Fifty Shades has a ‘relatively modest’ budget compared to other blockbusters filmed in B.C.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

Feature films have been scuttled or postponed for far less than the crisis that has hit the film adaptation of the global bestselling novel Fifty Shades of Grey, raising questions about whether the whips will ever be raised on the made-in-Vancouver project.

Weeks before production was to begin in the Lower Mainland, Pacific Rim star Charlie Hunnam quit as the male lead, citing scheduling challenges with his acclaimed TV series Sons Of Anarchy.

That has forced producers to a scramble to find a new actor to play Christian Grey. In the novel, dubbed "mommy porn" by some, Mr. Grey is a young tycoon involved in a bondage, dominance, sadism relationship with college grad Anastasia Steele. The actress playing Ms. Steele has been in place for a while – Dakota Johnson, daughter of actors Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith.

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News of the casting troubles was good for a giggle over the past weekend, but has more tangible consequences for B.C. in terms of jobs associated with the production and profile for the province as a place to shoot films. Fifty Shades could generate about 200 jobs over several months, according to one estimate. That would be good news for a production sector that has faced grim times recently.

But further Fifty films could be possible. The remaining novels in the British novelist E.L. James's trilogy are awaiting production, which would mean more spinoff rewards if they are shot in B.C.

That is far from a done deal. Producers of Man of Steel filmed much of the production in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island, but departed for Michigan when that state courted them with generous subsidies. Two of five released X-Men films were shot in Vancouver, but the latest, X-Men: Days of Future Past, was shot in Montreal. Several Twilight films, but not all, were shot in B.C.

There is no word on the search for a new Christian Grey, but the production was planned to start in November. The movie is set for release on Aug. 1, 2014, meaning it would be a race to film it, put it through post-production, then promote and release it.

British filmmaker Sam Taylor-Johnson is on deck to direct. The entertainment publication Variety recently reported screenwriter Patrick Marber, who wrote Notes on a Scandal and Closer, has been hired to "amp up" characters in the working script, raising the prospect of a delay in the production.

Peter Leitch, chairman of the Motion Picture Production Industry Association of British Columbia, said Fifty Shades has a "relatively modest" budget compared to Man of Steel or the upcoming shot-in-B.C. film, Warcraft.

Still, he said it would be good news for B.C. "If there are sequels, that would be fantastic, because it creates many more jobs."

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Mr. Leitch said the trouble did not faze him, but noted he had not heard whether the movie will proceed.

"It's a normal course of business thing," he said. "We are constantly having projects come and projects go and this is just a kind of blip on radar in my mind. There is a deep talent pool around. They will recast and get on with things."

He said he's limited in what he can say about the film. He declined to comment on whether it would be shot at North Shore Studios, of which he is president. "I've been directed not to even comment on that information," he said, referring queries to the film's production office. No office is listed on the production chart released by the B.C. Film Commission because shooting has yet to start.

Richard Brownsey, president and CEO of the provincial agency Creative B.C., which includes the B.C. Film Commission, said a Fifty Shades franchise would be "wonderful" for B.C., but noted that a first film has not yet even been made.

"You don't build your reputation on one production," he said. "You build it by being a consistent reliable place to make movies."

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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