Hollywood film crews stampeding to Calgary

A hollywood of the north, in western Canada? It's beginning to appear that way. Adventurous cinema stars, their sometimes even better-known directors, their crews and camp followers, are flocking here in growing numbers to shoot flicks against pristine backgrounds and with devalued but apparently plentiful Canadian dollars.

Work usually begins as soon as advance people put together yet another multibilliondollar investment package among the well- heeled and tax-conscious Canadian investors and the local nouveau riche entrepreneurs bent on seeing their names in lights. At least three major productions are undere way on the nearby prairies, in the majestic snow-covered valley of the Rockies, or in the glass- and concrete-walled canyons of this bustling oil city.

By 1983, Tri-media, an independent studio of mammoth proportions on the city's outskirts, could be filled with frantic simultaneous activity on several epics.

The Alberta government is spending money with gay abandon to sell this province as a year-round film location to California- based industry moguls harassed by soaring costs at home and constantly searching for unexposed scenery.

Canadians discovered the cinema as a tax shelter quite recently, but Albertans, flush with petrodollars, are making up for lost time almost with a vengeance.

A Canadian investor under present federal tax rules can obtain a tax shelter readily applicable against current income with a "down payment" of only a fraction of the intended investment. The balance of the funds may be paid over the next several years, and in fact often comes from box office revenues. Calgary's oil and real estate millionaires are just as likely to be into films nowadays as they are into exotic cattle, old masters, and antiques.

At times, a few less-scrupulous film promoters will suggest that money or at least a tax deduction can even be made on productions that may never make it to the silver screen. In fact, an occasional film never makes it out of the can.

But the Calgary's leading film lawyer, Gabor Zinner, points out, the bulk of the scripts and the investment packages now hawked around here are legitimate business deals. There is an already impressive track record of locally sponsored and filmed productions, and new investors as well as a would-be producer with film rights in hand are busily lining up their respective operations.

The latest hot tip is Alastair McClain's nmovel "Athabasca," a conspiracy tale set in the tar sands district of northern Alberta and soon to be filmed there in the moolike landscape, dotted with huge industrial plants and machinery.

Films of a more benign nature, including scenes from "Superman" and Robert Altman's "Days of Heaven," show the aesthetically more pleasing aspects of western Canadian scenery.

It was a Calgary financier and property tycoon, Jack Singer, who recently rescued the bankrup Francis Ford Coppola of "The Godfather" and "Apocalypse Now" fame with an $8 million loan.

Lee Marvin is a regular customer here, putting together fast-moving tough-guy productions on his own account. Canadian content in movies, whether in the writing end or in the acting, production, and release phases, is as good as money in the bank because of progressively more generous tax credits availble from Ottawa, investors claim.

Calgary's leading film boss, Joe Sefel, who also made his money in land speculation and oil deals, is specializing in the full, in-house treatments of Canadian productions. He has filmed Charles Templeton's "Kidnapping of the President," reaping a cameo role for himself and some modest profits, which he immediately leveraged with new investment in the next endeavor now before the cameras. Cliff Robertson and Harold Cole have together made "The Ghost Keeper" in Alberta.

Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson came back in the middle of winter of finish "Death Hunt," now being shown in theaters throughout Canada and the United States. Other recent Alberta productions include the extremely profitable film "Meatballs," "Waiting for the Parade," teen-age high jinks as portrayed in "Roller Boogie," and the thriller "The Golden Touch."

Mr. Zinner says Alberta now has the technical expertise to mount complex shooting schedules and, of course, there seems to be an inexhaustible source of seed money for film ventures. That helps to foster the image of Alberta as an ideal movieland setting abroad.

From the parched badlands of the south to the rolling prairies to the east and the lofty mountains to the west, Alberta scenery is as mense and mostly clear blue sky, in summer the film folks have a bonus of sorts in the extra hourse of daylight at these latitudes.

Alberta is the only Canadian jurisdiction without a sales tax, which can translate into serious savings for budget-minded producers.Mr. Zinner estimates that savings afforded by an Alberta location can add up to as much as 30 percent of a given budget' s above-the-line expenses.

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