Toronto's production industry is reaching a crisis point as the beleaguered city contemplates an ongoing battle against SARS. Producer Don Carmody, who is scheduled to begin production of Resident Evil: Apocalypse on Aug. 11, told Screen International that if the city can't "get a lid on" its SARS situation, "they can kiss production goodbye, including my own."
Resident Evil: Apocalypse, a $45m Canada-UK coproduction backed by Constantin Film and Screen Gems and starring Milla Jovovich, is one of the bigger budget films schedule to shoot in Toronto this summer. Warner Bros' New York Minute, starring Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen, is supposed to roll July 21; a Warner Bros spokesperson confirmed the studio's intention to shoot in the city.
Thus far, the city has lost one major feature to SARS, the Miramax-backed Shall We Dance, starring Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez, which diverted to Winnipeg in late April shortly after the WHO issued its travel advisory..
Carmody, who has shot many US features in Canada, including Chicago, said he expects to have a harder time convincing marquee actors to shoot in the city; worse, he reckons insurance companies will begin to "rate" Toronto as a higher risk and thus boost already sky-high costs for cast insurance. "Why would you come to Toronto if it's going to cost you more'"
Presently, Firemans Fund, North America's leading underwriter of production insurance, has not altered its policies concerning the risk of SARS. "There has been no change in our underwriting posture," said John Kozero, Firemans Fund public relations director.
Marcus Handman, a spokesman for the Directors Guild of Canada (DGC), expressed frustration with Carmody's statement. "We know that producers have legitimate concerns and are seeking the best information. [But] if they look into it, they will find it's safe to film in Toronto."
"The perception does not equate with the reality," said Prudence Emery, the doyenne of Canadian unit publicists. "The odds of catching SARS are so low, there's a better chance of getting killed on the drive in from the airport." But she agreed that a negative assessment from insurers could have severe consequences.
Following a recent report that a US citizen contracted the respiratory illness on a visit here and returned to his North Carolina home, the World Health Organization (WHO) is contemplating the renewal of its travel advisory against non-essential travel to Toronto. A confirmed case of disease export is part of the criteria for a travel advisory.