The SARS scare in Torontohas claimed its first feature film victim. Miramax Films' Shall We Dance, starring Jennifer Lopez and Richard Gere, set toshoot June 23 in Toronto, will relocate physical production to Winnipeg,Manitoba.
A company spokesperson toldScreendaily that Miramax production executives made the decision Monday,spurred by the World Health Organisation (WHO) travel advisory issued April 23cautioning against non-essential travel to Canada's largest city. Thespokesperson observed that Winnipeg served the film very well from a creativeperspective.
Meanwhile, other productionsare in a holding pattern, awaiting word later today from Geneva, where healthspecialists from Toronto and Canada's Ministry of Health will be meeting WHOrepresentatives to seek a rescinding or rephrasing of the advisory.
Walt Disney Pictures' ConfessionsOf A Teenage Drama Queen, set toshoot in Toronto June 2 with UK director Sara Sugarman at the helm, remains ontrack, according to a Disney spokesperson. However, Disney is formulatingcontingency plans should the situation turn for the worse. The film couldeasily be converted to a new location although the Disney spokesperson wasunwilling to reveal which alternatives are under consideration.
The feature nearest toproduction, Senator International's comedy Harold & Kumar Go ToWhitecastle, is a definite go forToronto on May 12. Senator president of production Carsten Lorenz said he had evaluatedthe situation and feels confident he is offering a safe working environment forhis cast and crew in Toronto.
"It's safe if you use commonsense," he said, referring to the contradictory advisories of the WHO andUS-based Center For Disease Control, which "recommends that U.S. travelers toToronto observe precautions to safeguard their health", including avoidance ofsettings where SARS is most likely, particularly hospitals treating SARSpatients. Lorenz said a scene in the Harold & Kumar script called for a hospital location and has sincebeen altered. "Our insurers said we're insured if someone contracts SARS but wewon't let it come to that."
"As of now we don't thinkit's necessary for productions to shut down or pull out," said LA-based SuzyWozniak, an underwriter in the entertainment division of Fireman's Fund, theleading production insurer in North America, including all Walt Disneyproductions. But, she added, "It's an evolving situation that could go anynumber of directions. As of right now, this is our best assessment."
As of Monday, 21 persons inCanada have died from severe acute respiratory syndrome. According to HealthCanada and the CDC, "Currently, all cases in Toronto are linked to Toronto'soriginal index case and spread has been through person-to-person contact. SARStransmission in Toronto has been limited to a small number of hospitals,households, and specific community settings."