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City warehouse gets starring role

Former Monarch Industry building a favourite location for film industry

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When there’s only one actual studio complex in town, the Winnipeg film industry sometimes has to get creative — even if it means having cameras roll right next door to a manufacturing shop.

"It’s true that it doesn’t replace a proper studio," local producer Liz Jarvis of Buffalo Gals Pictures says of the Quest Metal Works complex at 889 Erin St., which since 2002 has served as a makeshift studio and production office facility for local productions.

That said, the location is also a more cost-effective, user-friendly, jerry-rigged solution for the right kind of film, according to Jarvis — especially low-budget productions that need to pinch every penny, such as 2011’s Canadian indie drama The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom, which Jarvis co-produced.

"There’s a variety of spaces within the space to use," Jarvis says. For example, productions can fabricate entire sets — albeit on a small scale — within the 14,000-sq. ft. warehouse, with its high clearance ceiling.

The rental of space to the film industry began with the building’s previous owners, Winnipeg-based Monarch Industries, a manufacturer of hydraulic cylinders and custom iron castings.

In 2003, Monarch vacated the building, which sat without a permanent tenant until Quest, a stainless steel manufacturer for the food service industry, took ownership in 2005. Monarch continued renting to film productions in the interim, with Quest deciding to continue the same "repeat business" relationship.

"The building’s larger than what Quest needed, and needs," says Roy Cuddeford, Quest’s manager who also handles rental of the property. Only about half the facility — 138,000 to 140,000 square feet in total — is rented out, at a one-month minimum, with a fixed rate for utilities.

"It’s certainly an unusual building," Cuddeford says, explaining that from outside, it looks like one large structure. In fact, it’s a composite of six near-standalone structures connected by passageways, the first having been built in 1920 and the most recent in the 1980s.

"It’s like six shoeboxes put end to end, really," Cuddeford says, laughing.

The space also perfectly accommodates a production office’s need for temporary offices, says Winnipeg-based producer Kim Todd of Original Pictures.

"There has to be that kind of wide open area for the wardrobe, props and art departments," Todd explains. The building has often proven useful strictly for that purpose; there is also a second, smaller set of offices adjacent to the warehouse/studio which Jarvis says well serves particularly low budget projects.

There are other advantages as well, Jarvis says, such as the building’s central location. And then there is the opportunity to use the very architecture of the facility itself.

"For Wrong Turn 4, we found a long, relatively narrow room inside the complex, with pillars on both sides to create cells of a long-abandoned insane asylum," Todd says. "The character of actual structure can’t be duplicated.

"You use what you have, then you build into it. Productions want to get into places that will require the least amount of work to create, or the least distance to reach."

While production office and warehouse space together can cost as much as $6,000 to $17,000 per month, Jarvis says, costs can vary depending on the time of year and what can be negotiated.

"I say, ‘You’re interested in the space? Let’s sit down and chat,’" Cuddeford says.

It’s a relationship that continues to be a contented one on both sides. "The management understands what a film company needs," Todd says.

Cuddeford says his company welcomes the film industry.

"They’re damn good tenants. It’s just a lot of fun having them."

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