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November 13, 2006

Spiderwick's Magical Mystery Mansion

Filmmakers build a real house in Cap St. Jacques to capture the enchantment of The Spiderwick Chronicles

Brendan Kelly @ The Gazette(canada.com)

If you happened to have taken a stroll recently in the Cap St. Jacques nature park on the West Island, you might have noticed something strange. There's a big striking looking house nestled in the woods that wasn't there just a few months back. That's the Spiderwick mansion, a magical place that will be familiar to the many young readers who've devoured the books in the popular kids series The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black.

The producers of the big-screen version of The Spiderwick Chronicles, which is currently shooting here, decided to build the enchanted mansion from scratch rather than film in an existing building. A major construction crew spent three months this summer putting together the impressive mansion in Cap St. Jacques. Often filmmakers will build a facade of, say, the front of a house on a film set. What's unusual here is that the producers built a real house - the only things missing for it to be habitable are heating and running water. "If you're going to call it The Spiderwick Chronicles and it's set at the Spiderwick mansion, you've got to make sure that once you visualize it, that it's going to have impact," producer Mark Canton said. "It's beautiful and it was worth it."

"They wanted to shoot the rich way," said Michele St. Arnaud, the film's location manager. The Spiderwick Chronicles - which is based on parts of several of the books in the five-novel series - is estimated to have a budget of $130 million, making it one of the most expensive movies ever shot in Montreal. One reason they built the house from scratch is that the Spiderwick mansion is the main set in this flick, which Canton and Paramount Pictures are hoping will turn into a Harry Potter-like franchise movie series.

It is the story of the three Grace children - twin brothers Jared and Simon, both played by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory star Freddie Highmore, and sister Mallory, portrayed by Sarah Bolger from In America. They move into the Spiderwick mansion where they discover a book, Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You (Spiderwick Chronicles) and an array of magical creatures, including goblins, boggarts, fairies, and the frightening ogre Mulgarath (to be played by Nick Nolte with considerable help from the computer-generated-effects department). *cough* (Tippett Studio)

The cast also includes Joan Plowright as the eccentric Aunt Lucinda, David Strathairn as Arthur Spiderwick, Mary-Louise Parker as the mother of the three kids, and Andrew McCarthy as her ex-husband. Martin Short will provide the voice of Thimbletack, one of the creatures.

St. Arnaud initially found a bed and breakfast in Stanstead in the Eastern Townships that she thought might work as the Victorian mansion, but the filmmakers decided it would be easier to film in a building constructed specifically for the film's needs.

St. Arnaud took the producers to Cap St. Jacques this spring, and when they drove up to the bungalow housing the park's administrative staff, the producers asked her - "Why don't we film here?"

The only hitch was the city of Montreal building right there. But a detail like that wasn't about to stop these Hollywood producers. They struck a deal with the city to tear down the building, and it was demolished in early July. (The five Cap St. Jacques administrators are currently working out of two luxury trailers in the park and are eventually supposed to move into an abandoned building, the Maison Richer, nearby.)

Director Mark Waters (Mean Girls, Freaky Friday) and the rest of the crew spent most of October filming at the house in Cap St. Jacques and have now moved into Mel's Cite du Cinema studios, where the interiors of the Spiderwick mansion have been recreated. Shooting will continue there until the end of the year.

As for the Cap St. Jacques mansion, St. Arnaud said, "We're going to put a sort-of shrink wrap on the roof like they put on boats" and keep it until next spring in case they have to do re-shoots. After that, it will be torn down.

St. Arnaud notes that it also would've been expensive if they'd decided to shoot in the house in Stanstead because they would've had to put up the entire cast and Montreal crew in hotels there for a month.

"Cap St. Jacques offers the look of the country right in Montreal," St. Arnaud said. The filmmakers also shot in Rougemont, which was used for the magical forest scenes, and in Ormstown, which stood in for the small Vermont town where the story takes place. In addition, they shot the scenes with Aunt Lucinda in the sanatorium in a former convent in St. Cesaire.

The Spiderwick Chronicles is due in cinemas in March 2008.


Posted by dschnee at November 13, 2006 1:29 PM