Montreal Spotlight: Where was The United States vs Billie Holiday filmed?

The United States vs Billie Holiday

The United States vs Billie Holiday was directed by Lee Daniels, who is also the director responsible for Empire. The movie itself is a biographical drama and it showcases the life of Billie Holiday. Suzan-Lori Parks managed to adapt the screenplay from the book, Chasing the Scream. It’s set around the 1940s and it tells the very true story of Billie Holiday.  She is a swing and jazz musician. The government targeted her so that they could racialize the huge war on drugs at the time. The era was brilliantly recreated in the movie, and interestingly enough, it was actually filmed in Montreal.

Filming Locations

The principal photography for the movie actually started in October and it finished up fully in December. The movie was completed in just 44 days in 2019 and a big portion of the movie is set in NYC. That being said, most of the movie was actually filmed in Montreal. Lee Daniels has made a special effort to try and share pictures of the shoot on his own Instagram account. This was taken during the very first week of filming. The film was shot extensively in Montreal and the city acted as the perfect stand-in for NYC. Cinema Imperial at the 1430 Rue de Bleury is just one of the many locations where the filming actually took place. When the theatre opened up in 1913, it had the potential to seat 2,300 people but since then it has been scaled back and now the capacity is 819. The movie’s art team worked hard to try and recreate the Carnegie Hall. They perfectly transformed the location so that it would perfectly resemble it. A full musical sequence from the movie was shot at this landmark spot and a crew member also managed to share a behind-the-scenes shot which was taken during the movie shoot.

Could this movie trigger the rise of cinema in Montreal?

This movie has made waves, purely because it is touching on a very sensitive issue. It has been filmed incredibly well and the acting is superb. Some believe that cinemas are dying out and that they no longer hold the same power they once did. Although this may be the case due to streaming services like Netflix, it’s safe to say that big movies like this are helping to draw people back into the theatre and ultimately make waves in the business. It’s not just the movie industry that has taken a hit. The casino industry has also taken a hit. Montreal was once a bit of a gambling hub but since then, it’s completely transformed and taken a digital approach. Of course, Montreal isn’t the only area to undergo this kind of transformation, if you look at the US and for example Finnish gambling industry, you’ll see that they have also adopted a more online-based approach. That being said, movies like this that have a focus on theatre and music will surely draw people back in and it also showcases the allure of actually visiting a cinema to watch a movie or visiting a venue to hear live music. It could serve as a way for theatres to regain the power they have since lost to streaming.

The United States vs Billie Holiday

St James Theatre

The St James Theatre can be found at 265 Rue Saint-Jacques. This is another location where the movie was filmed. It’s in the heart of the Old Montreal district and it is a multipurpose event space. It consists of many halls and this includes the 7,000 square foot hall which is commonly referred to as being the Imperial Ballroom. A picture which has been shared by someone who works with the film crew has really captured the theme behind the scenes. It shows that they are prepared to film at the location which really built the suspense for the movie’s release.

The United States vs Billie Holiday official trailer

Filming also happened to take place at the Bordeaux Prison. This can be found at 800 Gouin Boulevard in West Montreal. Of course, it’s the biggest provincial prison in the whole of Quebec and it’s known for being able to house 1,189 inmates. Montreal is the second biggest city in Canada and it’s also known for being the home of many culture stadiums and food places. This made it the ideal place for the staff to shoot for this location and it also meant that everyone was able to really get stuck in at a local location.

Other filming locations in Montreal

Some of the other filming locations that are around Montreal include the Le Plateau-Mont-Royal. You also have the Old Port of Montreal as well. The Des Recollets Street at one point, was used to film a couple of exterior shots. Of course, the film’s art team completely transformed some of the locations around the city and they also tried to give it much more of an appropriate look. The shooting of some of the scenes at the trial in the movie actually took place at a couple of the redesigned locations. A few of the scenes were also filmed at the city of Beauharnois as well. You may recognise the bustling streets, the sunny weather and the tall buildings too. There is also a blend of very modern architecture and old-school architecture as well and this is one of the many reasons why so many people are being attracted to Montreal in this day and age. When you look at X-Men: Days of Future Past, you will soon see that a lot of the locations in Montreal were used to film there and you also have White House Down.

All in all, it’s generally way cheaper for moviemakers to film in locations like this as it gives them the chance to really experiment without having to go over their film budget. The accommodation in Montreal is also very cheap when compared to places such as New York as well so it is vital that directors keep this in mind when visiting locations.

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