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Big Picture: Spooksville all about the fun

With Gracepoint grabbing our attention right now, it’s easy to forget Fox’s 10-episode Broadchurch remake isn’t the only TV series that will have taken four months to shoot around here.

With Gracepoint grabbing our attention right now, it’s easy to forget Fox’s 10-episode Broadchurch remake isn’t the only TV series that will have taken four months to shoot around here.

This time last year, Craigdarroch Castle was getting ready for its close-ups for Spooksville, the 22-episode children’s series based on Christopher Pike’s frightfully entertaining children’s novels. The historic castle doubles as Shadowmire, the spooky mountaintop mansion in Springville once owned by a woman who, accused of being the town witch in the late 1700s, was put to death.

Executive-produced by Harvey Kahn (R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour), founder of Vancouver’s Front Street Pictures, and Jane Startz (The Magic School Bus), the wholesome action-adventure series filmed mostly in Cowichan Valley last spring and summer premières April 3 at 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Super Channel. It’s also airing in the U.S. on The Hub network, where it made its broadcast debut last fall.

Spooksville stars Colorado-born Keean Johnson, who starred in Billy Elliot on Broadway, as Adam Freeman, the new kid in the fictional seaside town nicknamed Spooksville because of its supernatural occurrences. He discovers he holds the key to an ongoing battle that has been waged between good and evil there for centuries and enlists the help of spunky Sally (Katie Douglas) and Watch (Nick Purcha), a brainy buddy with autism — during a series of adventures.

Time travel, monsters and extraterrestrials are among ingredients in the series that offers a family-friendly alternative to the popular horror and supernatural genre. Indeed, the show’s other-worldly flavour was evident during a visit to the Duncan Curling Club, which was temporarily transformed into a 10,000-square-foot soundstage housing various sets showcasing the creativity of the show’s production designer, known simply as Tink. His masterworks include Shadowmire’s Curiosities Room, an eerily Gothic refuge cluttered with chandeliers, skeletons, vintage dolls, potions and a huge black fireplace, and an elaborate haunted cave his crews created in Lake Cowichan featuring moveable walls that could be configured in multiple ways to create a labyrinthine netherworld.

“We’re 90 per cent local,” Front Street’s Metchosin-based vice-president of production, Allen Lewis, proudly declared, noting a huge percentage of his crews, including Victoria-based first assistant director Shamess Shute and Cowichan-raised assistant location manager Paul Russell, call Vancouver Island home.

There were 88 shooting days at locations in Duncan, Chemainus, Saltair, Ladysmith and Victoria, including shoots on Mount Tzouhalem with Lake Cowichan’s former Stanley Gordon School, doubling as the Lizzie Borden School.

“The story is what really got us going on this series. I just knew we could do this on the Island,” said Lewis, echoing sentiments conveyed by Startz, Spooksville’s New York-based showrunner.

“I look for strong characters, great worlds — ambience and stories that show kids working together,” said Startz, a mother of three. “It’s wholesome and it shows young people can succeed by using their brains, working as a team and by having compassion.”

Startz, who co-founded Scholastic Productions, is no stranger to family entertainment. The Emmy Award-winning producer’s feature films include The Indian in the Cupboard, The Baby-Sitters Club, Tuck Everlasting and Ella Enchanted. She also produced the popular comedy series Charles in Charge and The Magic School Bus.

Startz said she has often used her children as sounding boards, and has found that keys to creating a successful adaptation of a children’s book include being a good collaborator, listener and respectful of young people — a trait she looks for when hiring directors.

“I grew up, as did my kids [now in their 20s] having great action-adventures and series to watch — Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys — and I wanted to see if we could do something to bring back that good old-fashioned family entertainment,” said Startz, who happens to be friends with R.L. Stine, who worked with her at Scholastic before achieving success with Goosebumps and The Haunting Hour.

“This is quite different than those, which are the horror genre. This is the comedy-adventure genre, a very big distinction I hope everybody makes,” she said.

“Goonies is our movie model,” she adds. “It’s fun, physical, shows girls as well as boys who are active with a little spookiness. Nothing terrible happens, but there’s lots of suspense.”

She said it helps that James Krieg (Scooby-Do, Batman, Spider-Man), the writer who adapted the series for TV, “is a grownup kid himself, a comic book and mystery fan with that great spirit that comes through in all his scripts.”

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