Big Picture: Victoria’s filming boom benefits locals

With at least 24 feature films, TV shows, documentaries and commercials filmed here in 2015, no wonder local industry boosters are doing the happy dance.

Nearly $20 million in direct spending was generated through shoots including parts one and two of Karen Kingsbury’s The Bridge for Hallmark Channel.

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Other Hallmark highlights — including The Last Resort, Signed Sealed Delivered 3 and The Gourmet Detective 2 — were complemented by projects such as Air Bud Entertainment’s Monkey Up and Pupstar, and Lifetime’s Perfect High.

That 2015 was a record-breaking year, outperforming 2006, when 12 shoots pulled in $18 million, was another cause for celebration.

Kirsten Van Ritzen had her own reasons to rejoice, being one of several local actors who benefited from unexpected paydays.

The prolific local writer, comedian and producer of shows including Sin City, the improvised serial beginning its sixth season here on Feb. 16, landed small roles as a lawyer, reporter, wedding guest, florist and harried driving instructor in movies filmed in and around Victoria.

“It was written for a 60-year-old man and that’s just not me,” Van Ritzen said with a laugh, recalling how she was cast as a divorce lawyer in Game of Love, a romantic comedy starring Heather Locklear that recently wrapped in Parksville.

After Van Ritzen’s agent successfully pitched her for consideration to Vancouver-based casting director Tiffany Mak, the lawyer’s gender changed.

“Some scripts still said Mr. Keffler, but they called me Mrs.,” recalled Van Ritzen, who suggested she should be addressed as Ms. Keffler.

“I love it when they think outside the box.”

Keffler represents Locklear’s character’s ex-husband, played by Lochlyn Munro — “a real jerk” whom she walks out on.

Van Ritzen also played a flower-shop woman in scenes filmed at Oak Bay Flower Shop for The Bridge: Part 2, which stars Ted McGinley and Faith Ford.

Perks included getting a big hug from McGinley, the actor of Happy Days and Married With Children fame, and witnessing the stars’ professionalism up close.

“It was great to see how generous they both were,” she said. “You really get the sense why crews are so great when they’re working with such happy stars.”

Stranger in the House, director Allan Harmon’s thriller starring Emmanuelle Vaugier, in which Van Ritzen played a reporter, was another notably harmonious shoot, Van Ritzen said.

“I could tell the crew were very happy to work on that,” she said.

One of the most liberating gigs for Van Ritzen, who has an extensive background in comedy and teaches standup, was doing Disney XD’s action comedy Mark & Russell’s Wild Ride with Joey Bragg (Liv & Maddie).

Although her closeups didn’t make the final cut, she found it particularly enjoyable because the producers cast performers with standup or improv backgrounds.

Bragg, a standup comic himself, “was the sweetest young man,” said Van Ritzen. “Everyone was just so funny,” she added, paying tribute to director Jon Rosenbaum’s facility for working with young people.

Van Ritzen’s local shoots landed her gigs across the pond, including a small role as a wedding guest in So You Said Yes, a Hallmark romantic comedy starring Kellie Martin and Bruce Boxleitner.

“I threw in a naughty line and she cracked up,” said Van Ritzen, recalling her bit part as a wedding guest offering advice to Martin’s character, Annabelle, a specialty bridal-shop owner.

“I’ve definitely felt the pressure of what used to be called a day player, working with leads who have established a relationship with the director, and crew that has worked together.”

Playing such smaller roles requires experienced actors to seamlessly blend in and quickly flesh out a character.

“Directors will give you more than one take, but I feel a responsibility to nail it, to help them get what they need,” she said.

To her amusement, Van Ritzen receives updates from family and friends on airtimes for her movies. Her Seattle-based cousin carefully monitors her Hallmark moments.

Van Ritzen admitted she was surprised to learn how popular The Bridge is, noting “fans went nuts” on social media after learning they would have to wait until December for Part 2.

“It’s a beautiful and heartfelt drama but it ended on a to-be-continued note,” said Van Ritzen, reflecting on the first part of the series that charts the friendship of two college students during their first semester.

“I’m very grateful to have these film roles and just show up,” said Van Ritzen, who loves to act without the added pressures of producing.

During the calm before this year’s production storm, Van Ritzen is taking intensive theatre workshops on clowning and puppetry at the Banff Centre with Cirque du Soleil and Old Trout Puppet artists.

“That’s my next thing — maybe I’ll run away with the circus,” she said. “But I’ll be the clown. No way am I jumping off a trapeze.”

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