While some might have had a tough time escaping the shadow cast by Blue Monday this week, hundreds of actors and film crews on Vancouver Island weren’t among them.
Even before the third Monday in January, deemed the most depressing day of the year, the production community was in a much sunnier mood.
It was chiefly thanks to Hallmark Channel’s confirmation that Chesapeake Shores, which was filmed in Nanoose, Parksville-Qualicum and Nanaimo last year, would be renewed for a second season.
Victoria’s Meghan Ory stars in the multi-generational family drama as Abby O’Brien, a divorced career woman with two daughters who returns to her hometown of the title. Her visit forces her to confront the past, including her relationship with her high school sweetheart (Jesse Metcalfe), her uncompromising father (Treat Williams) and her beloved grandmother (Diane Ladd).
It became the most-watched series in Hallmark Channel history, prompting the network to green-light 10 more episodes slated to start shooting here in March for a summer première.
“We’ve been working with them diligently and they’re gearing up to come back and film in our region,” said Vancouver Island North Film Commission’s Joan Miller. “They took a gamble filming in entirety here.”
Producer Matt Drake confirmed the series was returning to the region, but wasn’t able to provide specifics on locations.
Miller said while some of the show’s cast and production team took a while to get over the “separation anxiety” urban dwellers who shoot here sometimes feel, they eventually “got into the whole groove of Island life.”
Since there had been considerable speculation about whether Chesapeake Shores would return, the news came as a relief to local industry stakeholders, including background casting director Jacqui Kaese.
“The community is already excited and bracing for their return, ready to assist in any possible way,” said the acting coach and Spotlight Academy operator. “It was hugely significant because 400 people went to work as actors and background performers. We had people travelling up on a daily basis from Victoria and Nanaimo for continuity reasons.”
Chesapeake Shores also inspired Kaese to partner with Lynne Carrow, the veteran casting director now living in Parksville, on their new Nanaimo-based casting services operation, Carrow Kaese Casting.
The other project generating buzz is Light of My Life, the survival drama starring Casey Affleck about a father trapped in the wilderness with his daughter that will be filmed in Cowichan Valley and Vancouver.
Affleck, who won a Golden Globe award for his performance in writer-director Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea, could find himself distracted during pre-production for the film that was scheduled to start shooting Jan. 25. That happens to be the day after this year’s Oscar nominations will be announced, and Affleck is a best-actor frontrunner.
“Casey fell in love with the area,” said Miller, who jokes that she connected with him “through a series of fortunate events.”
She recalled how she first learned that Affleck, who wrote the film’s screenplay, was considering the region.
The daughter of a film-commission board member sat beside him on the Departure Bay-bound ferry, and asked if he was who she thought he was. Affleck identified himself and told her he was scouting locations for his next movie.
“She phoned her mom and she phoned us,” recalled Miller, who, two months later, got a call from first assistant director Liz Tan, whom she helped find locations for Lewis and Clark, the shelved HBO miniseries starring Affleck and Matthias Schoenaerts.
HBO put the ambitious historical six-part series on hold following the departure of director John Curran (The Painted Veil) last summer because of creative differences, and is reportedly redeveloping it.
Sets had been built in Atlanta, and some shooting completed in Alberta before production was shut down, dashing hopes of shooting at Vancouver Island locations that Miller’s team had shown them.
Production personnel “wanted to see the whole of our west coast,” recalled Miller, who steered them toward rivers, canyons and old growth forests that could double as locations in coastal America.
“I feel like I’ve been on Lewis and Clark for eight years,” laughed the film commissioner, who had eagerly anticipated shoots in Ucluelet, near Tofino, Kennedy River and Elk Falls Park.
“You win some, you lose some, and sometimes they come back.”
Another one that got away was Silence, Martin Scorsese’s spiritual epic about the persecution of Christians in 17th-century Japan. Miller scouted forests and beaches where period builds could be constructed with production designer Dante Ferretti.
“The problem we had was it was such a huge build and needed a massive amount of crew and labour that we just didn’t have,” she said.
Still, Miller isn’t complaining. There has been no shortage of current projects, including season four of History Channel’s survival reality series Alone, shot near Port Hardy; the sci-fi thriller Crypto set to start filming soon; and Telegraph Cove, Borrowtime Films’ web series inspired by Pacific Northwest shipwrecks folklore. “And now we’re all working on Light of My Life. It’s a great story, and nobody’s hotter right now than Casey Affleck.”