Jason Bourque is well aware he's about to have a surreal experience when he starts shooting his new movie here on Sunday. It's not just because his film happens to be an epic disaster flick about the devastation caused by rock-spewing tornadoes.
It's because Bourque, 40, is coming home to the city where he got his start making shorts, commercials and music videos to shoot Stonados, his SyFy Channel project in which "Boston's under siege by a devastating weather anomaly," as he puts it.
"It's a fun one," says the writer-director who will be passing Victoria off as Beantown during the 15-day shoot. Filming is slated to take place at locations including Camosun College; University of Victoria's Centennial Stadium, to be taken out by stonados during a football game; the Inner Harbour, doubling as Boston's Harbour Walk; and Esquimalt's Saxe Point, where replicas of Boston's famous Swan Boats will be filmed.
It's no coincidence Bourque is using such locations for his big homecoming shoot.
He's a graduate of the University of Victoria's visual arts program and he has a special fondness for Saxe Point, where a decade ago he filmed his first short, Below the Belt, the pilot for Under the Cover, a series of sexy satirical shorts that aired on CBC.
The Leo Award-winning filmmaker reunites with first assistant director Shamess Shute, who worked with him on that, and Dominika Wolski, his longtime creative collaborator making a cameo appearance as a tour guide "sucked up" by a stonado.
Bourque is also reteaming with producer Kim Arnott, who helmed his SyFy flick Seattle Super-storm, and a crew "with a lot of scifi cred," including director of photography Brenton Spencer (Stargate: Atlantis).
His impressive cast includes Paul Johansson (One Tree Hill) as an ex-storm chaser who teams up with his former partner (First Wave's Sebastian Spence), and William B. Davis (The X-Files) as an endangered lighthouse keeper.
"Of course, we have to take out a lighthouse by a stonado," laughs Bourque, who will shoot at Fisgard Lightouse.
Other local actors include Thea Gill (Queer as Folk) as "a bit of a badass" who heads the fictional Federal Oceanic Agency, and two rising young stars - Jessica McLeod (Scary Movie) and Dylan Schmid (Once Upon a Time).
"It's wonderful being able to come back and do a project of this scope," says Bourque. "Jessica and Dylan are on the verge of breaking out. We're hugely happy to get them."
While much of the spectacle will be rendered through Encore, the postproduction company known for its visual effects on the hit series Supernatural, there will also be some "practical rock-throwing," Bourque says.
"There's a lot of problem-solving," adds the filmmaker, who is married to costume designer Heather Douglas (Playing for Keeps). "It's basically making a Roland (Independence Day) Emmerichsized film squeezed into a tiny budget and not a lot of shooting days."
The key to making a playable genre film like this character-driven entry is "to make it as epic as possible" by fusing live-action and computer effects for maximum spectacle, and to play it straight no matter how crazy it sounds.
"Actors might be dodging giant exploding rocks, but it has to be as true and honest as possible," said Bourque, who as screenwriter has the luxury of changing the script on the fly if local weather gets out of hand.
"And you have to be able to shoot quickly and adapt quickly."
Bourque, who mostly survives as a prolific screenwriter, can do both. It has made him increasingly in demand as a director of disaster films. It began when he was hired to direct Wild Fire 7: The Inferno after the success of his 2003 feature debut Maximum Surge, the ultra-low-budget sci-fi adventure he shot in nine days that featured Yasmine Bleeth and Walter Koenig.
"Yeah, a lot of them seem to have 'storm' in the title," he says, laughing as he recalls past TV movies such as Dark Storm with Stephen Baldwin and Seattle Super-storm. He has also collaborated on documentaries such as Shadow Company, about the private military industry, and Ferns Productions' Darwin's Brave New World, and directed his own documentaries Dreams of Flight and two upcoming features - Music for Mandela and Bird Co Media, which he shot in Mumbai.
Bourque, whose last disaster flick, Doomsday Prophecy, just came out on video, has also written 16 produced scripts, with two others in post-production - End of the World and Forward Flight "about a giant solar flare that hits the U.S. and passengers are trapped on a plane where the pilots have died." He has six more in various stages of development.
"I seem to do a couple of these projects a year and still do documentaries," says Bourque, who wrote two of his films in development with Telefilm - Widow's Club and Scavengers - with Sue Bourque, his Victoria-based mother.
"I still feel like I'm 16," he says when asked how he maintains his hectic schedule. "I just love it."