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In streaming series Maid, you'll recognize locations from all over Greater Victoria

Greater Victoria takes centre stage tonight as Maid — a locally-shot 10-episode series with considerable star power behind it — comes to Netflix after nine months of shooting on Vancouver Island.
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Margaret Qualley and Nick Robinson in a scene from the Netflix series Maid, which was shot entirely in Greater Victoria. The 10-episode series premieres Friday night. Ricardo Hubbs, Netflix

Greater Victoria takes centre stage tonight as Maid — a locally-shot 10-episode series with considerable star power behind it — comes to Netflix after nine months of shooting on Vancouver Island.

Based on Stephanie Land’s New York Times best-seller, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive, the series is now officially the biggest TV production in Greater Victoria history, thanks to an estimated economic impact of $10 million. That betters the estimated $8 million impact of Gracepoint, the 2014 series on FOX, another 10-episode series which used the environs of Greater Victoria to maximum effect.

“As far as direct-spending, it’s definitely been the biggest that we’ve had in Victoria,” said film commissioner Kathleen Gilbert of the Vancouver Island South Film and Media Commission.

Reverberations from the nine-month shoot will likely be felt for years to come, she added. The series from Warner Bros. (which was hired by Netflix to produce) is expected to raise Vancouver Island’s profile in the film and television communities. Studios south of the border are looking for economical ways of doing business in the streaming era, and Victoria is liable to be an appealing fit for many in the years ahead.

Production on Maid got underway in September 2020, with an estimated 200 crew hired before shooting wrapped in April; that is a substantial amount of job creation in the region, especially during a pandemic. The increase in trained crew members will turn out to be essential if Victoria is going to attract A-level productions once the city’s long-discussed film production studio is built, Gilbert said.

“Netflix has been happy with the shows they have done here so far, and the more shows that are successful that get shot in Victoria, the more attention is brought to Victoria.”

Maid gave workers a beacon of hope after COVID-19 curtailed many productions in the area, she added. “A lot of people got their start in the industry on that show. They trained a lot of production assistants who are now working full-time, saving taxpayers money because they are not on any kind of social assistance [due to the pandemic].”

Maid arrives with Margaret Qualley in the title role, fresh off a pair of successes. She received an Emmy Award nomination for her turn in 2019’s Fosse/Verdon, and drew raves in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as a Manson Family member who tries to seduce Brad Pitt. In a twist, Maid features her real-life mother, Andie MacDowell, in the role of her on-screen mother.

Victoria actor Rylea Nevaeh Whittet, 4, plays the daughter of Qualley’s titular character, to whom she is devoted.

The series was produced by an all-star creative team that includes executive producer and two-time Academy Award nominee, Margot Robbie. She joins series creator, writer, and executive producer Molly Smith Metzler (Shameless, Orange is the New Black) and established director and executive producer John Wells (ER, The West Wing), proof that Netflix is expecting Maid to be an across-the board success.

A substantial investment was made on their behalf. Cameras rolled for nine months, with Victoria substituting as a fictionalized version of Port Townsend, Wash. Local viewers will not have to wait long to see areas they recognize as Maid was shot entirely on-location. More than 160 locations were used during filming, including Sidney, North Saanich, Esquimalt, Saanich, Colwood, Oak Bay, and Sooke.

“We didn’t have sets,” Metzler said. “We were a location shoot. That comes through. Victoria is such a character on the show.”

Metzler relocated to Victoria from Los Angeles for the nine-month production, with her husband and daughter in tow. Key cast and crew also relocated, which made for a familiar atmosphere. Bound closely to each other — and Victoria — due to strict COVID-19 health protocols, the cast and crew spent American Thanksgiving, Canadian Thanksgiving, and Christmas together in Victoria.

“We really got through a lot as a team,” Metzler said. “We were so grateful to be working. It was such a crazy time, and we all had friends who weren’t working and whose shows had been shut down. It created an intense team effort.”

The city couldn’t have been more accommodating, Metzler said. Once the series wrapped, she wanted to return the favour. The majority of wardrobe and sets were donated to Victoria organizations supporting women and single mothers, including the Women in Need Society, Victoria Women’s Transition House. The Y’s Young Moms Program, and the Salvation Army.

“A big story component of the show is talking about the single mom and the lack of resources that she has in trying to provide for her daughter on minimum wage. One wonderful thing that we dramatize is this [domestic violence] shelter. There are people who are out there who are looking to help, so the least we could do was give back. It was very inspiring for us to put our money where our mouth is.”

Despite her fondness for Victoria, Metzler said she won’t be sharing Victoria with peers in her profession, so that “her favourite city in B.C.” remains something of an under-the-radar discovery.

“I would jump at the chance to shoot here again, but I’ve been reluctant to tell too many people about Victoria, because it is such a wonderful place to shoot,” she said with a laugh. “I don’t want to contribute to it blowing up as the new Vancouver. But frankly, it has everything you want when you’re shooting, plus that feeling of being somewhere very warm and special.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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Washington Post review of the Maid series: The already great 'Maid' is even better with mother-daughter stars Andie MacDowell and Margaret Qualley