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Island lures back producer

Ex-UVic student shot Wrecked here last year, returns to film The New Girl
Director Michael Greenspan, left, and producer Kyle Mann on the set of Wrecked, filimed on Vancouver Island.

When the producer of Wrecked came to the Island last year, he was a Mann on a mission: shoot to thrill. It was an experience so rewarding he's coming back for more.

Vancouver-based Kyle Mann brought Oscar-winning actor Adrien Brody to the Cowichan Valley and a rugged patch of rainforest near Parksville during the 2010 Winter Olympics to shoot the edgy wilderness thriller Wrecked under the radar. "We had an amazing time and we really appreciated the way everyone treated us, so we decided to do our next one here," said Mann, explaining why he and Michael Greenspan, the Montreal-born director who made his feature debut with Wrecked, will soon be shooting on the Island again, this time in Victoria.

Their new film, produced under Mann's Independent Edge Films banner, will deliver thrills of a different kind than those in Wrecked, where Brody played a bloodsoaked mystery man who awakens in a wrecked car in a forest at the bottom of a ravine, his leg pinned under the dashboard, with no memory of who he is or how he got there.

"This one's a psychological thriller that's more female-centric," Mann said, referring to The New Girl.

That's the working title for the film Greenspan is directing from a screenplay he cowrote with Christopher Dodd, who wrote the screenplay for Wrecked. The new film centres on two female university students and roommates whose lives take a dark and deadly detour when they commit murder.

"It's kind of like Strangers on a Train," Mann said. "One of them wants to murder again and uses the first murder as blackmail."

Mann, who was an undergrad in history at the University of Victoria and graduated from UBC law school, said while his new thriller might not be anchored by an Oscar winner, it will showcase some recognizable names yet to be announced.

"It comforts distributors and financiers," he said.

"This is more concept-driven and director/producer-driven than Wrecked."

Principal photography is slated to begin in late September in and around downtown Victoria, including at a school of higher learning. He isn't saying whether that might be UVic, the partial source of his inspiration.

"Going to UVic influenced a lot of my thoughts on the script," Mann admits. "When I read it I said, 'This should be set in Victoria.' "

There's another reason B.C.'s capital city appealed to the production team, he said.

"It has a very Gothic feel, very unique architecture.

There's no other city in North America like it, and it's very much influenced by British heritage."

He said Victoria will be passed off as a town somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. "I don't believe in borders," Mann adds. "I have this concept that goes back to when I was a kid. I could easily cross the border into the U.S. There were no boundaries. Borders are an inconvenience to storytelling, too."

The New Girl is a continuation of his desire to make mainstream Canadian films that will work worldwide - a lesson he learned while being mentored by his friend William Vince, the late B.C. producer who hired him as associate producer on Capote.

"It's about finding the right material and director, and Michael is a very talented young filmmaker," said Mann, whose other credits include work on Saved, Just Friends and The Devil's Rejects before he became an independent producer in 2005. "We're indigenous filmmakers interested in making commercially viable independent films that will hopefully find a broader audience. And if you look at this on a macro level, we [Canadians] make just as good if not better films."

It's empowering to have made their first feature (in 18 days) - one that featured a respected method actor who did most of his own stunts and earned decent reviews after its limited theatrical release, he said.

Since it made its North American première at last year's Whistler Film Festival, Wrecked has sold in more than 50 countries including France, Korea, Portugal, Greece, India, Israel and Singapore, and IFC Midnight picked up U.S. rights. (The Village Voice termed it "an absorbing ordeal" and described Brody as a "vivid victim of purgatory" in its review.)

"Adrien made us look very good when some of the lowbudget flaws showed themselves," Mann said. "He's very hardworking and earnest. He's one of those people whose word means something. He doesn't tolerate BS and we didn't give him any."

They plan to take a similar approach on The New Girl with a largely local crew, many of whom worked on The Note 3: The Heart Healer, the Hallmark Channel film starring Genie Francis and Ted McGinley that just wrapped in Brentwood Bay. "If we're responsible and respectful, it's good for everybody."

Victoria film commissioner Kathleen Gilbert said production of both films will have a substantial economic impact in an otherwise slow production year.

"Once a producer has filmed on the Island they tend to come back," she said. "Our challenge is to get those new producers over to the Island." That's difficult, she said, when Greater Victoria does not qualify for the additional six per cent distant tax credit - available to producers who shoot in certain regions outside the Lower Mainland - and the Canadian dollar remains strong against the U.S. dollar.