Perfect storm of movie magic in Victoria-filmed Stonados

Shooting in Victoria, Jason Bourque says his film Stonados is a sci-fi adventure that's character-driven

It was a dark and stormy morning, and the action at the University of Boston's crowded football stadium was a game-changer.

It was so intense, the U of B Lions home game couldn't even get off the ground.

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The fans? Well, that's another story - one that demonstrates the humbling ferocity of a "stonado."

Many football fans literally got off the ground, their panic triggered by fans of another type - huge wind machines.

In mere seconds, the crowd would be blown away by super-sized wind gusts.

Combined with a blizzard of "stones" - chunks of cork launched from air cannons - the fans simulated one of the "stonados" in Jason Bourque's disaster flick of the same name. Think tornado - one that hurls stones into its path of destruction.

"We love this!" exclaimed executive producer Kim Arnott, gazing at the flat, grey sky blotted with dark, ominous clouds.

The grey skies make it easier for the visual-effects team, said the producer, whose credits include R.L.

Stine's The Haunting Hour.

"This gives us a very matte, plain sky, so when we do effects, we're not trying to match something as we paint over it," she said after a crew completed its "plate shot" - an empty background shot of the stadium for the digital wizards.

CGI (computer-generated imagery) will make the stadium's lights appear to explode while storm debris pelts the crowd.

Conditions were ideal for the scenes being shot at the University of Victoria's Centennial Stadium, one of several locations masquerading as parts of Boston for the SyFy Channel movie about the havoc created by the weird weather anomaly.

It stars Paul Johansson (One Tree Hill) as Joe, a widowed ex-storm chaser; Sebastian Spence (First Wave) as his former partner; Thea Gill (Queer as Folk) as a tough bureaucrat; and William B. Davis (The X-Files), as a lighthouse keeper.

Also featured are rising local stars Jessica McLeod (The Christmas Consultant) as Megan, Joe's rebellious teenage daughter; Dylan Schmid (Once Upon a Time) as Jackson, her younger brother; and Grace Vukovic (Mulligans) as their friend Julie.

Dozens of background performers were seated in the stands and repositioned earlier - or "tiled" - to create movie magic.

"One challenge was making 90 extras seem like 1,500," said Bourque, a UVic grad who got his start making shorts, commercials and music videos here.

"I follow a lot of shot lists and storyboards, so it's a whole lot of planning, and I work closely with my stunt co-ordinator and visual-effects people."

Such efficiencies are essential when making a film like Stonados, Arnott said.

"We're shooting a movie in 15 days with lots of visual effects and stunts," she said. "[We're] shooting almost eight pages of dialogue a day."

While Bourque and director of photography Brenton Spencer (Stargate: Atlantis) finish a sequence in which fans file through the stadium's bustling concourse, a second camera crew sets up the next shots in tunnels behind the bleachers.

"We have to take advantage of the fact this is such an amazing location," said Bourque, who re-teamed with collaborators from his formative years here, such as first assistant director Shamess Shute, who worked on his short Below the Belt.

"Shamess knows my style and, like me, he's not a yeller and doesn't get stressed," he said. "That helps when you're dealing wth big explosions, extras, stunts and special effects.

It's all about keeping level heads and safety's always first."

After lunch, Bourque directed Johannsson in a scene in which Joe suggests using a nuclear bomb to defuse the storm.

"Working with Paul, we find a lot of beats," said Bourque.

"He's extremely funny and he's playing a dad, so there are a lot of scenes where his 'dadness' comes out and brings a lot of heart to the movie. Even though it's called Stonados, it's actually quite character-driven."

In one scene, tension ensues when Joe butts heads with Megan, who took her brother to the game despite dad's objections.

McLeod, a Claremont Secondary School student, said she welcomed the chance to be rebellious again, albeit not nearly as much as when she recently faced the cameras as a teenaged eco-terrorist who plants bombs in the miniseries Eve of Destruction.

Stonados marks the first time she has worked with Schmid.

"I'm surprised he's never played my little brother before because I've had many little brothers and we look so much alike," McLeod said after a study session in the stadium's media box.

"She's tough on me, very tough," deadpanned Schmid, who has been very busy himself shooting Horns, the supernatural thriller starring Daniel Radcliffe, and playing Baelfire, Rumpeltstiltskin's son in Once Upon a Time.

Schmid shines opposite Johannsson in a scene showcasing his sensitivity, Bourque said.

"There's a lot of subtlety and nuance that might catch people by surprise," he said.

Filming will be more evident once the unit moves downtown for sequences including a climactic finale on Broad Street, around the Inner Harbour and in Bastion Square, which attracted the filmmakers because it could mirror Boston and Cambridge.

"When we asked, 'Can we do this in B.C.?' we said the only place we can do it is Victoria," said Arnott, whose other locations include Fisgard Lighthouse, Saxe Point and Camosun College.

Just don't expect to see them rolling after nightfall.

"Every day, we lose eight minutes of daylight and we're a completely daylight-dependent movie," said the clock-watching producer. "Our shooting days are getting shorter but our scripts aren't."

mreid@timescolonist.com

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