Victoria’s water gets troubled with crime-show production in town

There’s a reason Dark Waters of Crime is filming here this spring instead of November when, as surely as the swallows return to Capistrano, its production team has returned each year since 2006 to shoot the unique Canadian true-crime series.

It’s not what you might think, however. It is not because “we were shooting August at the beach in the snow,” recalled production manager Lynn Fuhr, flashing back to a wintry Wednesday in November 2010 at Elk Lake, where cast and crew had to work around ice, snow and frigid temperatures to re-enact a murder that occurred on a hot August day in Quebec.

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“There’s a multitude of factors,” said Fuhr, explaining why director Greg Nosaty and crews start shooting Season 6 today.

“The days are longer, so there’s more daylight, and we wanted a bit more time to write scripts. We’re usually rushing to hit the November deadline, and being able to set up in one location like this is great.”

Fuhr was referring to studio space at Butler Brothers Supplies Inc., the Saanichton facility that once housed Mount Newton school. Production designer Eric Gerlund and crews have been prepping sets there that depict a morgue, forensics lab and police precinct. The interiors are for three new episodes of Eaux Troubles du Crimes, the French-language title of the series that dramatizes crimes and shows how water can be “the perfect accomplice” for criminals since it can wash away evidence.

“This season, the water component is swamp, river and bathtub,” explained executive producer Sylvie Peltier, head of Red Letter Films, the White Rock-based company that produces the series that airs on Quebec’s Canal D.

Since crews are shooting three hours of television in six days, they, too, must be resourceful.

“That’s why we always come back to Victoria,” says Peltier. “Within half an hour, you have river, lake and ocean. You don’t have that on the Lower Mainland. One of our primary concerns is locations and their proximity.”

A train bridge at Goldstream River, Gorge Bridge and Tillicum Narrows are among exteriors being filmed to match locations including a river in New Brunswick and a swamp north of Kingston, Ont.

“We’re doing some creative geography combined with documentary footage we collected when we interviewed the investigators,” said Peltier, whose crews will be returning not far from the scene of another crime they re-enacted during their first visit here in 2006 — the Nov. 14, 1997, murder of Reena Virk beneath the Craigflower Bridge.

One episode focuses on the 2002 murder of Erin Chorney, 18, in Brandon, Man., by Michael Bradley Bridges, 25. After choking her and drowning her in a bathtub, he revealed that he hid her body in a freshly dug grave to an RCMP undercover officer posing as a crime boss.

“His DNA was hidden in a graveyard,” Peltier said. “He nearly got away with it were it not for an undercover sting.”

Another recalls the murder of Jutta Weber, 48, in 1997, in Kingston. Her estranged boyfriend, James Nelson Wall, who dismembered her body and dumped it into a swamp, was found guilty of first-degree murder and given a life sentence.

“They had to drain the swamp to retrieve the bones,” Peltier said.

The third episode dramatizes the story of Pamela Bischoff, a Nova Scotia teenager who never returned from a late-night camping trip in 1991. Her body was found in a river near the camping site and her boyfriend William Stillman, 17, was found guilty of first-degree murder on the strength of the sole piece of DNA evidence that was lawfully obtained.

“It was one of the first cases in Canada to use DNA evidence,” Peltier said. “It led to precedents on how you can take DNA samples from a suspect. The only one that was accepted came from the first time he was interrogated.”

An intrepid police officer retrieved a piece of tissue Stillman discarded after blowing his nose in a washroom.

“The cop knew that once things were discarded they became public property and he had the presence of mind to get that Kleenex,” she said. “It had a big impact on clarifying the rules of when and how you can get DNA evidence.”

•••

Spooky Stuff: Front Street Pictures is back to scare up some more Island production with long-term potential.

The Vancouver-based company behind such locally lensed projects as the Andie MacDowell vehicle Cedar Cove, Freshman Father and Notes from the Heart Healer is gearing up for the start of production on Spooksville in mid-April in the Cowichan Valley.

The company has set up production offices and casting is under way for the children’s television series based on Christopher Pike’s popular series of horror novels for young adults, vice-president of production Allen Lewis confirmed.

“We love the look of Duncan and the Cowichan Valley,” the Victoria-raised executive said. “It’s a Canadian production and we hope to hire as many locals as we can. Victoria has a great crew base.”

The series, which takes place in Springville, a fictional town nicknamed Spooksville, will feature recurring characters.

Several industry stakeholders have been trying for years to get a TV series off the ground.

“We’re going to have a real Island flavour to this series,” said Lewis, who has a home in Metchosin. “It’s a lot of work, but a series can really develop a local crew base. It’s the seed that gets the industry growing.”

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