Heartland - the making of a television series

Posted on Feb 18, 2010

Dean Bennett & Chris Potter

Above is a production shot of director Dean Bennett speaking with Chris Potter on set. Earlier this month I promised to give you some behind the scenes insight into what goes into the making of Heartland, so this is the first of several posts over the year that will give you some information and answer some questions you've been asking about the production of the television series. Click though for the scoop!

So, where to begin? I thought you should know how long it takes to actually film a season, so here are some facts and figures concerning the logistics of producing Heartland:

Season 3 consists of 18 episodes. Fourteen of these have already aired and episode 315 will air March 7. Season 2 also had 18 episodes, while Season 1 had 13 episodes. So in total there will have been 49 episodes of Heartland (and counting).

Last year's 18 episodes were divided into 9 blocks, each containing 2 episodes. The filming of Block 1 (Episodes 301 and 302) began on May 13 and wrapped on June 3.  The following day filming on Block 2 (Episodes 303 and 304) began. It takes 15 or 16 days to film two episodes of Heartland.

Each block of filming usually has a different director. Last year Steve DiMarco directed Block 1 and Dean Bennett directed Block 2. The production also has two teams of assistant directors who are instrumental in making sure everything is in place and that when filming begins the days run as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

So while the first two episodes were being shot for Steve and his team (1st Assistant Director (or AD) Mark Ambury and 2nd AD Martin Pedersen), Dean and his team (1st AD Pierre Tremblay and 2nd AD Brad Moerke) were busy preparing the next block so when it was their turn to be on set everything would run like clockwork.

As soon as Block 1 wrapped Mark and Martin then went into preparation with Block 3 director Don McBrearty while Block 2 was being shot. This process continued right through the year, until Block 9 wrapped on Wednesday, December 16. That's how long it takes to film 18 episodes of Heartland.

You might wonder why two episodes are shot at once instead of filming each episode one at a time. Well, it's to save time and cost.

First, you have to know that a television show is not shot in sequence.

Heartland is primarily filmed at four locations; 1) The ranch, where the exterior of the house, barn, gate, paddock and jumping course are; 2) The dude ranch; 3) The town of High River, Alberta, which doubles for Hudson and where Maggie's Diner is; and 4) A studio in Calgary, where the interiors of the barn and ranch house are filmed. And of course there are special locations that are unique to each episode.

To move all the trucks and equipment needed is a huge undertaking and so it cuts down significantly on the travel and relocation of the production if you shoot two episodes in one block. This way all scenes on the ranch for both episodes are filmed at the same time. This might take anywhere from two to six days, depending on the script. Then after the last scenes are shot at the ranch the hardworking crew moves all the equipment to the next location - it might be the dude ranch or High River - overnight, so when the cast and the rest of the crew arrive in the morning everything is ready to go. This process continues for the entire year.

Hopefully this has shed some light on things you never knew about the filming of Heartland. Keep watching the blog, as I'm going to post more information on various aspects of production, and soon you'll get to ask questions to specific crew members about the series!

In the meantime, this Sunday on CBC at 7:00pm will feature a repeat of episode 304 - "The Haunting of Hanley Barn". This is a fun episode and if you haven't seen it check it out (or even better, enjoy it a second time!)