British Columbia

Okanagan film industry becomes model for movie-making in post-pandemic world

As nearly every industry grapples with how to return to business as usual, the film industry in B.C.'s Okanagan has become a model for how Hollywood might start shooting again.

Entire crew quarantined for 2 weeks to continue filming amid COVID-19 restrictions

'We can film these really easily with Canadian talent and crews, which is really great for us, it's sort of always been our bread and butter,' said Okanagan film commissioner Jon Summerland. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

As nearly every industry grapples with how to return to business as usual, the film industry in B.C.'s Okanagan has become a model for how Hollywood might start shooting again.

Jon Summerland, the Okanagan film commissioner, said that when COVID-19 restrictions came into play, he expected to have time down to wind down — but instead, work ramped up as the industry found creative ways to continue filming while keeping everyone involved safe.

"We were going gang-busters right from COVID's beginning. And the way we did it is, we kind of thought outside of the box a bit and we quarantined a whole crew within the confines of one resort and we shot until we were allowed to shoot somewhere else, inside that resort, with the crew all locked up together," he said.

Summerland said they created two new health and safety organizer positions. Those crew members were in charge of taking temperatures, assigning personal protective equipment, providing sterilized walkie-talkies and sterilizing the set before and after other crew members arrived for shooting.

"They sterilize the equipment, they sterilize the lunch stuff, their job all day long is to sterilize and check in with you. So when you show up, you walk into a tent, you get your temperature checked, and then you can carry on," he said.

WorkSafeBC was also on site as part of the test project, checking protocols and learning along with the crew, as the shoot was the first of its type in Canada.

A silver lining

Summerland said that while about a months' worth of work has been lost or postponed, the silver lining is that the majority of films shot in the Okanagan — movies that aren't dependent on a specific set — can actually carry on with production, unlike larger blockbusters.

"We can film these really easily with Canadian talent and crews, which is really great for us, it's sort of always been our bread and butter," he said.

"Where other people rely on locations, we've always sort of said, make your inexpensive movie here, it'll look really good."

Summerland said productions involving actors and directors who aren't Canadian will take a while to come back, as many are hesitant to go through a two-week quarantine period in a nondescript hotel room before being able to start production. One production in particular, involving an American actor, another from New Zealand, and a British director, is on hold indefinitely.

But he said he hopes the Okanagan film industry's innovation during a trying time will put them on the map.

"Because we've done it right here in the Okanagan, because we've done it safe and followed the protocols, everybody's looking at us for other movies," he said.

"In some ways, this could be a bonus for us. We could become more of a hub."

With files from DayBreak South

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