Filmmaker finds Edmonton short on equipment, crews and funding

Director Michael Maxxis says shooting in Edmonton is a delight, but often means bringing in film crews from other provinces.

'In a time when Alberta is looking to diversify the economy ... there's a real missed opportunity'

Director Michael Maxxis (left) enjoys working with Edmonton crews, but says the city is short on film infrastructure. (Melanie Swerdan)

Michael Maxxis is discovering the joys and challenges of shooting a feature film in his hometown of Edmonton.

The Alberta capital is still a city in training when it comes to film infrastructure, he said.

"There just isn't the gear, the camera, the lighting, the grip, camera cars, process trailers, none of that stuff exists here," Maxxis told CBC's morning current affairs show, Edmonton AM. "So it has to be brought in and it's expensive to travel all that gear here."

The director of Puppy Love has come up with an impressive cast — actors Hopper Penn, Rosanna Arquette, Michael Madsen and singer Elle King are making the trip — but Maxxis said he is also having to bring in experienced film crews.

"If there's another shoot going on, lots of shoots in Calgary or something, there's just not many people available so you have to bring lots of people in, which also costs money."

Maxxis' $3 million film will be shot exclusively in the Edmonton area over the next five weeks. He's already done scenes at West Edmonton Mall and restaurants in the Strathcona neighbourhood.

Coincidentally, $3 million is the same amount the provincial government cut from the Alberta Media Fund in its budget last week.
Michael Jorgensen, chair of the Alberta Media Production Industries Association, believes the $3 million cut to the Media Fund will mean lost jobs.

The film industry will get $34 million this year instead of $37 million, a decision Michael Jorgensen, chair of the Alberta Media Production Industries Association, believes is a step backwards. 

"The incentives are just not here in Alberta to bring in the kind of production that it does in provinces like British Columbia and Ontario," Jorgensen said.

The provincial government should take a cue from B.C. where the film industry has generated 17,000 jobs and $2.2 billion compared to 2,000 jobs and $252 million in Alberta, he said.

"In a time when Alberta is looking to diversify the economy and create some significant economic impact, there's a real missed opportunity I think here."

Maxxis agreed tax credits are vital for film companies looking to branch out to new locations.

"If it wasn't for that, this film wouldn't be shooting here," he said. "Especially a place with no infrastructure for film."

Maxxis has directed movie videos and commercials over the past 12 years and lived in Toronto, Los Angeles and New Orleans before moving back to Edmonton a few years ago. 
Maxxis, on set of Puppy Love, being filmed in Edmonton. (Morgan Gies)

The upside of shooting in Edmonton, he said, is the people who've come into the film community.

"Everyone you work with that's from here … is so friendly and easy going and just human," he said. "And not jaded by the film industry at all, they haven't been exploited by it."

He also said it has been easy to get permission to shoot in various locations around the city and to find street cast.

"I had a lot of time to really study the locations and pick places that visually complement the story and the drama," he said. 

Puppy Love is about a Forrest Gump-like character, based on Maxxis' real-life cousin Morgan Williams, whose main goal in life is to build up good karma.

The character meets a homeless woman with whom he befriends before becoming romantically involved.

With files from Tanara McLean and Nola Keeler