So far, 2021 is shaping up to be a benchmark year for the Alberta film industry.
Calgary-based film company Full Swing Productions is celebrating the long-awaited release of their independent revenge-thriller, In Plainview, which was released for stream on Amazon Friday (Jan. 29)
The story, written by local actor Kevin Doree, follows a dirty ex-cop named Rand who is hiding in witness protection from his ex-partner. It takes place in the fictional town of Plainview.
The film wrapped in 2017, but due to complications with distribution, was delayed for release until 2019.
“This was our first feature film, and every avenue was brand new to us,” said Calgary producer Matt Watterworth.
The film’s release faced further delays with the onset of COVID 19 in March of last year.
“Everyone’s learning how to pivot during Covid, and this is something new for us, even without a pandemic,” said In Plainview director Scott Westby.
The film was shot at various locations over 15 days, with two of the most recognizable locations being the McDougall Memorial Church, and the Shamrock Hotel.
“Scott loves to say that there were seven miracles that helped make this film happen, and one of them was getting the Shamrock Hotel,” said Watterworth.
“We shot a lot of locations there. It had the bar, the hotel rooms, the cafe; it was amazing,” said Westby.
The film came became an unintentional memorial for some of its more prevalent locations.
The Shamrock Hotel was demolished in November of 2017. Only months after the 147-year old McDougall Church was burned down by vandals.
“Most of the film was shot in those locations, and both buildings are no longer standing, so we’re worried we have some kind of curse,” said Watterworth.
Seasoned Calgarians may also recognize the diner where Penner and Lupus first meet as the Blackfoot Diner.
“I think that’s the building that’s in the most danger,” said Watterworth.
A boon for the economy
Despite the films postponed release and its cryptic omens , Plainview earned eight Rosie nominations at the 2018 Alberta Film & Television Awards, the second most nominated production that year.
Calgary Film Commissioner Luke Azevedo said projects like ‘In Plainview’ are a testament to the chops of the Alberta Film Industry, and a major player in the province’s economic recovery effort.
“The opportunities for film and television are extremely high right now, and we need to take advantage of the momentum by strengthening the partnerships within the industry, the private sector, and the government,” said Azevedo.
“Matt and Scott are a great example of our next generation of story tellers. Theirs is the kind of project we really want to support to ensure the industry continues to grow in a positive manner.”
Azevedo said garnering foreign direct investment interest is critical to solidifying the film industry as an economic boon.
“We need everybody moving forward for this to have the outcome that we want, which is prosperity, and hopefully in the next five years putting ourselves in a position where we are a billion dollar industry,” said Azevedo.
Diverse skills helps Alberta film crews
Westby said the upswing of the Alberta film industry can be largely attributed to the diverse skillset it requires from its workers.
“The film industry has always been a really strong argument as Alberta looks to diversify, and I think it’s only getting stronger, especially when you consider that a lot of skills that Albertans have are easily transferrable,” said Westby.
These transferrable skills take on a number of forms, which speaks to the adaptability of the industry, according to Azevedo.
“We need people in construction, carpenters, welders – we need those skillsets in our crewbase for stability and longterm growth,” he said.
“The challenge is ensuring that we are a safe environment that can produce at a world-class level, which is what we do, and the opportunity is having the world seeing us do that, and wanting to come create content here with us.”
The durability of Alberta’s film and television industry is something Wesby feels is unique to the province, and deserves recognition.
“Its important that we tell our own stories, and we create content that’s genuinely in Alberta, from Alberta voices,” he said.
Stafford Perry, who plays Rand in the film, said he hadn’t seen In Plainview in its entirely until yesterdays release, and was reminded how uniquely Albertan the film is.
”I’m a local guy, I’ve done theatre all across the country, but I have a really strong connection to Alberta, and I loved how this piece felt really rooted here,” said Perry.
Perry has worked on numerous Alberta-based productions over the years, including the critically acclaimed family series Heartland, filmed here in Calgary.
“We have such a robust service industry, and Hollywood loves coming here, which keeps all of us working.”
The show must go on
The entertainment industry has taken a devastating blow over the course of the pandemic; something the Plainview cast and crew know all too well.
David LeReaney, who plays Korolyuk in the film, lost four jobs since COVID-19 health restrictions spiked last spring, one of which was contract with Amazon.
“I was hit pretty hard,” said LeReaney.
During a recent production shot in Vancouver, LeReaney was COVID tested five times in just 11 days.
“The whole time I kept thinking, ‘if I test positive, I’ll have to quarantine myself in this damn hotel room for two weeks,’” said LeReaney.
Perry and Doree said it’s always nerve-racking waiting for test results.
“Every time I took a test I thought I was going to be the one,” said Perry.
“These projects are big, and there’s a lot of money going into each day.”
Doree, who also played the character Johnnie Red, said he holds his breath every time he gets his results back.
“Waiting for that email every day, and the response is in all caps, negative or positive. Not fun,” said Doree.
With nearly five years having passed since the Plainview crew worked together, seeing the film released now has been a unique experience.
“I feel like a baby when I watch it, I was a totally different person,” said Westby.
Many of the cast and crew have started families and taken on bigger projects since working on the film, which makes revisiting Plainview feel like a blast from the past.
‘It’s like a 90-minute Facebook memory,” said Doree.