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Under the Banner of Heaven’s Emily James sees bright future for Alberta film industry

“We are just going to keep growing.”

That’s Emily James’ take on the current growth of Alberta’s film and television industry.

“I’ve definitely seen a lot more of the bigger film productions coming to Alberta, I think we’re going to grow just as much as Vancouver and Toronto have, and I’m excited to see what’s in store for Calgary.”

James, a Calgary actor whose work can now be seen in the buzzworthy mini-series hit Under the Banner of Heaven, said that the recent growth has been exciting.

The 19-year-old actress portrayed the daughter of series villain Ron Lafferty, a real-life murderer and self-proclaimed prophet who was played in the series by Sam Worthington.

Among the locations that were used as filming locations for Under the Banner of Heaven was Inglewood’s Lantern Light Church, which, despite having a big snowfall the day before shooting, served as a stand-in for Miami, Florida.

“We had a couple people going with blow torches and snowblowers trying to get rid of all the snow, we had fake palm trees we put up, we had fake greenery, and we had everyone stay in their houses or go out for the day,” recalled James.

“At the end of the day, we really made it look like it was in Florida—it did not feel like it was Florida, it was minus 23 that day—but we made it work.”

Making the jump to L.A, but not because of the industry in Calgary

James is preparing to make the full-time jump to being an actor in Los Angeles.

After beginning acting at age 13, she began taking acting classes in the California city at age 14 and fell in love with the city.

A love that was returned in 2015 when the International Film Festival of Cinematic Arts presented her with the award for Excellence in Acting in Short Form for her lead in the short Mia. That film was created by Calgary-based filmmaker Han Siu.

“I have a deep love and will always love Calgary, as I’m born and raised here. So that doesn’t mean I won’t come back and possibly, hopefully, have some work here as well,” she said.

“I just think for the time being L.A. is the way to go, but I will definitely make my way back here.”

She said that she will be exploring the upcoming pilot season for television in L.A., along with continuing her acting classes in that city.

James said she was grateful for the opportunity to work alongside Worthington in Calgary, and with the other members of the cast and crew.

“I’m not gonna lie, I was nervous going on to set as it was my first big project.”

“I loved getting to work with the cast and the crew, and just getting to know everyone, and see how everyone works on and off set, as well as seeing the behind the scenes of filming and what production was like.”

Calgary locations getting major recognition

She said that Inglewood definitely brought its own charm. A charm that’s beginning to be recognized among other Calgary-based locations by major Hollywood productions.

Among those major productions was also The Last of Us, which premiered on HBO on Jan. 15 to rave reviews. The show opened as HBO’s second-largest premiere since 2010’s Boardwalk Empire, according to trade figure sources quoted in Variety.

And while social media commentators and some media pundits joked that given the number of Calgary filming locations would become a drinking game in its own right, that series was a major boon to the city.

According to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 212, which covers Calgary, the production employed more than 1,300 Albertans.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek attended the premiere of the series alongside Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi.

“I was blown away by The Last of Us premiere. I had the incredible good fortune to take it in, and I have to tell you the producers and the entire group that was assembled at that premiere were so thankful to our city and to our province for being so welcoming,” said Mayor Gondek.

“I can tell you that at the premiere they had invited a lot of gamers—a lot of people that were big fans of Last of Us the game, and there was a lot of hoots and hollering from the crowd. They were impressed with what they saw.”

She praised the availability of local facilities and the quality of local film crews as being major parts of the recent success stories that the city has had with The Last of Us, and with other series like Under the Banner of Heaven.

“We’ve all been pulling together to make sure that people understand how film and TV friendly we are, and it’s paying off.”