Two years ago, the mid-Island region might not have been on the map for filming locations, but now productions are coming to the Island more frequently.
It was in the spring of 2016 that production work began on the Hallmark Channel series Chesapeake Shores.
Since then, the TV show has become one of the channel’s “most-watched original series,” according to Crown Media Family Network, which oversees Hallmark Channel. It also just finished wrapping production on its third season earlier this month.
Chesapeake Shores, which began filming in the mid-Island area in 2016, is based on the novels of the same name by Sherryl Woods. The TV show follows the multi-generational O’Brien family as one of the daughters, Abby, moves back to her hometown of Chesapeake Shores where she balances her family relationships and a “budding relationship with her former high-school sweetheart,” according to the Hallmark Channel.
Tanya Price, who is in charge of locations and special projects with the Vancouver Island North Film Commission (INFilm), said since Chesapeake Shores started, there are more multi-year productions coming to the Island.
“Because it was the first one in our region, it showed that it (the Island) was viable.”
When production started out on the Island, Chesapeake Shores producer Matt Drake said the production team came with a crew from the mainland. He said in season one, about 80 per cent of the crew was from places other than the Island.
“There were certain departments that we could draw upon here, locally, that were great,” Drake said. “For the most part, you don’t know. You’re entering a place; you don’t know what you have available to you, so you bring in everyone you can to get the show done.
“We’re proud, as far as series go, to be one of the first to step over here and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to use this as a home base. We’re not going to come in just for a few weeks. We’re going to actually set up shop here.”
Price said that since companies such as Netflix, Amazon and Apple TV are creating original production in addition to regular studio productions, more crews are coming to the Island for different filming locations.
“They’re all creating their own content now so that has increased the demand for different locations,” she said. “The Lower Mainland is really busy, so you’ve got kind of an overflow, if you will, to the Island for productions looking for new locations… like you’ve got some series that are maybe in their fourth, fifth, sixth year and now they’re looking outside of the Vancouver zone for new locations and they’re looking into the (north and mid-Island) region.”
But the lack of resources seems to be in the past now with the help of the INFilm and North Island College film and crew training program and the recently opened Vancouver Island Film Studios.
Now it looks like the INFilm is working to get more productions to the central Island.
Black Press Media reported in June of 2018 that INFilm commissioner Joan Miller, a driving force for the industry on the Island, was seeking community support from local governments and politicians on central Vancouver Island for an upcoming production that will be filmed on Highway 19 between Qualicum Beach and Courtenay in the fall. In her letter, Miller noted that the film in question is called SONIC and is based on the SEGA video game Sonic the Hedgehog.
Then in June, according to YVRShoots Twitter account, Disney’s Descendants 3 was filming in Qualicum Beach before moving filming to Hatley Castle in Victoria a few days later.
As the years have progressed since filming for Chesapeake Shores began in the region (the show is nearing the end of filming season three), Drake said there has been more trained professionals to draw from. Part of that help is from the INFilm and North Island College’s film and crew training program that started in late 2017.
The program, which includes lighting and camera equipment, building and designing sets and working as a production assistant, was created in part to help with a shortage of local, trained crew.
When the Vancouver Island Film Studios were first announced in October of 2017, INFilm commissioner Miller was credited as being a driving force behind bringing more film productions to the Island.
And it seems to be helping.
Drake said the Chesapeake Shores crews have had more than 30 people from NIC’s crew development program work on set.
“It’s hard because to some degree, so many people went through it that it’s not possible for us to hire on all those people, but it’s great now that there’s a real big crew base,” Drake said.
One of those crew members is 20-year-old Tess Slamen who started off in lighting, but has now gone in the assistant director route. Slamen, who is from the Meadowood area (near Qualicum Beach), said just as she was finishing the NIC program, she met Drake who she said “liked how she could handle the stress without prior knowledge of the job itself.”
Soon after she finished schooling, Slamen said, she was contacted about working on Chesapeake Shores.
“At that point, I said, ‘Yes! Heck yeah’ and I jumped right in.”
Slamen said coming from a small community, she was blown away by how big the production is.
“The fact that this tiny little town has this huge production is amazing. This is the third season. I’ve seen it from season one, season two and I didn’t think it was as big as everyone said it was until I got submerged into it,” she said.
Slamen said she’s been blown away by “seeing this little town thrive with the movie industry people coming together.”
Drake said the municipalities involved (City of Parksville, Town of Qualicum Beach and City of Nanaimo) have all been very supportive in allowing film crews to come in and work.
“To towns that aren’t used to filming, sometimes the requests can seem abnormal or a little unique and strange, but there is a method to the madness.”
One of the interesting stories to come out of filming in the area is Parksville artist Doug Giebelhaus’s painting that was shown in season two.
Giebelhaus had been taking some photos of a Chesapeake Shores scene as inspiration for a painting when, a few minutes after taking the photo, he was asked if he wanted to be an extra in that same scene. The piece, featuring two women holding lanterns, was worked into a subsequent scene for the second season.
Chesapeake Shores has also used local firefighters to stand in as extras on set.
Drake said Chesapeake Shores crews have about five or six recurring locations, but in total each year, there are 30 to 40 locations for the whole show. The crew has also been using the Vancouver Island Film Studios this season.
The studio was unveiled in 2017 and boasts three sound stages, office space, as well as construction and prop shops.
At the time, Vancouver Island Film Studios developer Ron Chiovetti said, “We think it’s a game-changer for Vancouver Island.”
But still, parts of Qualicum Beach have become recurring sets for Chesapeake Shores, specifically Second Avenue and the public area outside of Qualicum Beach town hall.
“As soon as we landed… in the first 30 seconds of putting our feet down in Qualicum Beach, we were like, ‘This is it,’” Drake said.
But as the seasons go on, Drake said, sometimes the writers will write to what is around them.
“I think on any TV series, especially by the third season, you start to sort of write to what is here,” he said.
Director Terry Ingram said locations are a key part of filming. Since Chesapeake Shores is set on the East Coast of the United States, he said, the film crews try to keep the water as part of “our community.”
“We want to put the water in as much as we can, and so all our house locations are on the water,” Ingram said. “I think it’s really important to use the beauty of what we have.”