Nicolas Cage on set of the Humanity Bureau

Nicolas Cage on set of the Humanity Bureau

Ready, set, action for Okanagan film industry

Already earning the reputation of Napa of the North, the Okanagan is looking to take the title of little Hollywood North.

Already earning the reputation of Napa of the North, the Okanagan is looking to take the title of little Hollywood North.

“There is all this product to make and Vancouver is getting saturated so we are looking very sexy,” said Jon Summerland, Okanagan Film Commissioner.

With a number of films and commercials already being shot in the region, Summerland said experienced crew and new infrastructure will only boost the Okanagan’s saleability. In November, a film studio opened in Vernon and another soundstage was approved to be built in Kelowna at a location near the airport.

Summerland said it is the missing piece of the puzzle to potentially grabbing more high profile films. He added with the rise of Amazon and Netflix, who are pumping out high quality original shows, the potential is there to land one.

“Look at the series Stranger Things. It is an awesome show that is shot in Georgia that could be shot here. Build the sets in our studios and next thing you know we have a world-class TV series shot right in our hood. That will only line up more,” said Summerland.

It all creates a trickle effect for the surrounding areas. Already producers have forayed further into the Okanagan region to film a number of projects. Most recently the Humanity Bureau starring Nicolas Cage was in the South Okanagan and earlier this week it was announced a film starring Academy Award nominee Casey Affleck is starting work in the Bridesville/Anarchist Mountain area.

Related: Casey Affleck film shooting in Okanagan

Summerland said the current situation with the dollar only helps draw more productions. Not to mention the growing number of experienced crew and locations that can take someone from the beautiful forest hills at SilverStar in Vernon, to many lakes, small towns and the desert in the south. Competing with places like New Mexico, California and North Carolina, the breaks received on costs have many in the industry scouting for locations in the region.

Summerland said the same company that made the Humanity Bureau is scouting the Central Okanagan for their next movie and a western will be filmed in the South Okanagan later this year.

“There is a big one we have been working on for years that is supposed to shoot this summerand would only fit in the far south of the Okanagan and places like Kamloops and Ashcroft. This is a large show and I can’t get into it too much, but definitely there will be some big guys here.”

Drawing in business

The impact the film industry is having is not going unnoticed by local government and economic development agencies.

Last week, Penticton Mayor Andrew Jakubeit, who sits on the Okanagan Film Commission board, and a contingent of other Okanagan mayors and economic development officers travelled to Vancouver to pitch the area’s appeal as a filmmaking destination to several animation and visual effects companies.

Jakubeit said he was pushing that Penticton has the type of space they need for their businesses, the connectivity with Telus bringing infibre optic lines to do their work, the growing curriculum at Okanagan College in animation and technology and the laid back lifestyle the city has to offer.

“I showed them a picture of the channel in the summer and said that is our traffic jam and our version of rush hour,” said Jakubeit.

Response to their presentation was positive said Jakubeit. He met several people who grew up in the region, already vacation here or have participated in events like the granfondo that have made them familiar with Penticton.

“I think there is an opportunity here, certainly nothing that will happen tomorrow, but I am optimistic we can nurture something,” said Jakubeit. “The granfondo is an example of an event that is put on in the city and helps get our foot in the door to authenticate Penticton as a viable option to work, live and play.”

Those who pitched to the executives hope to follow up by having some of them visit the region and see the successes other companies have had in the Okanagan and the lifestyle first-hand.

“Very much the Okanagan, which is known for its wine, could be renowned one day for the film and animation industry as well,” said Jakubeit.

Okanagan complementing Vancouver scene

Andy Holmes, who is originally from Kelowna but moved to Vancouver to work in the film industry, knows what kind of impact the film industry can have on the area. He was co producer on the Humanity Bureau.

Related: Humanity Bureau, starring Nicolas Cage, filming in Osoyoos

“We moved in close to 80 people into Osoyoos, staying at the Nk’Mip resort. That is 80 people for two and half months. Maybe they weren’t all staying there that entire time but they went out to eat and shop in the off season of a tourist town. They were building sets, hiring catering companies, using the gas stations and buying lumber. It was about one million dollars on the local spend including wages for a lot of people in the South Okanagan.”

With B.C. tax credits giving a break to movie producers, and even moreso if they decide to shoot outside of Vancouver, it makes the area very enticing.

“Look at the latest movie announced to be filming in the Osoyoos area with Casey Affleck, they were scouting Victoria right before they decided on the Okanagan. There is a reason for that. They could get the support they needed, good location rates and area to film that isn’t exhausted.”

Homes said the Okanagan will be a great asset for the main hub of work done in Vancouver.

“I don’t think the Okanagan is going to turn itself into a second Vancouver, but that is the beautiful thing about it it doesn’t need to be. Last summer there was close to 75 productions in Vancouver and it was way too busy,” he said.

With the giant big white trucks that are a familiar site to a movie set clogging up downtown Vancouver, he said people can get pretty tired of it quickly.

“There is a trickle effect that is bringing more to the Okanagan and allowing the area to enjoy the filmmaking process. This is an incredible region and if 12 movies were filmed here every year it would be a massive blessing to the area,” Holmes said. “With the studios in the Okanagan and only being a four hour drive from Vancouver it becomes a great complementary service to Vancouver.”

Having worked almost 40 years in the industry, Fred Stevens also believes a footprint is starting to be established for the industry in the Okanagan. He started in film working on My American Cousin then moved to Alberta and then Vancouver to make a career out it. Now he works with Harold’s Custom Trailers providing trucks for moving equipment to providing a place for the stars to relax.

Related: Celebrating 30 years of My American Cousin

“I have been trying to tell my producer friends they should consider locations here,” said Stevens, who relocated to Kaleden last year. “We could see a lot of movement in the area depending on what happens in the next couple of months. The Okanagan has so much to offer for locations because it is so diverse. You can only hide Vancouver landmarks so many times before people start to spot them.

Stevens said if things pick up, businesses related to the industry such as his could consider having satellite offices or lots to store equipment. All of which provides a positive economic impact to local business owners.

“A lot of people are starting to pay attention. They see a limited budget film producing something stellar in this area then you start getting other productions liking the look of the locations here and seeing what those smaller guys did with it. They start thinking well we have a bigger budget imagine what we could do with our filming. Not only that they get more bang for their buck up here than the U.S. or even the coast,” said Stevens.