TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN
Crew members work to set up a scene during filming of the movie Hunting Season at Clear Lake Golf Course on Tuesday afternoon.
The bright lights of Hollywood have been shining in Riding Mountain National Park over the past two weeks as more than 65 members of the cast and crew of the film "Hunting Season" worked long hours under the Manitoba sun.
A crew member adds fake blood to an actor during filming of the movie Hunting Season at Clear Lake Golf Course on Tuesday afternoon. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
Crew members and actors work to set up a scene during filming of the movie Hunting Season at Clear Lake Golf Course on Tuesday afternoon. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
Director Keith Samples said the picturesque setting of Clear Lake fit the script of the movie, which is classified as a suspense/thriller, to perfection and made the decision to come to RMNP an easy one.
"We needed an isolated setting in the woods so this area worked perfectly," Samples said. "It’s an amazing location for us because everything we need is right here."
Samples has a long list of credits on his resumé, he’s directed television series such as "Dawson’s Creek," "One Tree Hill" and "Mr. D," and his film credits include "Single White Female 2" and "Love Lies Bleeding."
After wrapping up filming on Friday in several locations in RMNP, including the superintendent’s home at the Clear Lake Golf Course and the artist-in-residence cabin, the crew has shifted back to Winnipeg to finish shooting in studio.
"Hunting Season" centres around a woman named Samantha Davis — played by CSI’s Lauren Lee Smith — who unexpectedly inherits a house in the country. The new home offers respite from the pressures of her daily life, but also comes with some unexpected spooky surprises.
"It’s a ghost story, but one thing that makes it a little different is that the ghost isn’t the antagonist," Samples said.
The film comes with a paltry $2-million budget. To put it into perspective, the recent Walt Disney film John Carter had a budget north of $200 million, but the large budget didn’t translate into success at the box office and Samples believes movies like "Paranormal Activity" and "The Blair Witch Project" are proof that a big budget isn’t necessary in order to have success, especially in the thriller genre.
"We aspire to be the big hit," Samples said. "It’s a genre that success isn’t predicated by budget, The truth of the matter is people don’t care how much you spent to make it, but how good it is. And it may only have a small budget, but I think and hope that the movie will look and feel a lot bigger than that."
The movie has managed to assemble a cast of some of the finest Canadian talent available. Joining Smith is David Sutcliffe ("Private Practice" and "Gilmore Girls"), Peter MacNeill ("A History of Violence" and "Cinderella Man"), Kris Holden Ried ("Underworld" and "The Tudors"), Max Martini ("Saving Private Ryan" and "CSI"), Shawn Doyle ("Big Love" and "24") and Chelah Horsdal ("Rise of the Planet of the Apes" and "X-Men 3").
The cast may span from coast to coast in Canada, but Horsdal said the group has already come together with the singular focus of making the film great.
"I feel like we’re at summer camp," Horsdal said. "The group has been amazing to be around and the first night we all got together for some drinks and it’s been a lot of fun. I keep forgetting that we are working."
She also echoed the sentiments of her director that the film might be small in budget, but it’s big on talent.
"You can make something for not much and if you can get viral marketing then you can really make something great," Horsdal said. "It’s going to look like a $5-million film because of all the people Keith has brought on board. He’s managed to assemble a cast and a group that are really hard working."
When the film does become a huge success, Chelah said she won’t be surprised, but something that did catch her off guard was the natural beauty of RMNP and the amenities it offers.
"The Elkhorn (Resort) is amazing. It totally caught me off guard. I dropped my bags and headed right for the spa," Horsdal said. "It’s beautiful and I had no idea that this lake was here."
The film has also generated a mini economic boon to the area, as actors, directors and crew need a place to stay, food to eat and gasoline to get around. The spinoff from the movie is possible because Manitoba offers the highest labour-based tax credit in Canada through the provincial government.
"It’s a big incentive and Manitoba Film and Music are a really good film commission that work hard and they were very aggressive in getting us to come here," Samples said.
One of the direct benefactors of the program is Wesley Reid, who is working on "Hunting Season" as a grip. Reid has already worked on four films this calander year and also worked on the film "Goon" and "The Don Cherry Story" while they were in the Westman area.
"It’s all because of our great tax incentive," Reid said. "It really helps some films choose Manitoba over different locations."
Dave Brown, who grew up with an R7B area code, is working on the film as the weapons specialist. He has worked on close to 100 films and is grateful the incentive is in place.
"Some days you pick your career and other times your career picks you," said Brown, who was asked to help on set during a weapons scene as his first encounter with the film industry and hasn’t quit working on films since.
"I grew up in Brandon and then I got to travel the world working with movie stars," Brown said. "I’ve had the most fortunate career in the world because I get to do this for a living."
Brown figures he has worked with about one-third of all the actors in Hollywood, but had a particularly fond memory of working with Sir Ben Kingsley.
"I was shot by Sir Ben Kinsley because they needed someone to take a shot. I had to throw a drink into his face to start the scene and then he shot me so I always tell people that I’m the only guy in the world that has been shot by Ghandi," Brown said with a laugh, referring to the fact Kingsley played Mahatma Ghandi in the 1982 biographical film about the non-violent leader.
The tax credit that makes Manitoba such a desirable location to film can be applied for by anyone who is incorporated in Canada, but they must have a permanent establishment in Manitoba during the film, Ginny Collins, communications officer with Manitoba Film and Music, said in an email.
Up to 65 per cent of Manitoba labour is covered under the tax credit, which can equal big savings for companies when determining where to shoot a movie.
"Our tax credit is a huge incentive for offshore and foreign production," Collins said.
The credit may have played a huge role in getting the movie to Manitoba, but for Horsdal it’s the end result of how people feel when they leave the theatre that’s the big payoff.
"I hope (the movie) freaks the crap out of people," she said.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 9, 2012