If you went to Canmore in mid-November, you might have noticed the town was a bit different.
Besides the parking lot turned into a small farm with horses, sheep and cows, you likely had to do a little detour to maneuver around town because Main Street was momentarily transformed into the Jackson, Wyoming for the upcoming HBO TV series, The Last of Us.
This was certainly the biggest production to come to Canmore, but it wasn’t the first.
Canmore and the Bow Valley has been the backdrop for many movies and TV series, and as we learned from our recent chat with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) 212 Chapter President Damian Petti the area will be in a lot more.
“For those looking for locations, we can double for the surface of planet Mars, and we have some vistas that have never been screened before,” explains Petti. “It’s very dramatic and it's very new, and it's highly in demand. There is a rich history and in more recent years, there are very large scale projects interested in Canmore. While we're based in Calgary, many of our members live in Canmore. Canmore is connected to the history of the film industry in a really meaningful way, especially Morley.”
It was in Morley where Alberta hosted its first Hollywood flick with some scenes shot for the 1917 film Until They Get Me, directed by a young Frank Borage and later went on to win one of the first Academy Awards in 1929.
Films like Legends of the Fall (1994), The Revenant (2015) and Brokeback Mountain (2005), which were shot in the Bow Valley, leave the viewers with. These award-winning vistas are one of the reasons the Bow Valley is so enticing to the film industry.
“Those pictures that have won cinematography awards at the Oscars fuel a desire to come back by other filmmakers,” says Petti. “You can get 360-degree vistas where there are no contrails from an aircraft or power lines, and just the sound of nature that is very difficult to achieve in most production jurisdictions. Where you can achieve that with less than an hour from the drive from downtown Calgary. So the range of scenery between the Badlands look to the steep mountains and the rolling hills to the prairies is extremely desirable.”
The Bow Valley’s beauty is certainly the driving force for why productions come, however the local accommodation and supports only sweeten the location.
“The ability to put up crews in Canmore and Banff – it's worthwhile,” says Petti. “Safety is always a concern. If you're working long days, we don't want to drive for two hours at the end of your shift."
On top of the views and the proximity to a major city, the provincial government raised the incentives that raised the bar for shooting in Alberta.
“Now we're getting all the large budget productions,” Petti says. “Canada is really having a Renaissance. The perfect storm of production has hit us. We're talking about really, really large amounts of money. There's an insatiable demand for streaming content and the pandemic may have helped us with that demand because there were more people sitting on couches.”
At the same time, we are living in a new “golden age” of television and the content being made is not just to quell demand, but also expectations.
“I'm very excited about the calibre of the projects we're doing,”
To Petti, it is important that Albertans get these jobs and has some suggestions for those looking to get into the industry.
“The first step is always set etiquette and also some post-secondary institutions in Alberta, like the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) and Red Deer College that train specifically for motion picture,” says Petti.
Petti also encourages hopefuls to get into the theatre programs at universities that have related skills.
“For example – costume design, prop building set construction and paint. Those skills transfer into the film industry,” says Petti. “We're working with some of those institutions to make sure that we can try and get their graduates, sometimes even going into the industry before they graduate.”
Even if you don’t have a desire to work on or around the filming, the sense of delight of seeing your own town on TV or the big screen is something most can appreciate.
“I was lucky enough to be in the theatre in Fort MacLeod when Ghostbusters screened,” says Petti. “When the theatre was featured in the movie, everyone cheered. There's a pride that Albertans have seeing their vistas shared with the rest of the world. I think Albertans are really warming up to the film industry.”