A group of Prince George movie makers will try to create Christmas for the cameras when they assemble a cast of actors, technicians and tradespeople in March to film A Great North Christmas.
Filming for the first major movie production the city in nearly two decades begins March 1 and for two weeks those lenses will be focused on the city and its people.
Produced by Barker Street Cinema, in a joint venture with Anamorphic Media, Trilight Entertainment and Princ Films, the feature-length movie is being marketed internationally and is slated for delivery in time for the 2021 Christmas season.
James Douglas will direct the movie and Norm Coyne is the producer. Barker Street has a growing list of movie credits, which includes The Doctor’s Case, Wicked Ways and the film short Final Breath.
“This is a perfect spot for a Christmas film,” said Coyne. “We have something here that many locations don’t have, and that’s snow. I think, just like last year, it’s going to be a later winter this year.”
A Great North Christmas is a test case and if the project goes well there will be more in store for Prince George and with a series of movies made back-to-back once film crews return to the city.
“It’s a pretty big deal for Prince George and the North,” said Coyne. “We hope this is the thing that cracks the film industry wide-open for Prince George.”
Anamorphic, in partnership with Princ Films of Los Angeles and Prince George residents Tammy and Cameron Thun, are providing financing for A Great Northern Christmas.
“We are proud to be from Prince George and want to share our city with the world,” said the Thuns, in a joint statement. “Being in a position to do our part to bring film productions to the city and grow the local economy means the world to us.”
Sara Shaak, the former head of the Prince George Film Commission, owns Anamorphic Media and is part-owner of Trilight Entertainment and her companies have teamed up with Princ Films on several releases that are receiving favourable reviews, including Girl (starring Bella Thorne), The Doorman and Cagefighter, all released last year. She’s looking forward to coming back to her hometown for a month of moviemaking and she predicts the film will do well.
A Great North Christmas is a romance which revolves around a single women whose big-city friends arrange a trip for her to a small town for a winter Christmas unlike any other she’s had before. She’s a bit of a fish out of water in her new surroundings and meets somebody in her travels and they fall in love, but not without a few mishaps and obstacles to create plot twists.
The romance movie formula has been used in dozens of TV movies and has proved quite popular with viewers on Netflix and the cable Hallmark Channel. The distribution rights have already been locked up and A Great North Christmas will likely be shown on one of the major platforms.
“The market really loves these feel-good Christmas movies,” said Shaak. “They’re very popular and people who have worked closely with us have been saying we should get into producing these kind of films, there’s a lot of opportunity here.
“I’ve always had a thing for Prince George and wanting to bring stuff back there and we all agreed it was the right place at the right time. I know how hard people in Prince George work and I think that makes it a good fit.”
While Princ Films is handling most of the decisions on hiring actors, Barker Street will tap into its acting pool to fill some of the minor roles. The lead actors have yet to be determined but all will be Canadian to avoid delays caused by border restrictions and quarantines during the pandemic. Shaak confirmed Prince George actor Madison Smith is being considered for a lead role. Extras for the movie will likely be people from the same household to reduce the risk of COVID infection and transmission.
Shaak, a Prince George native who now lives in Calgary, helped attract Hollywood to Prince George during her time as film commissioner from the late-1990s to the early-2000s. That brought major theatrical releases Double Jeopardy, Reindeer Games and Dreamcatcher for location shooting in Prince George.
She says the city is well positioned to develop a sustainable film industry for location shooting. The key to making that happen is to establish a talent pool of local people interested in moviemaking and its elements, whether it’s carpenters, electricians, set designers, lighting technicians or hair/makeup artists. Having that expertise available locally will help minimize production costs and make Prince George more attractive to filmmakers.
“Norm and his team have been very proactive in working with us in trying to develop the region,” said Shaak. “These kinds of projects build up crew and help the community understand a little more about the industry and it could be a great catalyst to bring more projects to the region.”
Glen Mikkelsen, former general manager of CN Centre, has been hired as production manager. Pre-production, including site location, set building and planning will start in February and filming should be wrapped up by mid-March.
During filming, live updates will be posted to Barker Street Cinema’s YouTube channel to keep local residents informed about what’s happening behind the scenes while the movie is being made.