Sonoda shooting Beasts

Sword'n'sorcery telemovie Merlin & The Book of Beasts underway around Vancouver for Sci-Fi and Starz. Laura Harris and James Callis star

VANCOUVER — Hot on the heels of the debut of his comedy Coopers’ Camera at the Toronto International Film Festival, director Warren Sonoda is back behind the camera on the fantasy flick Merlin & the Book of Beasts.

The TV movie is produced by Vancouver- and L.A-based Front Street Pictures (The Deal, We Don’t Live Here Anymore) for the Sci-Fi channel and the pay TV outlet Starz.

Merlin & the Book of Beasts is shooting in and around Vancouver for 18 days as of this week. Executive producer is Front Street principal Harvey Kahn.

Written by Brook Durham, the script follows a band of adventurers led by King Arthur’s daughter (Laura Harris of Dead Like Me), who enlist the help of a reclusive Merlin (James Callis of Battlestar Galactica) in order to combat a new evil plaguing Camelot.

‘The bad guy, Arkadian, has a book of beasts — with everything from Medusa and killer butterflies to all sorts of crazy creatures — that he is unleashing on the land,’ explains Sonoda. ‘It is a quest in the sense that the adventurers have to retrieve Merlin and go through various magical lands to get back to Camelot and fight the evil.’

Sonoda adds that he is taking a gritty approach to the fantasy picture.

‘They are letting me take the more frilly fable of Camelot and dirty it up,’ he explains. ‘I’m doing a Braveheart. The Round Table is destroyed and Camelot is in ruin and the Book of Beasts is very much a weapon of mass destruction wielded by an anarchist with loose morals. It is a bit darker and more cool.’

The locations-heavy shoot takes place around Lake Alouette, in Vancouver’s Golden Ears Provincial Park, standing in for Camelot, and a farm near Langley doubling for the pastures and forests of medieval Britain. Interiors will be shot at Insight Film Studios’ backlot, which has a standing castle set. Some B camera shooting will take place in Poland to capture castle exteriors.

The production is not releasing exact budget figures, although they indicate the movie is in the $1 million to $2 million range.

Special effects, including several CG characters, will be done in-house at Front Street Pictures, which owns an effects company.

Having shot two back-to-back comedies this year — Protocol Entertainment’s yet-to-be-released hockey film Puck Hogs and the Christmas caper Coopers’ Camera, starring Jason Jones and Samantha Bee — Sonoda says an action fantasy is a nice change of pace.

‘There are a lot of sword fights and magical battles — it’s the Dungeons & Dragons movie I have always wanted to do,’ says Sonoda, who also shot a horror film, 5ive Girls, back in 2006.

‘It is easy to get pigeon-holed, but I am fortunate to have worked in comedy, horror and fantasy. I guess I have to do a drama next.’