Alberta film and TV productions assess flood impact

Overflowing rivers in southern Alberta have interrupted the production of CBC's Heartland, AMC's Hell on Wheels (photo from actor Anson Mount pictured) and Christopher Nolan's Interstellar.
Hells on Wheels in Water

The flooding that has overwhelmed the city of Calgary and 14 communities in southern Alberta has also affected the sets of various film and productions in the area.

High River has been hardest hit by the flooding and represents the town of Hudson in the CBC series Heartland, which in recent weeks had just started shooting its seventh season.

Although the main set of the program, a ranch, has not been affected and shooting has been able to continue in a limited capacity, damage has been sustained on the show’s lot in Bragg Creek. Also in High River is the set for Maggies’s Diner, a central meeting place for the characters in Heartland, where waters have still not subsided and residents have not been allowed to return to their homes.

As well, water managed to seep into its production studios in Calgary, where the sets for the house and barn are located.

Jordy Randall, executive producer of Seven24 Films, the Calgary-based indie that makes Heartland, tells Playback that although he has not been able to return to High River because of the water levels, he is expecting that the diner set has sustained significant damage and will need to be reconstructed entirely.

High River’s storefronts and streets feature prominently in the show. Randall says he has no choice but to rewrite scripts that feature people walking in the town’s streets and eating at Maggie’s Diner. The producers may as a last resort have to find another location in southern Alberta to shoot those scenes.

The show had just wrapped episode four of the season, and is currently working on episodes five and six of an 18-episode season order.

Randall says that while a TV production is the last thing on the minds of people in southern Alberta, the staff and crew of the show are thinking of the people of High River and plans to hold a fundraiser for the community later this month.

He says there is a strong bond between the town of 13,000 people and the show which has been shooting there since its first season began seven years ago.

“It’s not like Hollywood, where you shoot on some backlot. In Canada, we actually go into a real town and become a part of the town. We are a constant presence there. We shoot there from May to December. Maggie’s Diner is actually a part of High River. It’s not a set. We use their services and their town has now become a tourist destination. Canadians come to High River to see where Heartland is shot,” he says.

Hell on water

Meanwhile, AMC/eOne period drama Hell on Wheels became hell on water last week when its set was inundated from nearby rivers, forcing the production into hiatus ahead of schedule.

The show’s set is located in Okotoks, near the Bow and Highwood rivers which breached their banks.

Initially, only the roads to the set were overrun, but last Thursday, producers had to quickly evacuate the cast, crew, animals, horses and equipment to higher ground after it became clear that water levels were rising fast.

Chad Oakes of Nomadic Pictures, the show’s Calgary-based producer told the Calgary Herald  he knew they had to move, “When I saw mammoth trees floating by…we pulled the plug…everything was evacuated in 30 minutes.”

Producers decided that the production hiatus which was to begin Thursday, June 27, would begin immediately after their set was flooded.

Pictures of the submerged set (pictured) were posted by Anson Mount, the lead actor for the show, on Twitter via WhoSay.

The show was in the middle of shooting episode six of ten, for season three which is set to premiere on August 10th.

Oakes told the Calgary Herald that there are still four-and-a-half episodes left to shoot in the season. “There might be some creative solutions while we’re able to rebuild the Hell on Wheels town,” he said.

The show has been shot in and around the Calgary area since season one. It is broadcast in the U.S. and Canada on AMC. Entertainment One is the international distributor.

The raging rivers have also affected two other Nomadic Picture productions. The mini-series Klondike, which has finished production for the Discovery Channel, has not been able to wrap its set near a ranch near Springbank.

And scouting for a third production in High River has been delayed, according to reports.

In terms of feature film production, the construction of sets for Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi film Interstellar was briefly interrupted by the rising water levels. The film starring Anne Hathaway and Matthew McConaughey is in pre-production south of Calgary.

The flooding also forced the cancellation of an open casting call for the Food Network’s Recipe to Riches. The show was holding recipe demonstrations by contestants at a Real Canadian Superstore in Calgary. Applicants can still make their submissions online. Selected participants will be flown to Toronto or Vancouver to present their recipes to the culinary team in person.

And Calgarians looking to escape the misery of the post-flood cleanup with a trip to the movie theatre, can take Much Ado About Nothing off their list of possibilities. Alliance Films has said the film will not be released in Calgary until July 5 at the earliest.

Rogers also said Thursday that the Maclean’s Great Canadian Countdown, which features Calgary prominently, would not air the program on July 1 as previously planned, “out of respect for Albertans, who are currently dealing with the serious aftermath of unprecedented flooding.”

According to the Calgary Economic Development department 80% of Alberta’s film and television production is shot in the Calgary region and that brings about $100 million to the region’s economy.

Alberta Film says 3,000 Albertans are directly employed in the film production industry and hundreds more depend on the jobs indirectly connected to film and TV production in the province.

Jeff Brinton, the Alberta Film Commissioner tells Playback his department immediately reached out to all the production companies in the southern Alberta region that could have been affected by the flooding to determine what their needs were.

Although it is still too early to assess the financial losses, Brinton says Alberta Film will do whatever it can to ensure that companies that need assistance to complete production receive it, but he is confident that the industry will continue to thrive in both the short and the long term.

Photo: A shot taken by Hell on Wheels actor Anson Mount