The New Beachcombers returns home

Gibsons Landing, BC: There are ghosts at Molly’s Reach. The famed backdrop for the 19-year run of CBC series The Beachcombers is steeped in memory: the time Bruno Gerussi did this, the time that Robert Clothier did that.

Even as the 70-odd cast and crew film the opening sequences of the MOW The New Beachcombers – commissioned for the 50th anniversary of the CBC and on the 30th anniversary of the first episode of the log-salvaging family series – the revered late actors who played Nick and Relic are in the restaurant in spirit.

The scene of the moment, set in 1985, features three youngsters who grow up to carry on the story of life in a coastal logging village northwest of Vancouver. Sitting in a booth in the Molly’s Reach restaurant, actors Bryce Hodgson, Shylo Sharity and Taylor Hill set in motion the Archie-Betty-Veronica relationship that inspires their antics. Editors will later blend in archival shots of Nick and Relic sitting across the restaurant – compressing time and letting the old beachcombers pass off the story to the new.

It’s the only interior shot in Molly’s Reach, which has actually become a restaurant since the original series wrapped in 1991.

Photographic images of Gerussi, Clothier and other stars such as Jackson Davies, who executive produces the new MOW, are hung on walls out of camera range, but watching over production, nonetheless.

‘I know for a fact Bruno and Robert are here,’ says L.A.-based star Cameron Bancroft, who plays the grown-up Scott Rivers, one of the kids in the restaurant booth. As a young local actor, Bancroft’s first job was playing a different character, Graham Blake, on the original series for six years and 50 episodes.

In the MOW’s backstory, Bancroft’s character has traveled the world, including a stint with Nick, who returned to Greece at the end of the original series, and comes home to Gibsons to take up Nick’s old salvaging business in time to halt the wrecking ball that threatens to turn ‘the Reach’ into luxury condos. At the same time, Deanna Milligan plays his love interest who returns to Molly’s Reach as a co-owner with Dave Thomas, who plays her father. Kendall Cross, the third kid in the restaurant booth, plays the troublemaker.

Graham Greene is new to the cast as a local environmentalist and publisher, and Susan Hogan joins the production as the doctor wife of Constable John Constable, played by Davies. Leslie Jones and Corrine Koslo play the Wrecht sisters who run the demolition company.

But however much new blood is injected into the revival, which filmmakers hope is a backdoor pilot, history is ever-present.

Gerussi’s home, atop a hill across the bay, overlooks the set at Molly’s Reach, dressed to be a run-down and boarded-up derelict building for a week of exteriors. The current owner of Molly’s Reach, on a forced vacation while production invades her business that regularly hosts bus loads of German tourists on pilgrimages, has gotten into the spirit by visiting the set dressed like the curmudgeonly Relic. The Persephone, Nick’s boat abandoned in a dry dock in 1995, was refitted and re-floated for the MOW.

And 25% of the crew members are alumni of the original production. There are so many stories ’bout the ol’ days that the crew has threatened to set up a pot where everyone who reminisces throws in a loonie.

Original cast members Pat John, who played Jesse, and Charlene Aleck, who played Sara, return for cameos.

Grip Dave Gordon came out of retirement to have another go at The Beachcombers, where he worked during the first three years of full-season production.

‘On Day One, first setup, it felt right. I don’t know, but it’s a good possibility that I’m back in the film business,’ he says.

The mood on the non-union set has a small-crew mentality, he adds. ‘Departmental lines don’t matter.’ Producer Nick Orchard was even humping gear up the rickety and steep ramp of Smitty’s Marina when the equipment barge returned from its water shoot at low tide.

Director Brad Turner and DOP Rob McLachlan managed the last episode of the series and returned to their jobs for the MOW.

‘It’s exactly the same kind of script that I would have done in the series,’ says Turner, speaking of the MOW. ‘A wholesome comedy with a dramatic story.’

The original Beachcombers was in production before B.C. had a film industry to speak of. The original show, created by Marc Strange, Susan (LS) Strange and Philip Keatley, is credited with training many of the senior executives in the domestic industry. At the time, crew members relied on resourcefulness to do what they needed, whether it was inside Molly’s kitchen or aboard the aging Persephone salvaging logs. The MOW, by comparison, is a bigger production that showcases a lot of developed skill.

‘We wanted the scope to be larger,’ says Turner, explaining that the new production uses cranes and Steadicams to pump up the 35mm production value. ‘We are using the skills developed since [the original series] to the service of this gentle, West Coast storyline.’

And Turner, knowing that the geographic setting of Gibsons has always been a major character in the series, is not about to disappoint fans.

‘I’ve moved a lot of the interior scenes outside to take advantage of the location’s natural beauty,’ says Turner. ‘I want to use the scenery and the light as mood points. [Constable John] is the nostalgic link and the location adds to his reflectiveness and his hopes for the old days to come back.’

For Davies, who is clearly a motivating force on the set, the return to Gibsons shows how little things change.

‘You can go to [nearby] Gramma’s Pub and see the same people,’ he says, while dressed in his 1985 uniform, which includes a hairpiece and inspires a running gag on the set. ‘The faces are a little older; maybe they are sitting in the same chairs. Smitty’s Marina is a little more derelict, but basically the same.

‘There is room for family, quirky shows,’ says Davies, who was on the original series for 13 years. ‘The regions in Canada are doing some of the better things on Canadian TV. You see a lot of big-town Canadian TV; you don’t see a lot of small-town Canada.’

A funding hiccup with Telefilm Canada nearly meant even less small-town Canada on CBC. Until a new batch of funding was opened, The New Beachcombers was not on Telefilm’s list of lucky recipients – and one can wonder whether it was negative publicity or divine intervention from a couple of crusty old stars that kept the project on track.

‘It took 10 minutes to get a yes from CBC and a year to get the underlying rights,’ says Orchard, a PM on the original series for three years. ‘People want to see shows like this, a little bit more gentle, about a place where people are nice.’