The last time the Screen Actors Guildlooked poised to go on strike in the US---in 2000---it resulted in a boon for film and television production in Halifax as producers rushed to get projects in the can before the strike deadline. (It never happened.) The Shipping News, K-19: The Widowmaker and Wise Girls---plus their marquee stars such as Harrison Ford, Julianne Moore and Mariah Carey---were among the big-time operations to set up camp in the city.
Now, in the wake of a crippling three-month writers' walkout, SAG has got another strike date in its sights: the guild's current contract ends June 30. As talks aimed at nailing an agreement with producers continued at press time, telltale yellow production signs have begun sprouting up around town.
"Last year was a rather disappointing year," says Ann McKenzie, CEO of Film Nova Scotia. "There was the ACTRA strike, writers guild strike, the dollar didn't help and the tax credit wasn't as attractive as it is now." Last October 1, Nova Scotia increased its tax credit---which allows productions a return on local labour used---from 35 to 50 percent, "the highest in the country," McKenzie notes proudly.
The summer's biggest production is Sea-Wolf, a mini-series about a seal-hunting ship starring Tim Roth and Neve Campbell. Shooting began last week and runs through July. Currently in Toronto, Mira Nair's Amelia Earhart biopic Amelia has lined up Halifax as one of the five cities it will shoot in. Hilary Swank plays the titular pilot in a cast including Virginia Madsen and Richard Gere. (The Other Side, the star Scientologist spectacular with Jason Lee and Giovanni Ribisi, has been pushed back minus Queen Xenu, Katie Holmes, who is out "due to money issues," says Radar.)
Outside of big-budget Hollywood pictures, Jay Dahl (Backjumping) makes the leap to features with his directorial debut The Harton Interviews, a horror project about a group of students who inadvertently film the end of the world. The documentary-style look will allow for both a sense of realism and cost-effectiveness.
"It's Blair Witch-esque in that regard," he says. "I'm looking toward Larry Clark's films, Kids and Paul Greengrass, who did Bloody Sunday and United 93." The shoot runs across 20 days, "all over Halifax. There's no construction, no sets. It's in people's houses, in grocery stores. It'sabout suburbia going bad, everythingthat's really familiar to you becoming a nightmarish place."
David Swan is taking a similar approach with an even smaller budget than Dahl's---"under $500,000"---aiming to lens his crime feature Only Human for $130,000. "We looked for a story that we could do small-scale without feeling small," says the local writer-director, who has cast mostly inexperienced actors for a two-month shoot that will begin mid-June.
A month-long Trailer Park Boys shoot in July is rumoured to be a sequel to the feature not a new season, though, as is their custom, nobody at Trailer Park Productions would confirm anything. But David MacLeod, the local producer of the third season of G-Spot---the former TMN series about an actor (Brigitte Bako) trying to make it in LA---is talking about how Halifax will stand in for Hollywood.
"The same way Toronto did before but better," he says. "Exteriors for LA are a few stock shots." The 28-day shoot at Tour Tech begins May 8. He notes a nation-wide trend of slowdown due to the SAG strike, "which nobody thinks is gonna happen, but of course you can't go and book things."
MacLeod is also producing Sea-Wolf, which will be all over town, including the Public Gardens, Crystal Crescent Beach and the waterfront in front of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. "We are using it for San Francisco, 1905. It's lots of people in period dress, lots of crates and barrels," he says. "It's lots of stuff that's easy to get in quickly and then get out quickly and then we turn back to normal."