It’s not very often Victoria plays host to a Hollywood production company, but when the supernatural horror film, The Boy opens in theatres this month, parts of downtown and Craigdarroch Castle will be thrust onto the big screen.
Produced by Lakeshore Entertainment, the film tells the story of an American nanny named Greta (played by Lauren Cohan) who takes a job caring for an eight-year-old boy in a remote English village. Much to her surprise, the boy is a life-sized doll that’s cared for as if it was human. After violating a list of strict rules, a series of disturbing events leads Greta to believe the doll is really alive.
For Kathleen Gilbert of the Vancouver Island South Film and Media Commission, the film will be particularly exciting since much of it was filmed at Craigdarroch Castle, parts of downtown and a warehouse in Esquimalt. The whole production generated an estimated $10 million into the local economy.
“That one was really significant in terms of the economy,” said Gilbert, noting Victoria tends to mainly attract television movies.
“Because we don’t have a studio and most feature films want to do studio work, it’s difficult for us to attract a full on Hollywood feature so that was an exception that we were very lucky to land.”
The feature film caps off a record-breaking year for films shot in Victoria. A total of 25 film productions were shot in 2015 — 20 of which Gilbert describes as “fairly large” — pumping more than $18 million into the local economy.
According to Gilbert, some of the biggest projects were The Boy, The Gourmet Detective series and Just in Time for Christmas, starring Eloise Mumford, Michael Stahl-David, Christopher Lloyd and William Shatner. But this is hardly the first time the film industry has taken an interest in what Victoria has to offer.
Prior to last year, 2005 was the city’s biggest year with 12 productions. Gilbert believes if the city had a studio, it could land more big productions, in turn pumping millions of dollars into the local economy.
As for what draws film producers to Victoria, Gilbert said Craigdarroch and Hatley castles seem to generate a lot of interest, along with Bastion Square, Victoria’s historic downtown and the lighthouse. The commission also receives a lot of requests for small seaside towns and character houses/neighbourhoods.
But the biggest draw is the 45 per cent tax incentives, along with a low Canadian dollar.
“It used to be location driven, but now they say where in the world are the best tax incentives?” said Gilbert, noting the Hallmark Channel and Lifetime are the two biggest customers in terms of television networks.
One of the most exciting projects to land during her five-year career was the Gracepoint television series in January 2014. Produced by Shine America for Fox, the 10-episode series featured several locations from Oak Bay to Sidney during a shoot that lasted more than three months.
It was the largest production yet to grace Greater Victoria and featured a cast with Anna Gunn, Nick Nolte, Jackie Weaver, Michael Pena and Kevin Zegers.
“It took months to land that and a lot of work. We had to do so much research on not just locations, but we had to do it on weather and convince them that our city was film-friendly,” said Gilbert, noting some crew members from various productions have moved to Victoria after filming.
“A lot of producers usually bring family up for a visit on a little mini vacation. I’ve had at least two ask me after a day of scouting if they could look at houses.”
So far 2016 is off to a bit of a slow start, but Gilbert expects it will turn into another busy year.
The film commission is still working to confirm six productions. Two low budget features and four television movies should be completed by the end of April or May.