Thursday, 18 July 2013 09:01

There’s nothing dead about Swift Current film production company

Written by  Tim Kalinowski
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With the cancellation of the Saskatchewan film tax credit last year, many in the province thought it was the end of the provincial film and television industry. Some larger production companies did close their doors and many talented actors, writers and filmmakers did leave the province.

 

For those who remained it became a struggle to redefine their industry, and help those interested in making films in Saskatchewan continue to do so.
Devon Oman grew up on a farm outside of Swift Current. One day last spring he and some friends got talking about making a zombie movie inspired by popular B productions. They came up with a story and a rough script. With no money or resources, they approached local DJ Shawn Mullin who put them on the radio. During the resulting interview, a general call for actors and crew members went out over the airways. Oman said the response was just overwhelming.
“It just exploded. Everyone wanted to be involved with it. We never expected over 150 people to be part of it.”
As the idea of making the movie, now called Zombageddon, gained traction in the community, local businesses and organizations got involved donating resources, locations and their time to help make the film a success. Actors, make-up artists, camera operators and set dressers came from all over Saskatchewan to be part of the movie.
Brian Dueck was one local actor who answered the call. Dueck is a Saskatchewan film industry veteran with more than a dozen feature movies under his belt. He expected to come out for a lark, but after meeting the filmmakers got even more involved — eventually spending every weekend last summer directing the film.
“It was really a good experience,” explained Dueck. “I’d never actually worked as director on a feature length film before. It was really unique to be able to transfer what I have experienced and learned and put it into practice.”
Dueck brought along Swift Current Little Theatre comrades Vicky Grasdal and Reuben Parker, who both ended up being enthusiastic cast members and supporters of the film. Grasdal was impressed with the unbelievable level of commitment by the crew, regular cast members and extras who volunteered their weekends to spend hours getting into zombie make-up for their chance at five minutes on film.
“It was the most fun ever, it really was. When I heard about this film from Brian I said you have to get these people in touch with me. I was like — playing a zombie in a B movie? Check bucket list.”
Parker moved to Herbert, Sask. from England a few years ago. He said has never seen this level of community involvement in anything despite coming from a larger urban centre in his home country.
“You think coming from a big city you’d have more access to this kind of thing — but actually the exact converse is true. Because Swift Current is a smaller place, a more tight-knit community, the scope is actually heightened because you get so much more support.”
The core crew and cast of Zombageddon became close during the five months of filming. So it was natural after Zombageddon that Oman, Dueck, Grasdal, Parker and other key members decided to formalize their relationship by creating non-profit production company called Dead Prairies Productions.
Dead Prairies Productions began shooting their second film at the beginning of April. This time with many people sharing the writing, acting and directing duties in three interlocking short films: No Laughing Matter, about sinister clowns, directed and written by Oman and filmed in Herbert; The Shadowing, about ghoulish vampires, written by Parker and directed by Dueck; and Till Death, a creepy ghost story written by Swift Current writer Wendy Lockman.
The project has once more excited the community of Swift Current with crew and cast members coming from near and far. Grasdal says it’s completely understandable why the city is so excited about the film.
“It’s like — so what are you going to do in Swift Current this weekend? Play some baseball? Watch the races? Shop the mall? Or, do you want to play a zombie in a film? When people saw they could do this, who’s not going to give up a weekend to do something so cool and crazy?”
For Dueck, who was an outspoken critic of provincial government’s cancellation of the Saskatchewan film tax credit, the success of this home-grown film franchise is rewarding in its own right.
“That was definitely the spirit behind making the film — you can take that away from us, but you know what? We’re still going to find a way to make films.”
Dueck is also gratified by being able to make a $4,000 donation from the proceeds of the film to the local SPCA — showing the Saskatchewan government, in a tangible way, the value the film industry has to the economic and social life of the province.
“As unimportant as you think the film industry is, we’re going turn around and give the money we made to the SPCA or another organization which needs help,” said Dueck.
Oman said aside from all the politics surrounding the cancellation of the film tax credit, the important thing is Dead Prairies Productions is contributing to the life of the community and creating an enthusiasm for film-making in southwest Saskatchewan.
“The community support is amazing here,” explained Oman. “Everybody has been really great. With Dead Prairies Productions we are slowly growing and becoming something more. It’s really exciting. We want to make films here in southwest Saskatchewan, but we’re thinking much bigger.”

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