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Okanagan film industry rebounds after COVID-19 took top billing

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Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Okanagan is seeing a boom in the film industry with several productions underway in Kelowna, Penticton and the South Okanagan. Shelby Thom has more on what's being shot right now, including a TV series produced by a major Hollywood star, and how crews are getting the job done while being COVID safe. – Apr 8, 2021

The Okanagan film industry is rebounding after productions were forced to shut down in early 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic took top billing.

Several film and television productions are shooting in the Okanagan this week. It’s hard to miss the staging areas around Penticton, B.C., as crews shoot a pilot for a big TV series called National Parks.

Read more: Okanagan film industry continues to grow through ongoing pandemic

Global News obtained the pilot order, which says the ABC-backed drama is produced and co-written by Hollywood star Kevin Costner.

“While the national parks are known for their sweeping, beautiful landscapes, there is also a darker, more sinister side to these parks that attract a vast array of criminal activity,” said the logline.

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National Parks will follow the small group of elite NPS agents as they solve these crimes while protecting these national treasures.”

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The Wholesale Club parking lot has been transformed into a base for wardrobe, catering, washrooms, COVID-19 testing, and trailers for actors to stay when they’re not on set.

Some climbing areas at the Skaha Bluffs provincial park are temporarily closed for filming.

Public notices have been posted in Skaha Bluffs as some areas are shut down to accommodate filming. Shelby Thom/Global News

Meanwhile, Home for My Heart, a romantic comedy for The Hallmark Channel, is being filmed on Bernard Avenue in Kelowna, B.C.

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In the South Okanagan, Front Street Pictures is shooting a film called Secrets of a Marine’s Wife, in Osoyoos, Cawston and Oliver.

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“This Lifetime Movie tells the true story of a young marine wife whose illicit affair ended in tragedy. The film is based on the book of the same name written by Shanna Hogan,” according to a press release.

Jon Summerland, Okanagan film commissioner, said the Okanagan offers a cheaper alternative to the productions eyeing Vancouver.

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“It’s difficult to film anywhere but it’s extra difficult on the coast because there are so many shows, there’s so much going on, and with all the new rules, it’s three-month waiting lists for locations,” Summerland said.

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“Here we are still open as a community, we want this industry, so smaller shows, and smaller companies are moving out there to make movies taking place in the wilderness.”

Summerland said he’s thrilled Penticton was chosen as a location to shoot the high-profile National Parks pilot.

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“For us that’s amazing. This is what’s missing, this is what we need as an industry here to have a series. The series will bring longevity and has people working for 6 months a year all on one show,” he said.

“If we can prove that this is a good place for them maybe they’ll hand us another show. We already have Netflix, we have Amazon, we already have all the big service providers looking here, they just want to have that positive story that comes out saying, ‘you can make a series here’, and if Kevin Costner thinks he can make a series here than anyone can think they can make a series here,” Summerland said.

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Creative BC said in an email to Global News that every production is working under a COVID-19 safety plan in line with WorkSafeBC/Provincial Health Office guidelines and protocols, along with rigorous COVID-19 procedures in place to mitigate the risk of spread.

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The measures include routine testing, PPE, shields and other protective gear, and frequent sanitation.

Crews coming in from outside Canada have undergone the mandatory 14-day quarantine before working on set.

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“You go on set, first thing they’re doing is you go through this tent one person at a time, they get their temperatures checked, they go through the questionnaire that filled out, make sure they’ve done their test this week, the film commission pays for their tests,” Summerland said of the COVID-19 safety measures for the B.C. film industry.

Summerland added the 2021 film and television production schedule keeps expanding with both new projects and new companies coming to film in the Okanagan.

“It’s going to be a fantastic year film-wise, and if we can keep it going and keep acting the way we are, I think we will do well,” he said.

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