It started with a North Vancouver mother.
Her 17-year-old son was experiencing what many teenage boys do—school, sex, social media—but vulnerability made him a target for manipulation and bullying.
It was torment he couldn’t escape.
His home, once a haven, was no longer safe when he sat down and gazed at an LCD monitor.
Shelley Gillen worried, as mothers do, and her fears stirred up her imagination.
Cathartically, she crafted a composite of reality and fiction called A Mother’s Nightmare.
Months later, at the south end of Brown Road in West Kelowna, she watched as the climax of what her son went through was being recreated before her eyes.
While a crew of professionals, amateurs, internationals and locals worked together to make Gillen’s painful story into a film—a multi-million dollar budget spilled into the local economy.
And if the positive mood of the producers is any indication, more stories, more films and more money will likely be coming the Okanagan’s way.
Tina Pehme, producer of A Mother’s Nightmare, was sad to leave West Kelowna after the 18th and final day of shooting.
She wasn’t the only one, either.
“We had a tremendous group of people and it’s just been such a great experience,” she said.
Pehme is the principal owner of Sepia Films, a Vancouver company that focuses on international co-productions. A Mother’s Nightmare will have a limited theatrical release before becoming a television movie for the Lifetime Movie Network and A&E.
Sepia Films has signed on for 12 pictures with the U.S. networks, and after a successful trial run, Pehme said it’s likely that the Okanagan will be the setting for more films.
“Our idea would be to bring at least three or four of them back here. We also have another feature that could be set here as well,” said Pehme.
“Now we’ve got a familiarity with it. We’ve got people on the ground here that we’ve got a huge rapport with—it’s something we intend to continue.”
In many ways, A Mother’s Nightmare laid the groundwork for future productions, she said.
“We’re building a crew base here, we’re really trying to use and train as many local people (as possible).
“There’s a bit of a learning curve at the beginning, but the great thing is that once you build that…everyone has a can-do attitude.”
Having movies shot in the Okanagan is clearly advantageous for local crew members who would otherwise be required to travel to Vancouver for work.
But, according to Pehme, filming the picture in West Kelowna was also a benefit for the local economy.
“There was a film we did about two years ago in Ireland called A Shine of Rainbows…it ended up being such a boost to the community—now they have A Shine of Rainbows tour and they have people that ended up on shows like Camelot and the Tudors.
“When I see it here, I see all the spinoff business as well—all the local suppliers, food stores, paint, construction. There’s no imprint that’s negative.”
As property master, Dean Goodine was in charge of interacting with those local businesses on a regular basis.
Goodine is from Summerland and has been in the film business for over 26 years. Some of his credits include Unforgiven, Legends of the Fall, Passiondale and even the new Superman film.
“I’m the property master, so anything that an actor handles, moves or touches, I’m in charge of,” explained Goodine.
He said that people from the area have enjoyed working close to home, and those from elsewhere have been overwhelmed by the idyllic nature of the location.
“People just stopped when the camera was not rolling and would turn around to stare at the beauty of it all.”
Goodine also embraced the opportunity to share his skill set with those who were less experienced.
“Even though somebody like me has 26 years of experience and is working with somebody who has 26 days of experience, the job is still the job. Our job is to teach, not be upset if things aren’t going quite perfect.”
That patience worked well for Andy Holmes who was an assistant for director Vic Sarin.
“Vic and Tina are probably the two nicest people I’ve ever met in the film industry…they treat me so well,” said Holmes.
“Even if you do mess up, they’re giving you a little smack and a little love at the same time.”
His role ranged from guiding the director throughout the community to anticipating and dealing with problems before they arose to picking up coffee for the crew.
“This was an absolutely unbelievable experience for me. I’m a video production guy, I never went to film school,” Holmes said. “You can’t pay for what I learned on set every single day.”
Holmes got the call to work on A Mother’s Nightmare while bartending in Vancouver. The uncertainty of the business is something that the aspiring filmmaker has embraced.
“You always have to have a plan B, there are no guarantees. You’ve got to try to find the next job and work really hard to get there.”
One of the film’s stars, Annabeth Gish, knows all about the gypsy lifestyle that those in the entertainment business have grown accustomed to.
“You never know where your next paycheque is coming from,” said Gish.
The 41-year-old actress has appeared in Mystic Pizza, Beautiful Girls and Double Jeopardy. Most recently, she’s had recurring roles in Pretty Little Liars and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. In A Mother’s Nightmare, Gish plays Maddie, the character who is based on the film’s writer, Shelley Gillen.
“This has been a gift of a job…I have two sons, so I feel like it really captures this kind of primitive, protecting mama bear that I really respond to.”
Gish had never been to West Kelowna before; however, she is positive she will return with her family. “Being here, in this landscape, has sort of woven itself into a sense of peace and ease.”
The other stars of the made-for-TV film will also be back.
Jessica Lowndes—best known for her role of Adrianna in 90210—grew up in Vancouver and spent her summers at her grandparents’ house in the Okanagan.
She said that she signed up for A Mother’s Nightmare because it seemed like it would be “a challenge.”
“I love challenges; I like things that scare me. When I first read this character, she’s pretty dark. For me, as an actress, it’s very difficult trying to make her human and not just evil,” said Lowndes.
Several of the scenes were shot at Mount Boucherie Senior Secondary. During those shoots, Lowndes and co-star Grant Gustin—who plays Sebastian Smythe in the television series Glee—were surrounded by hundreds of star-struck teenagers.
“They watch Glee as well as 90210, so I felt like we were the Beatles at that school,” recalled Lowndes.
“Kids that don’t even go to that school were out there, just kind of camping out because they heard we were filming there. It’s crazy, but so great and so fun. They don’t get films here very often, so it’s awesome.”
Gustin had never been to Canada before shooting this film. “Over the past six months I really wanted to do a project like this that I could kind of sink my teeth into,” said Gustin.
“Pretty much the only thing people have seen me do is Glee. I came from a theatre world, I’ve done a lot of grittier stuff—it’s kind of what I prefer to do.”
Gustin said that working with the local crew was a positive experience.
“The crew is amazing. They’re so nice and accommodating and they were all trying to hook us up because they’re locals and we’re from out of town. In every possible way they were looking out for us.”
Conversations with producers, the publicist and even actors flow in a similar direction: The Okanagan’s beauty is breathtaking, the whole crew has been great, it was an amazing experience working in West Kelowna and the Okanagan film commissioner is doing a good job.
The latter comment is a feather in the cap for Jon Summerland, who has been working hard to make the area a movie-making destination.
“I would say it’s mission accomplished; the footage they’ve got is beautiful,” said Summerland, film commissioner for the Okanagan region.
“It’s a good selling factor for us in the future.”
According to Summerland, the budget for A Mother’s Nightmare was $1.82 million.
“Some of it leaves with talent, but mostly it gets spent here. It’s spent in accommodations, it’s spent at Tim Hortons, it’s spent everywhere.”
Perhaps equally as beneficial as the dollars was the learning opportunity for the inexperienced local crew who were hoping to get their feet in the door of the film business.
“There is no other place that these guys could’ve got the training that they got…they got right in and worked with Oscar-winning art directors. Where else can they do that?
“If they go to Vancouver, they’re not going to do that. They’re going to watch a parking lot. It would be months and months before they’re an assistant of the director.
“Here, people are learning from the best really early. It’s lucky for these kids.”
A record was set in 2011 when three films were shot in the area. A Mother’s Nightmare is already the second of three films shooting back-to-back in the Okanagan this year. Summerland said that five films could potentially shoot here before a new calendar is put on the wall.
His goal is to get more full movies to the area and, possibly, even a TV series.
“We are working closely with people to get a television series into the Okanagan. The only missing piece is a studio—that studio may be closer than you think.”
Despite the seemingly endless list of benefits, there are still those who aren’t thrilled to see film sets taking over their community.
Summerland agreed that the industry takes up a big footprint while filming. But, he said, it’s worth it.
“While we’re here, it’s big, we’re everywhere,” he said. “But when we leave, all we’ve done is left money.”