As seen in
Spoiler alert: Nicolas Cage died on the steps of the All Saints Anglican Church in Vernon.
Not in real life, of course, but in the movie A Score to Settle, which was shot in the Okanagan. The movie may not have been a big hit with critics, but it’s worth watching to see the sweet cinematics of home. The Okanagan fills the frames with familiar views and locales. Even the bridge across Okanagan Lake is featured.
We may be seeing an increasing number of scenes shot in the region as the film industry here begins to hit its stride.
Vernon resident Robert Bricker was a producer on A Score to Settle, a Mind’s Eye Entertainment film.
He’s proud to show off his home.
“I want to feature the Okanagan on the world stage,” he says. “There’s a lot of stuff in development, and there are a lot of eyes on the Okanagan in film. I think it’s the best film location on the planet when you look at the entire package.”
In A Score to Settle, Cage plays a crime enforcer who takes the fall for his boss. The movie centres on how he deals with loss and vengeance. In one scene filmed in the locker of Grillers Meats in Vernon, Cage’s character corners one of his targets.
“You’re not going to run? Put up a fight?” asks Cage’s character.
“I figure I’ve outrun what I got coming to me way longer than I deserve.”
Cage kills him with a gunshot to the head. The butcher shop now has a small plaque commemorating the on-screen murder.
Bricker, who’s an executive producer and locations manager, says Cage really enjoys the Okanagan. Other big names have filmed here and in Kamloops and the Shuswap with similar reactions.
“Richard Dreyfuss was over the moon,” says Bricker. “He loved it!”
Dreyfuss starred in Daughter of the Wolf shot in the Okanagan.
More big names, Christina Richie and John Cusack shot a movie here called Distorted. In one scene, they have a drink in Triumph Coffee Shop in Vernon. The script was even changed to reflect the real name.
Bricker says Vancouver is becoming an old hat in film. “The locations are getting tired in Vancouver,” he says. “We’ve seen them all.”
When shooting in Vancouver movie crews use rolls of cotton or get ‘fish ice’ brought in by the truckload to simulate snow. And rainy Lower Mainland weather can be disruptive; when there’s no consistent weather, crews can’t shoot over days.
From Hallmark to horror
The Thompson Okanagan is a fresh face, offering the ability to go from desert to forest, to snow, and creating the illusion of everything from Nevada to the Middle East.
It may be picturesque, but the region also has locations that are intensely unsettling.
“The Lavington Glass Plant is probably the best set in the Okanagan for film if you want to do intensity or creepy,” says Bricker. “It looks like they shut it off in 1921 and left.”
For those filming in the Okanagan, the pandemic actually helped the film industry as crews here were the first to get back to work. When times are good for the local film industry, it’s a boost to the community, he says. Crews shop at local stores and eat at local restaurants.
“One of my mandates has been, ‘If you can buy it local, get it local.”
More films shooting in the valley meant that the film industry had a chance to experience first-hand what the region had to offer, says Bricker. “Everything that we’ve been telling everybody for so long, we’re going: ‘See! told you so.’”
“The three films that I did in the Okanagan last year are the best-looking films that those companies have ever done because it was perfect.”
The pieces are beginning to fit together for bigger feature films to be set here.
“We all want to come home and work,” says the film producer. “There are some top-end, high-profile filmmakers that all want to come and make movies in the Okanagan.”
Secret film by blockbuster producer
Neill Blomkamp, best known for directing sci-fi movies District 9 and Elysium, shot a movie in
secret at the beginning of the pandemic.
Blomkamp shot the low-budget, science fiction horror movie Demonic around his own home, reported the Los Angeles Daily News.
It was supposed to be set in the deserts of New Mexico. However, international travel bans nixed those plans and Blomkamp, who recently moved to the Okanagan, came home and filmed in secret.
Released in 2021, the movie follows a young woman (played by Carly Pope) who unleashes terrifying demons after participating in a high-tech simulation where her mother’s mind is trapped.
The director said on a video call this summer that the film is a passion project. “Going back a long, long time, I always wanted to make something that was a tiny, self-financed horror film. I just loved the sort of ingenuity of Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project. And so for way over a decade, I always had it in the back of my head,” he said, according to the Daily News. “I think it’s probably not a bad thing for filmmakers to oscillate between, like, super low-budget to high budget. And kind of remember, ‘What are the fundamentals? Are there other ways that we could do this that would be cheaper?’”
The film was made with Oats Studios, founded by Blomkamp and his brother in 2017 to make short, experimental films.
Angela Quinn [left], who was the casting director for Demonic, says the Okanagan film industry was able to open up again after COVID-19 sooner than other places where there’s a lot of travel required across borders and overseas for cast and crew.
She says her company, Angela Quinn Casting, has never been busier.
“We’re in a unique situation here in the Okanagan. We’re a smaller industry, projects are very regional that are shooting here with the majority all local cast and crew.”
Quinn worked out of Vancouver for decades and had wished there was enough work in the Okanagan to live and work in the valley. Over the past five years, the industry has taken off, and she moved to Kelowna.
The majority of her projects are now based in the Thompson Okanagan, and some crew and talent have been moving back because there is more work.
Working for a variety of producers and projects, everything from corporate videos to feature films, Quinn looks for actors and extras of all kinds.
“I could be looking for a happy jolly Santa Claus one day and I could be looking for a serial killer the next day. It keeps the work exciting for me,” she says. “Some people will stand out in certain ways—looks or perhaps experience. Others could have the work ethic, perhaps for a physically demanding role.”
Bright lights on darkness
Quinn says diversity is becoming increasingly important in casting roles.
A five-part psychological drama, Bones of Crows is created by Indigenous writer, director and producer Marie Clements. It’s filmed throughout BC — including in Kamloops where the remains of 215 children were found buried at a former residential school.
The story is told through a female Indigenous perspective. The narrative is multi-generational, national in scope, and unfolds over 100 years.
The plot follows residential school survivor Aline Spears, a Cree matriarch, as she embarks on a classified mission in the Second World War. Her knack for understanding and translating codes earns her a spot in a special division of the Canadian Air Force as a Cree code talker. Spears is forced throughout the series to confront the abuse she faced in the residential school system.
Clements says they set out to tell a shared story that is “uniquely Canadian, undeniably Indigenous and universally human.”
“The intent is to execute an unapologetic vision and cinematic experience that gives voice to the residential school experience which is still being recovered, while also celebrating the resilience and hope that has always been us,” says Clements.
Shot originally in English, there is Cree and Ayajuthem spoken in key scenes. There will also be Cree and French-language versions for broadcast.
Bones of Crows was filmed in Kamloops, Vernon, and Quilchena, with local talent taking on acting and background roles. Some scenes were shot in the Victoria and Vancouver areas, as well as in Winnipeg.
It’s produced by Ayasew Ooskana Pictures in association with CBC.
Quintessential small-town feel
Anna Jacyszyn, known for her jazz performances, recently landed roles in two Okanagan film shoots, including the role of Bridget in Love for Starters. In the made-for-TV romance, Jacyszyn plays a principal role as a produce distributor hired by the chef at a waterfront inn — shot in the Hotel Eldorado in Kelowna. The dad who owns the inn becomes her romantic interest in a parallel love story to the main plot.
“There’s so much work out there for somebody like me—a little chubby, a lot of attitude, good charisma,” jokes Jacyszyn. “I’m not just taking any kind of role just for the sake of it. As you build your portfolio and your resume, you build up your character as well.
“No matter how old I am, there’s always a part for granny. It is an ageless thing for me. I enjoy my lines on my face and I enjoy getting older.”
Jacyszyn has dabbled in acting before while living in England. However, she was trying to pursue a career as a jazz singer and was discouraged from crossing lines.
“I was told to stay in my lane. It’s wasn’t encouraged for you to cross genres. If you want to be a singer, be a singer,” she says.
Jacyszyn has started to channel her creative energy toward acting, both behind the camera and on stage.
She’s been performing in musical theatre in Kelowna, including roles as Mrs. Banks in Mary Poppins and Donna in Mama Mia.
“I got used to being on stage and the discipline of acting and singing at the same time. I wanted to jump into a different pool with a new skill set,” she says.
“Acting suits me. I like being on set just like I like being in a recording studio.”
In her other role, she plays a restaurant owner who has to fire a chef who is uninspired — the main character in the film — to send her off on her journey.
Jacyszyn is working on roles in upcoming musical theatre productions of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Legally Blonde at Kelowna Actors Studio.
Actors ready to ply their trade
A surge of productions in the Thompson Okanagan has allowed one seasoned actor another shot at the bright lights.
Harrison Coe has returned to acting after a hiatus. He played a series of small roles on the X-Files, Outer Limits, and Stargate throughout the 1990s.
Born in Vernon, Coe grew up in Calgary where he did acting training in high school and college. He got his first gig on an episode of North of 60.
Coe’s acting work began to pick up when he moved to Vancouver. He met Kim Manners on the set of M.A.N.T.I.S. who was a director on the X-Files.
“He really liked me and would occasionally bring me on to do X-Files shows,” says Coe. “Vancouver was big into sci-fi at that time.”
Coe moved to Toronto around 2000, but finding a foothold in film proved difficult and he quit acting. He went into the restaurant industry and more recently earned his Red Seal certification.
“Acting is such an intensely crazy thing to want to do. There’s so much rejection and so much unknown,” he says.
“A lot of acting is the right place at the right time, who you know, and a little bit of ‘are you good enough?’”
When Coe moved to the Okanagan, he couldn’t resist the call of the camera. He quickly booked a role as the father of the main character in Love for Starters, who happens to be Jacyszyn’s on-screen love interest.
Hallmark movies have become the “bread and butter” of the Okanagan film industry, says Coe.
“It’s been a nice entry for the Okanagan to become a place to film things,” he says.
“It’s not blockbusters, but word gets out that they film a lot of stuff here. Look at any of the shows, regardless of the content, and you can see that it’s a great location.”