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Town tapping into film and TV industry

Move over Hollywood and make way for Firewood. Cochrane is pursuing the film and TV industry to diversify its economy “while the sun is shining,” according to Mayor Peter Politis.
Reality TV may be in the cards for the future gold mining town of Cochrane.

Move over Hollywood and make way for Firewood.

Cochrane is pursuing the film and TV industry to diversify its economy “while the sun is shining,” according to Mayor Peter Politis.

The District of Cochrane (DC) Film Office was launched this spring in the town. In early May, the construction of 20 micro studio stages in the town was announced along with a new reality TV series that will be filmed in the area.

“We are on a growth agenda here. We recognize we are not just going to be satisfied with a gold mine going up and two forestry mills. We have all kinds of different diversified economies we are chasing down,” he said.

Detour Gold Mine, about 150 kilometres north of Cochrane, is set to go into production early next year. About 1,000 people are currently employed during the construction phase and about 500 are expected once the mine becomes operational.

“We are surrounded by this huge opportunity and we are fortunate to have it,” the mayor said. “But the best part of this new diversified economy is that it is completely separate and has no ties to the resource industry. It taps into a huge tax base that will help us have savings when filming and production are taking place. And at the same time, it is new money coming into the region.”

While Alaska is enjoying a reality-based production boom, with shows such as Deadliest Catch and Ax Men, council sees similar opportunities for the town and the district, referred to as Firewood by the mayor. A Los Angeles-based consulting firm was hired to attract potential productions to the area, especially of the reality genre.

The reality series slated for filming in the district will depict workers in extreme outdoor environments. It will employ about 47 people in the region. The mayor said the script has been written and the episodes will take about a year to film, covering an area from Hearst to Matheson.

“The money is there. It's 100 per cent financed and the networks are being lined up as we speak,” he said.

The film office in the town does not include post-production equipment. It is expected that off-site locations, such as in Hollywood or Seattle, Wash., will be utilized for that part of the process.

“We are learning how to create exposure around who we really are,” Politis said. “We have key Hollywood people involved and they are behind it right now and we will learn how to use the film industry to create an economy and to create exposure for the best way of life and the greatest backyard in the planet.”

In just five years, Alaska has built up its film industry, currently worth about $200 million. Cochrane would like to emulate and surpass what that state is doing.

“We have all the same scenery like Alaska and the same outdoor experiences,” Politis said. “We have everything and we are only eight hours from Toronto. We can enhance the Toronto film industry while at the same time, bring to the world what we are trying to do and that is to expose our way of life.”

The town, along with Aduvo Studios, is constructing the DC Video Park Innovation (VIP) Studios, which is a collection of 20 micro studios. They will be located adjacent to the Western Town, formerly the Heritage Village, near the Polar Bear Habitat.

The studios are self-contained stages that can be shipped by rail or truck to remote locations. They utilize 'block and lock' technology to quickly change exteriors from a Western town to New York's downtown in minutes. Their interchangeable interiors can also be used for different settings. In addition to film sets, they can be used for editing and post-production offices as well as accommodations.

“The beauty of dealing with VIP Studios is that they can be quickly adapted to suit your needs,” said Brian Peters, Aduvo Studios president, in a press release. “From film production to camp sites, to student dorms to low income housing, to mining and forestry camps, to celebrity homes, it all works from the same building block principals we are developing and testing here in the video innovation park.”

Construction began in May and 20 units will be ready for production tests this summer. The second phase will be an adjacent 50-acre development with an additional 50 micro studios. A timeline for that project will be announced in the near future.

“The micro studios will attract productions, develop new technology, house production personnel and help grow local talent,” Politis said. “We are dabbling in a lot of things right now and they dovetail into one thing which leads to another.”