REGINA - This month, production got underway on the latest in what is becoming a long list of film and TV shoots based in Saskatchewan.
The film is Die Alone, and Saskatchewan-based Minds Eye Entertainment has announced the start of principal photography. On Monday, June 19, the media were invited down to the set at Sask Polytechnic in Regina where the second day of filming was taking place.
What the media got to see was filming of a protest scene in front of the Saskatchewan Polytechnic building, with a number of actors chanting slogans and waving placards while the cameras rolled. It was the second day of what was expect to be 20 days of filming both in Regina and in surrounding rural locations including Fort Qu’Appelle and the Qu’Appelle Valley.
The movie is described as a post-apocalyptic thriller. According to its IMDB listing, Die Alone tells the story of a young man who has amnesia, who bands together with a rugged survivalist in a zombie-like outbreak to find his girlfriend.
It is set in a future when society collapses after a catastrophic illness — a plot line that is especially relevant now due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The script was written and directed by Lowell Dean, a Saskatchewan filmmaker previously best known for WolfCop. While he notes people might think the movie was inspired by COVID-19, in fact the first draft of the script had been written about ten years ago.
“I’ve had other projects come and go and this kind of became my white whale where I thought this movie will never happen. I’m still in a little bit of disbelief,” said Dean.
Dean had set the story in Saskatchewan — explaining the decision by saying “you write what you know” — but had never dreamed it would be filmed here, due to a lack of a sizeable production credit that limited production to those on a very small budget. The province had previously scrapped the Film and TV tax credit and ushered in a much smaller production grant in its place over the last decade.
But the expansion last year of the Creative Saskatchewan Film and TV Grant, whose budget was boosted from $2 million up to $10 million last year and $12 million this year, made this production possible.
“With the new incentive, it actually worked out that we could come back and make the movie bigger and better than what I was originally thinking,” said Dean. “I am immensely grateful that I get to make this movie in Saskatchewan. And, like I said, we never anticipated it would happen, but to be back here with over 100 people working on this film, many of them friends I’ve worked with for decades, it’s surprising and doesn’t feel like reality.”
Kevin DeWalt, who is CEO and president of Minds Eye Entertainment and one of the co-producers, said this is his company’s first production in Saskatchewan under the new Creative Saskatchewan grant. The production is receiving funding under this grant and also is receiving the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit, and is being produced with the participation of Telefilm Canada. Some 39 of the 100 crew workers are trainees in the Saskatchewan Media Production Industry Association Work Experience Training Program. Creative Saskatchewan is estimating a return to the province of $9.8 million.
DeWalt made clear this production would likely have gone to another jurisdiction had the grant not been expanded.
“We’re just absolutely thrilled to be back after 12 years of shooting our movies in different parts of Canada,” said DeWalt.
He said when the initial tax credit was pulled back, it was very difficult to do a film in Saskatchewan over about $1 million.
For Minds Eye, they typically do films with budgets in the five-to-$10 million range, the same range that DeWalt said Die Alone falls into. In the past, for them to be compete they had to go elsewhere.
One such production DeWalt pointed to was their movie Dangerous with Mel Gibson and Scott Eastwood, a $12 million production that ended up being shot in BC.
“Because the tax credit wasn’t competitive it just didn’t make any sense to shoot it here,” said DeWalt. “The good news is the provincial government came back, they announced the grant program last year, they enhanced it this past year, and for us, born and raised here and having a company here, it’s just really a thrill to come back and to have an incentive which now competes with any incentive across the country. At Minds Eye we are very confident that we can attract bigger projects here, and this is a good example of that. We’re just thrilled to be back and you know in a sense we’re rebuilding the industry here.”
About Die Alone
The cast is headlined by Carrie-Anne Moss whose roles have included The Matrix franchise and Memento, Douglas Smith who had roles in Don’t Worry Darling and Big Little Lies, and Frank Grillo who has been seen in the Captain America and Purge franchises. Also part of the cast are Kimberly-Sue Murray and Jonathan Cherry, both of whom welcomed the opportunity to come to Saskatchewan and be part of the film industry comeback story.
In Die Alone, Murray plays Emma, who is the main character’s girlfriend. “It’s a beautiful love story, and I love the genre. I love the statement it’s making. Our director Lowell has been on my radar for a couple years now… it’s a passion project and you can feel that on set for sure.”
As for the storyline of a post-apocalyptic pandemic world, “it feels so fresh. I just did a big scene where I was in full. Get up with you know the visors and masking. It’s very, it feels fresh and relevant and my siblings are in the healthcare system and so my heart goes out to those people who really saved a lot of lives. To have a film that is sort of not post-pandemic because it doesn’t seem to have ended in this film — it’s scary.
Cherry plays Emma’s boyfriend, Ethan, one of the main characters. This was his first time shooting or being in Saskatchewan.
“I like it it’s beautiful. It’s very flat I can see forever, especially when we’re on the eighth floor… I’ve never seen so much land.”
Cherry said it was great to go to different parts of the country. One thing he was impressed with in Regina was the size of the soundstage.
"I was not expecting such a large state-of-the-art studio, especially for a movie our size. Usually, when I make a movie of our size in Toronto, we do not have access to facilities of that size. Usually, that size of facility is reserved for a large budget television production like a CBS show or something like that.”
Minister of Parks Culture and Sport Laura Ross was on the set and impressed with what she was seeing.
“We are very fortunate that Saskatchewan is a perfect place for different productions to take place,” said Ross. “The payback is incredible to the economy. Creative Saskatchewan has put in 2.1 million and it is just shy of $10 million payback. I mean, that just makes good sense, and we’ve got over 100 people employed on this set so it really speaks to the people of Saskatchewan, it speaks to the taxpayers of Saskatchewan to let them know that the film and television industry is good for the economy.”
As for when Saskatchewan residents might get to see Die Alone, Filmoption International holds the distribution rights in Canada and it is expected it will be released in theatres at some point in 2024.