REGINA - Look around Regina these days and you might think you’ve landed in Hollywood.
This week in Regina, filming was taking place on the second season of Zarqa, a show available on CBC Gem. The show’s creator Zarqa Nawaz, known from Little Mosque on the Prairie, is in the starring role in the comedy web series and is also writing and directing this season.
It’s one of a number of a growing group of film and television productions taking advantage of the expanded Creative Saskatchewan Feature Film and Television Production Grant. That fund has received a further boost up to $12 million in this year’s budget.
Several provincial officials and MLAs visited the filming on Wednesday, including Minister of Parks, Culture and Sport Laura Ross. The province is pointing to productions such as Zarqa as showing that the production grant is benefiting the province in creating jobs.
“The amount of people that are employed on the set is impressive, and the economic impact of the city, to the province again this is a game changer,” said Ross.
Ross said that this particular grant is different from the former tax credit that was eliminated by the Brad Wall government a decade ago.
“This is ensuring that every dollar is being spent in the province of Saskatchewan, so the money that the province puts into projects like this is for good and services, so it’s directly impacting the province. We don’t have any bleedoff to other provinces or other countries. This money that the taxpayer is investing into this stays in the province of Saskatchewan.”
“This project would not have happened if Creative Sask wasn’t able to support it with our Film and Television Production Grant,” said Creative Saskatchewan’s CEO Erin Dean.
She said the Production Grant was aimed at hiring local and incentivizing production spend in the province. She also noted the changes to the media landscape compared to a decade earlier, with far more opportunities for streaming than before.
“There’s so much more content being made. So we’re really thrilled that Saskatchewan’s back in the game and we’re able to bring productions like this back to the province.”
For the second season of Zarqa, Creative Saskatchewan has invested $299,000, with the production employing upwards of 130 people, most of them from Saskatchewan with some from outside the province. Dean said the economic impact for Saskatchewan is anticipated to be $1.4 million.
“It’s a good investment for us, we’re really excited to see the second season,” said Dean.
Candy Fox is directing two episodes of Zarqa this season. When she got the call that season two was green lit she said she was very excited.
“Of course it’s always great to be working in Saskatchewan, having a production in my home city as well,” said Fox. “It’s good to work with people I’ve established relationships with or come from my home community or come from Saskatchewan. It’s great just to have work here and just to see thriving production happen in my city.”
While those looking at the activity at the filming location on Edgar Street near Douglas Park on Wednesday might be under the impression this effort was a major undertaking, with sizeable film crews, film equipment, props and trucks in the area, Fox said the scene was really just routine for what they do.
Six episodes are planned for this season, and the crews were packing the filming of the episodes into two weeks, this being the second week. “Pretty quick, you know, but everyone has been really great, hardworking.”
Zarqa Nawaz said the first season of Zarqa was one of the top streaming shows on CBC Gem, and “so when it came time for renewal they were so happy to greenlight us for a second season.”
“We were so thrilled to get that. And it was another opportunity to showcase the actors and crew and Saskatchewan, again, to the world, to Canada.”
After last season ended on a bit of cliffhanger note, Zarqa said fans can expect “even more fun” this season.
“My character will have more antics and will create chaos in everybody’s lives yet again. There’s not a single person that I don’t come across on the show that I don’t end up causing mayhem or utter destruction.”
She welcomed the chance to come back to Regina and be able to help rebuild the production industry, and help provide an opportunity for young people to get training in the film and TV industry.
“I never thought I’d be able to come back after Little Mosque on the Prairie to make another production here, and now the government is supporting production and we are able to regrow our crews and train our people. The most exciting thing about this production is watching young people be trained in production jobs and rebuilding the production economy. I’m really looking forward to being part of that.”
As for when to watch Zarqa Season Two on CBC Gem, you can expect to see it roll out in either December or January.