Nestled in the heart of the Nicola Valley, with rolling grasslands located a few minutes outside of town, it’s common knowledge for locals that Merritt can be a pretty picturesque place every now and then.
The Walk of Stars which adorns the sidewalks throughout the town, coupled with the sprawling murals which seem to occupy every other building in the downtown core contribute to the sense that Merritt has a pretty unique look, as far as towns in B.C. are concerned.
And following a busy year of shooting in the Nicola Valley in 2016, it appears that more and more, filmmakers are beginning to notice the unique looks of the Nicola Valley — and are eager to take advantage, said Vicci Weller, film commissioner with the Thompson-Nicola Film Commission (TNFC).
As part of her work with the TNFC, Weller works with location scouts for films, documentaries, commercials and television series in the Thompson-Nicola region.
“You kind of know as things come down the pike kind of what appropriate locations we have,” said Weller. “What is great is that we have some unique looks, and the proximity to Vancouver — especially Merritt — makes it very attractive.”
While the bulk of the shooting in the region occurs in Kamloops — both Monster Trucks and Power Rangers: It’s Morphin Time were shot in the region last year — the Nicola Valley also enjoyed a bit of a boom in the number of projects shooting in the area in 2016.
Weller pointed to River of Silence, a film written by Petie Chalifoux regarding an indigenous family dealing with the tragedy of their daughter’s murder, as an example of one of the projects which were shot in the Nicola Valley in 2016, and could soon be making the rounds on the festival circuits.
“They’re finished River of Silence and they’re looking to maybe screen that at film festivals around the world, and although it may have been filmed slightly outside of Merritt, [the film crew] stayed in Merritt,” said Weller. “So from an economic point of view, anything in that area is beneficial to Merritt.”
Juggernaut was another Canadian feature which was partially filmed in Merritt in 2016 — making use of the iconic Elks’ Lodge building on Coldwater Avenue.
“Another one is Tomato Red,” added Weller. Tomato Red, based on a novel of the same name by Daniel Woodrell, was filmed in Merritt but set in the Ozarks — a region of the U.S. that includes Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
Adapted for the screen by Irish director Juanita Wilson, Tomato Red premiered at the Dublin Film Festival in late February, and will be released in Irish cinemas on March 3.
Merritt is also being looked at as a potential location for a number of television series being filmed in the region over the next year, said Weller.
“There is a show in your area that hopefully will be coming back in April or May, called Indian Road Trip. Now that’s where two First Nations, young men, have to drive their grandmother to a funeral. But the funny part is, they are going through the reservations or the countrysides in a convertible, but she only likes to go no more than five kilometres an hour,” explained Weller. “It looks really cute — they picked out locations in and around Merritt, but because of the weather they had to postpone it. Hopefully that’s coming in April.”
A history series which will air on APTN in the second half of 2017, 1491: The Untold Story of the Americas Before Columbus was filmed in Merritt, Stump Lake and Kamloops — and included talent from within the region.
Merritt’s unique looks, proximity to Vancouver and full host of amenities in town make it a great fit for production crews looking to make use of the stunning valley backdrops without having to drive hours into the wilderness, said Weller.
“Because when [film crews] leave the hotels, they are on the clock. So if you got a lot to do, it costs a lot of money, everybody is on per diem plus they are on a premium, plus you’re paying accommodations… You really want to be working, you want to cram it in,” explained Weller. “When you think of all those things, when you they can drive 15, 20 minutes and they are in this incredible grassland and incredible scenery with no signs of man — that’s fantastic.”
And while she doesn’t know for sure which productions will end up filming in Merritt this year, she said that the location scouts she’s been working with have a keen interest in the country music capital of Canada.
“There is something to boast about — [Merritt] is on the screen and it’s still in people’s minds. We’ll hear ‘Well, can you meet us in Merritt, we want to look around here and here and here,’ and I’ll say, ‘Okay, we’ll come there and do this and do that,’” said Weller. “We still do that, and we still have gorgeous pictures, and it’s still a very vibrant community.”