Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger
Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger star in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain. Photo:  Focus Features

E. Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain may have been set in Wyoming, but Ang Lee’s runaway Academy Award-nominated epic of the same name was actually filmed in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Those lush mountaintops, spacious skies and vast American landscapes, all filmed in Calgary. In the past couple of years, more and more moviemakers are choosing to shoot their films in the land of our neighbors to the north, the Calgarians. MM spoke to Beth Thompson, Calgary Film Commissioner, about the steady rise of Calgary’s moviemaking industry.

Lily Percy (MM): Over the years, Calgary has served as the backdrop for television shows, westerns and dramas, both independent and Hollywood films alike. What makes Calgary a great location to shoot a film? 

Beth Thompson (BT): Calgary has many filming advantages; probably the most significant is location diversity. Whether you are looking for a desert, small towns, beautiful mountain ranges or an urban metropolis, Calgary has it all within 100-mile radius.

Calgary has the production experience to go with our breathtaking scenery. Once you decide to film in Calgary you will have comprehensive film infrastructure at your disposal—studio and production office facilities, experienced crew and any services or rentals you might require are available locally.

At Calgary Economic Development, we are able to provide a one-stop permitting office for shooting in Calgary. We will connect you to any of the resources you need and assist you in finding the perfect location for your next production.

MM: What are some of the incentives moviemakers can expect when shooting their films in Calgary? 

BT: Many projects that have shot in Calgary have been amazed by how far their production dollars stretch. The benefit of currency exchange, costs of filming, including labor and material costs, lack of a provincial sales tax and our Alberta Film Development Program (AFDP) are great incentives for filmmakers. The AFDP is a co-production grant of 20 percent on all dollars spent in Alberta to a maximum of $1.5 million per project.

No matter how big or how small the production, Calgary has the resources you need to make your production a success. We have a firmly established professional film and television industry; this translates into highly skilled and experienced crews to bring your script onto the screen.

MM: What does Calgary offer to independent moviemakers in particular that set it apart from other locations? 

BT: Calgary has a very strong independent film community and incredibly supportive crew for independent projects. Our office and local union and guild offices work with projects of any size to facilitate a seamless production.

MM: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Andrew Dominik’s upcoming film starring Brad Pitt as Jesse James, was recently shot in Calgary. What sort of involvement did your office have with the production and what was that particular production like?

BT: Calgary Economic Development was very excited to be a part of this film from start to finish.

Initially, we worked with the producers and Calgary’s local film industry to build a strong package to encourage them to consider Calgary. We provided them with extensive location information and scouting assistance, not only about Calgary but locations around Edmonton, Quebec, Manitoba and Ontario. The Calgary Film Commissioner was able to connect the producers with local crew and resources and work with the City of Calgary and Parks Canada to facilitate filming arrangements. Our office also provided some assistance in handling media.

MM: What can we expect to see of Calgary in future films?

BT: We have been seeing a fairly large increase in moviemakers’ interest in Calgary, as a result of the media attention surrounding the Jesse James filming as well as the incredible success of Brokeback Mountain, filmed around Calgary in 2004. We currently have a couple of television projects filming in Calgary, [including] “Touch the Top of the World” for A&E and “Mary Christmas” for ABC Family. Expect to see a fairly busy 2006.

Soon you will be seeing the fruits of last year’s labors, including Christopher Cain’s September Dawn, the miniseries “Broken Trail,” Ray Liotta in [Bruce McCulloch’s] Comeback Season and a unit shoot of the Robin Williams picture R.V. in southern Alberta.

For more information, visit www.calgaryeconomicdevelopment.com.