Before The Beachcombers, the first movie to be filmed in this area was a suspense called The Trap. The Trap was shot on Bowen Island in 1966, before the Canadian film industry had made its name; it was therefore an important event for the whole area. Then, 6 years later in 1972, The Beachcombers moved into town and made Canadian television history. It started off with a small crew composed mostly of CBC news workers, as well as locals who were hired to control the traffic, to be extras, and to do the odd carpentry job. Before the series ended in 1990, there was a spin-off series called Ritters Cove, which filmed in Egmont between 1979 and 1980. The series followed many of the classic tropes of The Beachcombers, except with airplanes instead of boats.
In terms of large-scale Hollywood productions, the Sunshine Coast has had three notable movies that were either entirely or partially filmed here: The Fog (1980), Needful Things (1992), and Charlie St. Cloud (2010). We have also been home to several Hallmark TV productions over the past few years, the most memorable probably being A Carousel Christmas in the summer of 2018 which resulted in the wharf at Lower Gibsons being transformed into a winter wonderland. Although, this was not the first time that the Coast received a major make-over for a production.
In November of 1992, Gibsons played the role of Castle Rock, Maine, for the film adaptation of Steven King’s Needful Things. Not only did Lower Gibsons completely change face, but entirely new buildings were added to accommodate the film.
“I don’t think Gibsons was quite ready for that movie,” recounts Steve Sleep, manager of Eastlink TV. “They built a church right over top the tourist info booth, and on the other side of the road they built another front, the Needful Things store. In the middle of the night they blew it up. I’d been working on it because it was a lot of night shoots and they needed extra lighting people. They set up this huge explosion with canons to blow that whole thing up. The fire department was on standby, they locked down the whole town, and there were police everywhere. Meanwhile, the church was on fire at the same time. It was quite a big deal.”
After having worked on The Beachcombers, Needful Things, and with the CBC, Sleep became the manager of EastlinkTV (formerly CoastTV) which also plays a key role in our community’s relationship with film and video. It all started in 1978 with a partnership between Coast Cable (now Eastlink), Maryanne West, and Marta MacKown to create a television production course at Elphinstone Secondary. “There were a lot of people who were seeing the movies, specifically Beachcombers being shot, and realized then that we could do this” said Sleep as he retold the channel’s history.
Crew members from The Beachcombers setting up a travelling shot. Terry Blair is the camera assistant/focus puller, Phil Lindsay is the camera operator.
The Beachcombers crew was very open to giving support to the students, with everything from lighting gear to props. The program is still running today in partnership with Eastlink TV, and continues to give students valuable opportunities to work on a real television crew. “That’s where I see the future going, is with the youth being the strong point of the community channel, and bringing their young knowledge and enthusiasm to the station; because that’s always been the way that station’s thrived is having young people and adults and everybody in between working on a level playing field. And I think if I could see that continue that would be my dream.”
The Sunshine Coast’s involvement in film also goes beyond being used as a back-drop. The Sunshine Coast Film Society (SCFS) started a little under 20 years ago with small screenings in Roberts Creek and Gibsons. Today they screen independent films at both the Raven’s Cry Theatre and the Heritage Playhouse. Alan Sirulnikoff, one of the founding members, states the importance of having a society such as this one: “I think the impact of the SCFS has been very important as generally Gibsons would only offer the most mainstream commercial films. The SCFS was an opportunity for the community to experience films that might be out of their comfort zone or films they might not have thought to see otherwise.” Co-founder Tim Mclaughlin adds that “the original vision was to show titles that were inaccessible on the Sunshine Coast, especially those titles that could be supported by a live presentation by the film maker… showing films that sparked ideas, interest and discussion,”. Despite the growing popularity of online streaming, the SCFS’s screenings still have a high attendance rate, and the board is continuing to work on bringing in more challenging films.
Although The Beachcombers left the most permanent impression on the Sunshine Coast, we still have a rich involvement in film and video beyond that series. From hosting large productions, to creating our own, and to screening films from all over the world, this small town “North of Hollywood North” has a considerable amount to offer.