THE PACKET
(Newfoundland, Canada)

May 7-13, 2001

Filming begins on The Shipping News Arrival of crew means early start to summer business season by BARBARA DEAN-SIMMONS, the Packet

The usually quiet community of New Bonaventure looks like base camp of a military operation.

The narrow roads are clogged with vehicles. Thick cables snake their way through the winding lanes, large backdrops and lights stand conspicuously among houses nearly a century old.

There are even large fans to produce wind on cue. Among the equipment, there are dozens of people.

The actors stand and recite their lines and go through scenes.

Off to the side, being quiet when told, are extras, cameramen, runners, caters and security. People wearing head sets and carrying two-way radios keep a close eye on strangers and curious onlookers.

Security is tight and anyone wearing a camera becomes an instant target of suspicion. Media are informed that it is a closed set and are asked to leave.

This is a Hollywood production and they’re taking no chances. That means controlling all aspects of the production – everything from catering right down to what is being photographed.

That’s because there are high expections surrounding The Shipping News, the Pulitzer prize winning novel created by E. Anne Proulx. With this calibre of director and cast, it is expected to be an Oscar contender.

Both the director and the stars have numerous Oscars and nominations among them.

Directed by Lasse Hallstroem and starring Kevin Spacey, Julianne Moore and Dame Judy Denche, the movie is about a beaten newspaper reporter who moves to Newfoundland from the United States to start a new life after a family tragedy.

Last Thursday, all activity was centred around a two-story house — obviously given a fresh coat of paint for the movie – where lead actors Mr. Spacey and Ms. Moore were going through a scene.

Well-known Newfoundland actor Gordon Pinsent was also present, easily recognizable with his shock of thick, wavy white hair.

However, international movie stars were not the only ones working in New Bonaventure that day. Some local people are also getting a chance to appear in a Hollywood production. Several have been hired as extras.

 Spin-offs

They’re not the only ones reaping some financial rewards from the movie.

People who run bed and breakfast accommodations in the Trinity Bight area, and as far away as Bonavista and Lethbridge, have gotten an early start to the summer tourist season, thanks to the arrival of the Hollywood production.

The big yellow signs, stating simply “SN” – indicating the direction to follow to get to various locations – are not the only noticeable signage in the Trinity Bight area.

“No vacancy” signs are equally prominent.

John Fisher, who operates two bed and breakfasts in Port Rexton, says every operator in the Trinity Bight area is at 100 per cent capacity.

That works out to about 150 rooms — from Lethbridge to Bonavista.

Most of them have been occupied since mid-April, and will remain occupied by the film cast and crew until the end of this month. Some are booked until June 13.

“If you take 150 rooms, at an average of $65 to $70 a night, you can get an idea of just what the room revenues are alone.”

In addition, some people in the area have rented their homes to members of the crew.

Normally, bed and breakfast operators in this area don’t start fluffing up the pillows, hiring staff or start doing business until the May 24 weekend.

Thanks to the influx of people associated with The Shipping News however, they are getting an early start, and a good boost, to this year’s season.

Meanwhile, many local people are getting work on the set. They’ve helped construct some of the sets, helped clear snow in preparation for filming, are chauffeuring personnel from base camp at New Bonaventure to the various locations around the Bight, and are working as security.

Future growth

Aside from the boost for local accommodations providers this season, Mr. Fisher points out that once The Shipping News hits the big screen, the potential impact on tourism in this area could be “phenomenal.”

“A movie like this is expected to gross in excess of $100 million. If you divide that by six bucks per movie ticket, you get an idea of how many people will see it. “This thing is going to be seen by millions of people.”

What that may mean to the future of tourism in the Trinity Bight area and all of Newfoundland, Mr. Fisher can only imagine. But he is excited about the images that are being presented to the world, thanks to the arrival of the film industry.

“And then, if you combine this with Random Passage – filmed in New Bonaventure and Ireland last year – and Rare Birds – shot last fall in St. John’s – I think this is what’s really going to build a boom here, more so than a lot of these prefabricated events like Marconi and Vikings and stuff like that.”

In any event, he said, the over 100 cast and crew members who have arrived in the area to work on the production, may provide enough word of mouth advertising to entice others to seek out this undiscovered tourist destination.

“I can tell you that one of the chief painters who arrived last week immediately – within 24 hours of his arrival – started looking for a house to buy for the summer. So that’s one manifestation,” said Mr.Fisher. “Other people we know are talking about bringing friends back in the fall this year.”

Random Passage producer Barbara Doran agrees that once these three films hit the screen, the tourism spin-off could be immense. “I think this is a stunningly beautiful part of Newfoundland. There is a raw, unspoiled beauty in Newfoundland that is quickly disappearing in the rest of Canada and the world, for that matter. “Those three films, when they hit the screens around the world, I think we will see a real rise in interest in this place. “In terms of tourism, I think we should brace ourselves,” she said, noting that at a screening of Random Passage in Dublin on April 24, “people were just blown away by the landscape.”

Christine Whalen, who also operates two bed and breakfasts as well as a cafe in Trinity, says it’s difficult to comprehend just how much of an impact The Shipping News could have on the area.

She says every year more people appear to be coming aware of Newfoundland and the Trinity area as a tourist destination. “Naturally, this will make it even more so. “But I haven’t even had time to dwell on that. I’m just trying to keep my businesses going.”

Ms. Whalen said she just hopes that in spite of the arrival of Hollywood to the Trinity Bight area that people won’t get overwhelmed by it all. For her part, she plans to take things in stride, to continue to focus on her business. She admits, however, that while she always dreamed that her home town could become a popular tourist destination, she never imagined it would bring Hollywood to their doorstep.