While at-home movie watching is way up during the COVID-19 pandemic, movie making, like so many industries, has all but ceased. Local film producer Rob Vroom has felt the impacts with the indefinite postponement of A Timeless Christmas, a Lifetime Network movie-of-the-week that was scheduled to begin shooting at The Willows Inn in Hudson on March 15. Another hit suffered by Vroom concerns the highly anticipated theatrical release of Blood Quantum, a film written and directed by Mi’gmaq filmmaker Jeff Barnaby on which he was a producer. The indigenous horror movie was scheduled for North America-wide screens in late March but the pandemic forced all theatres to close, effectively killing any real hope for it to hit the big screens. The film, which tells the story of a zombie pandemic, was instead released April 28 on digital and VOD platforms in Canada and on the streaming service Shudder in the U.S.
The postponement of A Timeless Christmas was a letdown to all of the cast, crew, and many businesses involved, and no small thing to dismantle at the 11th hour. The makeup, costume and catering trailers were waiting in the parking lot of The Willows Inn the day before, ready to begin filming at 6 a.m., when a cast member reported cold symptoms. This pre-empted the inevitable province-wide shutdowns to follow a few days later.
Ormstown’s Scott McClintock and his crew were going to haul snow for the production as our early spring had melted much of it. In 2018, Vroom produced Hallmark’s A Majestic Christmas, which was shot in Ormstown during late September when temperatures hit 30 degrees. The tentative filming date for A Timeless Christmas is now in August. “Yeah, I haven’t managed to produce a Christmas movie in Quebec with snow on the ground, and yet I’ve made a wedding movie and a rom-com that were both forced to shoot in December due to other factors – go figure!” says Vroom. Although bizarre, shooting Christmas movies year-round is the norm for the prolific genre.
Blood Quantum, on the other hand, was a long time in the making for Mi’gmaq filmmaker Jeff Barnaby, who began writing it 13 years ago. The film was shot in 2018 at the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory and Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation (Barnaby’s hometown), and it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2019. The zombie thriller couldn’t be more on point in terms of subject matter, with its central premise of a zombie pandemic to which the Indigenous community of Red Crow (a fictional Mi’gmaq reserve) is immune. “In one way, the timing seems almost prophetic, to have it released during COVID-19,” says Vroom. “On the other hand, we are all disappointed not to have it shown in theatres. But every industry is facing major challenges.” With no certainty as to when theatres might re-open, the distributors decided to release Blood Quantum on digital platforms at the end of April. “The film is certainly timely and we’re anxious to see how viewers respond to it during these times,” says Vroom. So far, the movie has received great press in the Guardian and the New York Times, along with many other media outlets.
As for when things might get up and running again in Quebec’s film and television industry, the jury’s still out. An Australian production, Neighbours, is one of the first to notably resume filming here. One thing for sure is that when the industry does start up again in Quebec and elsewhere, everything will be different. Sets present notoriously close quarters and physical distancing poses all kinds of logistical conundrums. “In addition to new workplace protocols, I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing distancing written into plotlines,” says Vroom.