Heartland location scout talks best film spots in southern Alberta


Film location scout Brian Dunne can find the perfect places for a walk on Mars, a battle in the Arctic or a western showdown. 

Scenes from The Revenant, Fargo, Passchendaele and Heartland have been shot in and around Calgary.

Dunne, the location manager for Heartland, will share some of the secrets to finding those blockbuster locations, all tucked away in southern Alberta, this weekend on a panel at the Calgary International Film Festival.

On Friday, he spoke with Calgary Eyeopener host David Gray.

Q: What are film and TV producers looking for here in Calgary? I guess that’s the million-dollar question for you, isn’t it?

A: Yes, it depends. A lot of the times they want to go west and get mountain scenes up at the old Fortress (Mountain) ski hill or go east, get into the Badlands near Drumheller and Dorothy — or of course ranches and westerns.

The Northlander

Some of the scenes in The Northlander were shot in the hoodoos near Drumheller, Alta. (Manifold Pictures)

Q: And so how does this system work? Do they call you and say here’s what we’re looking for and then you go hunting?

A: Exactly. Sometimes I get a call straight from a producer just out of the blue and sometimes it goes through the Calgary Film Commission. But the location scouting is definitely the first step in trying to bring a picture here.

Q: And how much do they care if that site’s been used a thousand times before?

A: Not much, actually. Every director and director of photography will have a different spin on what they want to see and where they want to look.

Q: And what’s the most frequent request you get?

A: Are there roads to the tops of these mountains?

Film-The Revenant

The Leonardo DiCaprio film The Revenant was shot in Alberta. Parts of the film were shot in Fortress Mountain in the Rockies, in Kananaskis Country and near Drumheller. (Twentieth Century Fox/Associated Press)

Q: So Fortress is the hot spot for that right now?

A: Certainly for winter filming. It closed down as a ski hill.

The guys up there that run a cat skiing operation have been great to deal with as far as getting us up there and getting what we need done.

Q: Your regular gig is a location manager for Heartland. And it’s about to start its 11th season. How much location scouting is required at this point for that show?

A: Quite a bit actually. We have our main ranch location, we have a diner in High River, but every episode has five or six days of on-location filming.

Q: I understand the attraction obviously to the mountains, winter shooting. We’ve all seen the car ads in Kananaskis. But in the city, what does Calgary as a city have to offer as a set?

A: It’s beautiful downtown: parks, the river, the industrial areas on the east side, Inglewood has played small town, it’s played old. There’s a lot of good value here.

Fargo scene shot in the Bears Den restaurant

Fargo characters Sy Feltz and Ruby Goldfarb in a scene shot at the Bears Den in Bearspaw, just northwest of Calgary. (GameSpot Universe/YouTube)

Q: Does Calgary ever get to play Calgary?

A: It did once… It was called Tom Stone. It was a detective and a police officer in Calgary so Calgary got to play itself there.

Q: Do you ever wish they would flag Calgary more often?

A: Yeah, even the Eddie the Eagle movie was filmed somewhere else. And somewhere in Europe got to play Calgary for Calgary, so it’s yeah, but it’s make believe.

Left: Actor Taron Egerton, Right: Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards

British actor Taron Egerton, left, portrays former Olympic ski jumper Eddie (The Eagle) Edwards in the biopic. (Lionsgate/Getty Images)

Q: You must get to introduce a lot of Californians or New Yorkers to the Rockies. What kind of reactions do you get?

A: Like most people, they’re blown away by just how quickly the rocks come up when you’re heading west. I always keep a bag of extra toques and goggles and hand warmers and stuff in my truck. They’re not prepared for actually how cold it can be in the winter.

Q: Are there under-used locations in this province?

A: Possibly. There’s some great small towns that are within and hour and a half of the city that have a great view but it just costs more money to go that far. There’s some great stuff between here and Medicine Hat that has never been on TV.


With files from The Calgary Eyeopener.



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