P.E.I.'s film industry hopes the arrival of a major TV show to the Island is just the first of many big media productions to come to the province.
Filming for the fourth season of the CBC legal drama Diggstown has officially begun on P.E.I.
The show follows the story of corporate lawyer Marcie Diggs, played by Vinessa Antoine, who quits her job to work in a legal aid office in Nova Scotia.
The show has so far been filmed almost exclusively in Nova Scotia, but P.E.I. will feature heavily in the plot of its latest season, and shooting will move to the Island for most of its six-episode run.
"Last year, we came up and we shot for a day. We shot a second unit here and it was really a fantastic shoot," said Floyd Kane, creator and executive producer of Diggstown.
"It added a nice texture to the show. And it had me thinking about the idea of building a story that isn't simply about Marcie Diggs and her team in Halifax, but about getting them involved in a legal case that spans the Maritimes."
The fourth season's storyline will feature a wealthy family from P.E.I. who has interests across Atlantic Canada and will play foil to the protagonist.
It was a creative decision that also solved some practical problems. Kane said that since they started the show there's been a lot of growth in the number of productions in Nova Scotia, and that it's become "extremely difficult" to get crew that can stick around for the full run of the show.
"For us it was just a question of, well, where can we go [so we can] build a team, where maybe there's an appetite to build a film and television industry," he said.
Getting a foot in the door
The show has had people on the ground scouting for locations since January. Currently, there are about 60 or so Islanders working on the production.
FilmPEI executive director Rob Riselli said the production is an opportunity for people looking to get into the industry to hone their skills and learn about how a major television show gets made.
"This is kind of new again for everybody here, and it's going to take a little while to grow it. But we're certainly moving the proverbial arrow in the right direction," Riselli said.
"We have to start somewhere. And this is the first major step."
Riselli said there's "lots of moving parts" in this kind of production, with job opportunities in the camera department, the electric team, the grip team, hair and makeup, props, construction, transportation and more.
He said Diggstown is the first major production P.E.I. has seen in quite some time, and the first since the provincial government increased a tax rebate for film and television works completed on the Island to up to 35 per cent of eligible costs.
But he expects more productions to move here as demand for content continues to grow.
"The Netflixes of the world, CBCs of the world, whatnot, are looking for content and they like the regional stories. It doesn't always have to be set in New York or Los Angeles, or even Toronto," said Riselli.
"They like stories that are set in different types of places. So that being said, I think that Prince Edward Island is certainly gearing up to make the film industry part of the landscape."
Diversity on and off the screen
Opportunities also abound for Islanders of diverse backgrounds looking to get into the TV show. Diggstown is particularly notable for being the first Canadian prime-time drama to feature a Black woman in the leading role.
Kane said the show will continue to push for more inclusion on- and off-camera in its fourth season, and that several Islanders from diverse backgrounds have been cast in major roles.
"When we first thought about moving the show here, I was concerned about whether or not we would be able to continue to build on our goal of increasing diversity and representation," Kane said.
"It was very comforting to know that we're here, we're shooting, and the crew is as inclusive, if not more inclusive, than it has ever been," he said.
"It's been a long time coming that we need to start to tell some different stories," Riselli said.
"I think that this show is certainly going to to create some opportunities that may not have been there before."
Shooting in P.E.I. is scheduled to wrap up at the end of July, after which production will move to Halifax for a couple of days.
The fourth season of Diggstown is expected to launch in the fall.