Nova Scotia’s film industry got a bit of a boost last year, after taking a major hit in 2015, when the McNeil government cut the Film Industry Tax Credit. The boost came in the form of The Mist, a TV adaptation of the Stephen King novella from his collection Skeleton Crew. Production started on July 18, 2016 and ended on Nov. 18, 2016. And according to Michael Mahoney, Magic Rock Productions’ founder, the project couldn’t have come at a better time.
“The biggest thing that I noticed was that the show gave such a sense of relief,” he says. “I’ve worked on a lot of shows and I’ve never seen this from beginning to end—and this was a long show, at 17 or 18 weeks of shooting—where people were happy to go to work every day.”
Mahoney’s glad to have had the distraction of production for six months or so. Referring to the tax credit, he says, “It was so dramatic when it happened, in terms of stopping the growth. We were really at a point where it was taking off when that happened. So everyone really had to take a pause and figure out what they were going to do with their lives.”
But the industry didn’t pause for long. Despite the turmoil, Magic Rock Productions headed out to L.A. to land the series.
“It worked because we’d had Stephen King movies here before,” says Mahoney. “[TWC-Dimension Television] checked us out, and the industry in Nova Scotia. We brought them up here, and we didn’t know if the province would go for it, because it was such a large project, but they did. And it wasn’t a hard sell. It was such a pivotal point in the industry. The way I look at it, if this show didn’t happen, that was it, it was over.”
Art director Terry Quennell shares Mahoney’s relief.
“Now that there has been some clarity, we’re moving forward,” he says. “I want to keep working in Halifax for the next 10 years. I’ve got 18 under my belt. I’m an architect by profession, but this is what I do now.”
Quennell spends his workdays solving problems and overcoming challenges. Over the past two decades, he’s built everything from Viking villages and spaceships to caves and sewer systems. A few months ago, the vacant Target store in Bedford, which served as a studio for the production, was packed with his creations. By the end of the show, they had nine or 10 sets standing in the studio, including an intricately designed sewer system set, forest sets, and a set that mirrored two rooms of a Dartmouth house they filmed in.
“In the story, a hand grenade goes off in the house,” explains Quennell. “Well, you can appreciate the damage inflicted by a hand grenade, and you can’t really do that on location. So we built two rooms of the house, doorknob for doorknob, hinge for hinge, a very unique fireplace, all the same finishes, and we built a crater into the floor where the hand grenade went off. There was shrapnel and broken glass everywhere. It was quite a little set.”
In this case, the homeowner got to have a peek at the set. More than anything, Quennell says he seemed to be fascinated by the small details that made the set look so authentic. “I think he was just blown away by the craftsmanship, that we could make his fireplace and his piano windows and then of course, we blew it up. There was rubber glass all over the floor. I think he was pretty blown away by it.”
Quennell says that bringing scripts to life requires a strong ability to suspend belief, so that he can just focus on the task at hand— creating a believable environment for the project’s characters, which can sometimes be a challenge because Halifax doesn’t have many vacant properties to work with. But in his world, miracles happen every day—like when the production saved hundreds of thousands of dollars when they discovered a usable space over the Via Rail station that they could use as a hospital set.
“We used that for several episodes,” he says, “and who knew that existed? One of the locations people pointed it out. It wasn’t a hospital per se but it was laid out that way. Long hallways, smallish hospital rooms. I think it was a children’s health thing, and they had left relatively recently, it wasn’t deteriorated.”
They built a lobby for the hospital in the old Rona building in Bayers Lake, pieced it all together, and the problem was solved.
“It’s kind of an interesting thing coming to work every day knowing that most of the day, you’re going to be solving problems,” says Quennell. “Some of them are going to be easy and some of them are difficult. It’s like pulling rabbits out of a hat. One of these days there isn’t going to be a rabbit in the hat. But it hasn’t happened yet.”
As for the future of the Nova Scotia film industry, Mahoney says they’ll just keep taking the same approach as Quennell does when he’s designing his sets.
“We keep our heads down and just keep working,” he says. “We just keep trying to bring the shows here. We’re fortunate that because of previous shows that we’re able to keep that going here.”
If The Mist is a success, the ongoing work will certainly help.
“I think our special effects are really good, I think the story is very good, and I’d like to think it has legs,” says Quennell. “I’d love for it to go three or four or five seasons. Haven went six.”