HALIFAX -- In the midst of the global pandemic, the comparatively low number of COVID-19 cases in Nova Scotia is helping attract film production to the province, according to Screen Nova Scotia.

The head of the industry organization says production companies who engaged in preliminary discussions in 2020 are now coming back with plans to move ahead.

"We're starting to see some of those studios bringing their projects to Nova Scotia, and we expect a few of them to kick off production in the coming months," says Screen Nova Scotia Executive Director Laura MacKenzie. "It's looking really busy, busier than we've been in many years."

Last year, the local film industry quickly put pandemic plans in place so projects already booked for the year could go ahead.

Protocols on set made filming during a pandemic a different experience, even for seasoned veterans.

Maritime actor Charlie Rhindress scored a recurring role in Chapelwaite, which was filmed last year in the Halifax area. The period television series, based on a short story by Stephen King, stars Adrian Brody and Emily Hampshire.

Rhindress says he felt very safe on location, with actors and crew tested regularly for COVID-19 and separated into different physical zones on set.

"We had colour-coded masks, the actors wore red masks, and then the crew had a different colour," says Rhindress in a Zoom interview from his Amherst, N.S. kitchen. "[That way] you knew which area people were allowed in."

He's looking forward to seeing if he can secure auditions for any productions this year.

For businesses renting out essential filmmaking gear, the prediction of a busy shooting season ahead is also good news.

Industry stalwart William F. White International is expanding its operation in Halifax to meet demand.

The requirement for physical distancing on set has meant an increased need for specific pieces of equipment.

"We have various jibs and cranes, and remote heads that operate the camera remotely," says the company's Atlantic manager, Trevor Sutherland. "So you're having less people close to the set, and close to your actors."

Filming in a pandemic has also meant new job opportunities for people new to the industry, like longtime paramedic Kevin Davison.

Last year, he spent a lot of time on location as a "COVID supervisor."

"I was in charge of disinfecting, mitigation planning, fielding sick calls, and getting people swabbed if they had symptoms," Davison says. "We were able to get through the film without any sickness at all."
He had so much work he turned it into a business. He anticipates he will be just as busy this year.

In anticipation of that, Screen Nova Scotia says it will need more local crew members to keep up, although production companies can bring their own crews, following self-isolation and testing requirements.

But MacKenzie says the organization is sending out word – it's all hands on deck.

"If you've ever worked in the film industry in Nova Scotia, or if you've ever had interest or considered working in the film industry, the time is now," she says.