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Hundreds turn out for casting call in Sundre for pilot of proposed TV series Pipe Nation

Sundre is being transformed into the fictional town of Hardwell as filmmakers shoot the pilot episode for a proposed series called Pipe Nation, a drama about the lives of pipeline workers.

As well as showcasing the southern Alberta community to the world, a series coming to town would provide a much-needed economic boost to local businesses.

And if the series goes ahead, it would also be welcome news for Alberta’s movie industry as it looks to restart following a complete shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s about a single mother in the energy industry,” said Raoul Bhatt, Pipe Nation‘s Edmonton-based director and cinematographer. 

Edmonton filmmaker Raoul Bhatt spoke to community members in Sundre at a casting call for his new pilot, Pipe Nation. Pipe Nation is an energy industry drama based around the lives of oil and gas families. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

“We all know the old oil industry where it was almost untouchable, but now we live in a world where the world loves to hate oil and gas and we want to really tell a different story from the inside,” said Bhatt.

Bhatt says the drama will be produced with input from industry insiders and will highlight aspects of the industry like reclamation and new technology. 

Bhatt says local pipelines and wells will be used for backdrops and they hope to cast some local energy industry workers as extras. One of the lead characters, Natallie Gamble, is a third generation pipeline worker. 

“The reason we chose Sundre is there’s viewpoints that haven’t really been used in film before. Other parts of the Rocky Mountains, you’ve seen them in every postcard, where this is quite special,” he said. 

Bhatt chose to remain in creative control of the series concept rather than sell the royalties and rights to a bigger company. He hopes the series will be picked up by the streaming giant Netflix.

More than 200 locals turned up to a casting call and information session held in the town on Tuesday to learn more about the project and to have their photos taken to be considered for work as extras. 

Hundreds of people in Sundre turned up to a casting call on Tuesday. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

“It’s exciting to have a pilot filmed here in our community and it’s just fun to be part of the whole thing,” said Andrea Englehart, who took part in the casting call. 

“I think nothing but good things can come of this,” she said.

The Town of Sundre is welcoming the opportunity with open arms, too.

The town’s economic development officer Jon Allan hopes a series rolling into town will provide a big cash injection for local businesses as well as showcasing the area to the world and potential visitors.

“We’re super excited, this is amazing news. We’re trying help them make this pilot production a reality,” said Allan.

“If this pilot, this proof of concept, takes off it will have massive downstream benefits to the community,” he said.

Brock Skretting with Keep Alberta Rolling speaks to a crowd in Sundre, Alta., on Thursday. (Dan McGarvey)

Allan says the production would go beyond just using nearby backdrops for some scenes, showcasing the town itself and and showing off its Western feel.

Talk of a new series comes as the province’s multi-million-dollar film industry waits patiently to fire up again after a long and frustrating break for production companies and workers due to COVID-19. 

“This is one of those made in Alberta projects, one of those made in Alberta stories. Everyone knows the conversations around oil and gas and this is a really good human piece to add to all of that,” said Brock Skretting, with industry advocacy group Keep Alberta Rolling.

Skretting is hoping the pilot is picked up and goes on to become an Alberta film industry success story.

“It could potentially bring hundreds of jobs and bring millions of dollars into the province,” Skretting said.

“Involving our small towns in our stories is so crucial because they need it right now. Albertans need a win,” he said.

Skretting says the industry is moving closer to reopening after COVID-19 while safety protocols and guidelines are finalized across the industry.

The Pipe Nation pilot is due to start filming later this summer. 

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