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Oscar-winning producer J. Miles Dale on filming horror-thriller in Hope

In an exclusive interview, Dale explains why the town plays a large role in Antlers
Producer J. Miles Dale said he ate his way through Hope’s culinary wheel during his week filming in the town, including several visits a day to the Blue Moose Coffee House. Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard

The moment producer J. Miles Dale drove into Hope he knew it would become the town of Cispus Falls in the horror-thriller film Antlers.

“We looked at a few towns. We went up to Squamish, which is basically strip malls now, it used to be kind of quaint. We look at a couple of other towns…We looked at Chilliwack and Abbotsford…and they were all kind of too big,” he said. “And this was just the right size, the right layout, the right feel, the right mountain configuration. Literally as soon as we drove into town we said ‘this is it, for sure’.”

After they spotted the town, it was just a matter of figuring out where they would put the Cispus Falls police station, the bookstore, the ice cream shop. Hope played host to four days of shooting last week, in the feature film directed by Scott Cooper and featuring actors Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons and Graham Greene.

RELATED: Hope transforms into the set of horror-thriller starring Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons

Dale sat down with The Hope Standard Nov. 7 at the Blue Moose Coffee House, during a rare break in filming. Fresh off of winning an Academy Award for Best Picture for The Shape of Water, which he shared with Guillermo Del Toro, Dale is now busy producing Antlers and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark simultaneously, both collaborations with Del Toro.

What drew Dale to Hope was the size of the town, the quaint look and the moody natural setting, as well as it’s proximity to Vancouver, the epicentre of Hollywood North.

The film is, among other themes, about nature’s revenge on mankind for the many abuses wrought on it by resource exploitation. The message is an important one, Dale said, given what has been happening south of the border with hard-earned environmental protections ripped apart by the U.S. administration.

“We needed a town of a certain size with a certain look and where nature was kind of looming over everything in the form of mountains and fog,” he said.

Although it’s ‘kind of counter intuitive to curse the sun’ Dale admitted, gloomy weather was exactly what the crew needed. And it was what they got, except for some sun Wednesday and Thursday.

“It’s all sort of atmospheric and moody. So the low hanging clouds, all that stuff is very much a part of the mood of the film…We’ve been very much counting on nature and weather to help us out,” he said.

The film also deals with the opioid crisis and family dynamics. It’s a film that seeks not only to scare, but also to sink in deeper and give audiences pause for reflection on what is happening in the world and in their own lives.

“(Scott Cooper is) not going to do anything that’s just lightweight, fluffy, he’s just not interested. So he really turned it into something else,” Dale said.

Antlers is based on The Quiet Boy, a short story by writer on the film Nick Antosca, and on ancestral spirits including the Algonquin myth of the Windigo. A monster which kills and eats its victims, the Windigo is found in the stories of First Nations who speak Algonquin languages including the ‘Abenaki, Siksika, Mi’kmaq, Algonquin, Ojibwe and Innu’.

“According to most Algonquian oral traditions, a windigo is a cannibalistic monster that preys on the weak and socially disconnected,” The Canadian Encyclopedia stated. “In most versions of the legend, a human becomes a windigo after his or her spirit is corrupted by greed or weakened by extreme conditions, such as hunger and cold. In other legends, humans become windigos when possessed by a prowling spirit during a moment of weakness.”

The crew worked with consultants — Grace Dillon, Indigenous Nations Studies professor at Portland State University, and Indigenous filmmaker Chris Eyre (Smoke Signals, Skins) —to make sure they were ‘on the right side’ of the Native American message and the Windigo myth.

Graham Greene, a Canadian actor from the village of Ohsweken on the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario, plays a ‘strong Native character in the movie and he talks about some of the Native lore,’ Dale said.

Downtown Hope has a good representation in the film, as does the natural setting surrounding the town.

“Except for the wooden chainsaw statues. They’re very well represented here and we don’t have any of them,” Dale said, joking that the guy who did the carvings has been keeping busy.

“For this kind of town, I call it like a Northern Exposure kind of town…It’s that kind of a thing where if you saw a bear crossing the road you probably wouldn’t be surprised. But the garbage cans are the clue. For this size of town, this is really the closest thing to Vancouver. If we had found something closer that was right, we would have gone there. So if you need something like this, as big as the business is in Vancouver, you will come here,” he said.

RELATED: Young Hope actor stars in short film to premiere at Locarno Festival

Economic benefits of Antlers to the town of Hope

And Hope as a town certainly benefited from the production. The exact economic impact from the Antlers shoot hasn’t been quantified, but Dale estimates the production spent between $60- to 70,000 on hotel rooms for their 160 cast and crew spread out across hotels and bed and breakfasts in town.

“Favourite bar, favourite Indian restaurant, favourite Japanese restaurant, and that’s all I got,” said Dale, listing off the restaurants he visited, close to every place in town, as well as a crew bowling night at the Kingpin Lounge. “So I feel like we’ve made our way through the culinary wheel — A week, you can cover it.”

So Hope’s culinary scene certainly got a boost last week as well.

John Fortoloczky with the District of Hope said $10,325 was collected from the film production, including permits, parking enforcement and administration. The money will go to council for future consideration.

Another feature film with a large production company was in town last week, Fortoloczky added, so more cameras may soon be rolling and economic benefits flowing to Hope.

RELATED: Film crews wrap up production

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Academy Award-winning producer J. Miles Dale during filming of Antlers, a horror-thriller feature film, in Hope. The production brought around 160 cast and crew, spending four days filming and overnighting in Hope. Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard
Antlers shot scenes inside and outside Peter’s Food Market and Deli, with one dark and moody scene inside the deli where lead actor Keri Russell picks up a handful of baby bottles of alcohol. Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard
Antlers wrapped up their four days of filming with a Nov. 8 night shoot in the Wallace Street and 3rd Avenue area. Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard