Yukon’s television boom

Benefiting from its isolation, its natural beauty and the mystery and aura that surrounds it, the Yukon has a natural commercial pull.

Benefiting from its isolation, its natural beauty and the mystery and aura that surrounds it, the Yukon has a natural commercial pull.

Outsiders are intrigued about life in the North, and a growing audience is finding an answer through their television screens.

Yukon Gold, which follows four placer gold mining crews, is now entering its third season.

Haines Junction veterinarian Michelle Oakley, the star of the National Geographic Channel’s Doctor Oakley, has been picked up for 10 episodes after a successful pilot run.

Two other television series are casting right now.

Yukon for Sale plans to bring the home-buying reality TV craze to the North.

A second series, pitched by a Yukoner and produced by Proper Television and Mackenzie Delta Films, wants to document life on the trapline.

The premise of the show is pairing novice trappers with experienced ones and following their journeys into remote areas of Yukon.

The companies shine a light on the Yukon, promote tourism and also spend some of their own money within the territory.

Last year from March to October, Outside production companies spent $1.5 million in the Yukon.

“Film productions in the summer are a huge consumer of tourism product, like hotels and car rentals,” said Iris Merritt, film and media advisor at Yukon Film & Sound Commission.

Merritt and her colleagues promote the Yukon as a location for filming while also searching for production opportunities for local filmmakers.

“There’s a huge interest in that kind of television right now,” Merritt said, of the observational documentary genre, or reality TV.

“It’s not just the Yukon, it’s across the world, but interest in the North is hot right now. Climate change puts us on the world stage, the price of gold, there are many things that put Yukon in the minds of people.”

The Northern Film and Video Alliance works with Yukoners to get their film productions off the ground and onto any screen, whether it’s film, television, tablets or smartphones.

They also provide workers for Outside production companies that come into the territory. In March, they supplied 40 workers for one production.

The organization has been around since 1995 but has taken on a different shape in recent years.

In the past, the focus was on below-the-line crew, the workers that aren’t necessarily paramount to production but make everything work behind in the scenes, such as grips and production sound.

Now they are looking to promote Yukon’s own directors, writers and producers and help push their deals to the next level.

“We want to shift away from a total reliance on Outside productions, which are fantastic and create jobs, but we want to create a more indigenous industry,” said Traolach O Murchu, the executive director of NFVIA.

A local success story can be found with Simon D’Amours.

His TV documentary series Hors des Sentiers Battus (Off the Beaten Path) began production this summer.

The budget for the series is an estimated $1.2 million, with funding arriving from the broadcaster TV5-UNIS and the Canada Media Fund. D’Amours is co-producing the series with Winnipeg-based production company Media RendezVous.

He secured his funding by working with both the NFVIA and the Yukon Film and Sound Commission and will be able to provide jobs to four or five Yukoners because of it.

Despite the Yukon’s current popularity, a spike in film production doesn’t always mean a spike in jobs.

Many of the Outside production companies that enter the territory do so on a shoestring budget and with only a few workers.

Each year almost a half million dollars is earmarked for the North by the Canadian Media Fund, which is designated to help northerners get their productions off the ground.

D’Amours was able to take advantage of it, but few others have.

O Murchu is hoping that changes soon.

He said national broadcasters want Canadian content and NFVIA is expanding its role to encourage more people and aid in the development of more Yukon content.

“The outlook for the future is very good,” he said. “There’s a significant core that are saying we have the talent here, we have the skills here. There’s more sense of a scene here in the Yukon and less looking to the outside.”

Contact Sam Riches at sam@yukon-news.com