By Lillian Simmons
Special to The Telegram
Production companies finished filming “The Grand Seduction” in Trinity Bight last September and left behind a $130,000 gift.
Joe’s Place, the bar and restaurant built especially for the film, officially opened to the public Friday.
“Because it’s the story of a fishing community, we wanted to find a place that actually had a bar that was right on the water,” says Barbara Doran, who co-produced “The Grand Seduction” along with Roger Frappier of Max Films in Quebec. “But we couldn’t find one, so when you can’t find it, you make it.”
The bar/restaurant was built from scratch by local people who Doran describes as “extraordinary carpenters because they are shipbuilders.”
The film tells the story of a fishing community that has fallen on hard times due to the collapse of the cod fishery.
A competition begins when an oil company is looking for a town in which to build a petro-chemical factory, but there are two stipulations: it must be a certain population and it must have a resident doctor. The town has neither.
“So the comedy is about how they hoodwink this young, handsome doctor into staying in this community and setting up residence.”
To suit the role of a community down on its luck, the brand new Joe’s Place had to be distressed.
“That involves weeks of work on the part the crew, the art department, the carpenters, the grounds people, to make this building look like it’s always been there, hasn’t had a paint job in a while and it needs a bit of tender, loving care,” Doran says. “It took a good few weeks to do it, everybody banging and hammering and painting and sawing.”
When filming finished, there were a couple of options for Joe’s Place. One was to sell it.
“Or we had an opportunity to give back to the community that was so generous to us, because when a major feature film of this size comes to town, you feel it,” Doran says. “We take over the town, and everybody was extremely patient and co-operative and giving.”
It’s not the first time a building has been handed over to a community in the area.
When “Random Passage” was filmed there 13 years ago, the site was donated post-filming, and thousands of people still visit each year.
“We think Joe’s Place is going to be popular because for years after ‘The Shipping News’ was filmed in the area people would come and look for the house in the ‘Shipping News,’ (or ask) where was the newspaper office. Well they were facades, not real buildings.
“So now they’ve got attractions from two major productions.”
More than $60 million has been spent on four large productions in the Trinity Bight area to date — “Random Passage” (2000), “The Shipping News” (2001), “Young Triffie” (2005) and “The Grand Seduction” (2012).
“An investment on behalf of the producers that was $3-4 million — I don’t think there’s another community outside of St. John’s that can make that claim,” Doran says, adding it’s recently been dubbed “Hollywood East.”
Her company Morag Loves Company, directly involved in three of the productions, was indirectly involved in “The Shipping News” as well, she says.
According to Doran, producers of “The Shipping News” had been location scouting for some time in Newfoundland, when they found “film-friendly” New Bonaventure.
“Filmmakers are always curious about where other filmmakers have shot because there’s criteria that you have to have. The director saw New Bonaventure on his way into the ‘Random Passage’ site and said, ‘This is it! I have found my place.’”
One of the things that makes it so film friendly is the ability to house 160 people.
“And that’s not in hotels, because frankly, if a film crew is working for three or four months, they don’t want to be in a hotel. Some crews want to come home at the end of the day and relax in whatever way they want, and you can’t do that in a hotel.”
Instead, houses and inns were rented all over Trinity Bight to accommodate the crew.
And although the province has an abundance of places with magnificent scenery (Doran’s company has scouted from one end of the island to the other) it has to be practical.
“We looked at Fogo (Island) as a possibility, but you can’t get to it. You can’t have an actor sitting in a lineup for three hours at a terminal and then be told it’s too windy.
“We always knew we could rely on this area because there are houses we can rent, the grocery stores and gas bars are there, there’s a very respectable wine store on the corner and it’s accessible. You arrive at St. John’s airport, you’re on the set in three hours and that’s very important.”
Doran figures that atmosphere will continue to attract production to the area.
Access to casting and crew wasn’t always so easy. Thirteen years ago, the first casting call turned up nobody.
“Nobody understood, or they were shy, not accustomed or whatever and we had to go around picking people one by one.”
But the most recent casting call elicited an overwhelming response.
“So that’s why we’re nicknaming the place Hollywood East,” Doran says.
“The Grand Seduction” is expected to be ready for release in October. It stars Irish actor/fiddler Brendon Gleeson (“In Bruges,” “Harry Potter,” “Gangs of New York”); Canadian actor Taylor Kitsch (“John Carter,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Savages”); and Newfoundland’s Gordon Pinsent, Mark Critch, Mary Walsh, Cathy Jones and Pete Soucy.
“From the local area we had, on any given day, 120 extras, plus we cast people from the area and then we had additional cast from various places.”
Doran hopes to do a screening for the cast and crew of “The Grand Seduction” as well.
During the official public opening of Joe’s Place Friday, some of the local actors, crew and extras planned to be there to celebrate.
“Everybody worked so hard and made an enormous contribution to the success of the film and we are only too happy to give something back,” she says.