Making a living as an actor in the Cariboo usually means many stage roles and a stint or two at Barkerville, playing to the tourists at the Theatre Royal or performing street-acting sequences on the dusty streets each summer. Very rarely does it include roles in films viewed across North America.
But a handful of seasoned Barkerville actors, as well as a talented local writer and first-time film director, are gaining accolades on the festival circuit this season with their debut mystery film, The Doctor’s Case.
The Doctor’s Case, written and directed by James Douglas, a manager and public relations specialist at Barkerville, won the award for best editing at the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema in Queens, New York on August 12, 2018.
Based on a short story of the same name by Stephen King, it was completed in January this year, but didn’t premier until May, when it ran in the Julian Dubuque International Film Festival in Dubuque, Iowa. Since, the film has been screened at approximately 11 festivals and won a variety of awards, including best feature, best actor, best cinematography, best actress, best period film and more.
The film was a labour of love for Douglas and nearly 100 others. Douglas says nearly everyone involved in the film – with a couple of exceptions – volunteered their time.
The film, like the short story, follows Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson as they investigate the murder of Lord Albert Hull – the only murder Watson can remember solving before Holmes. In the film, an 87-year-old Watson is telling the story to his nurse during the Blitz on London.
Douglas has a love of both Sherlock Holmes and Stephen King, and had known the story of The Doctor’s Case for years. “It felt like an incredible mashing of these two passions of mine,” says Douglas. He spent his time walking around Barkerville trying to think of ways he could film the movie there, knowing it would likely be next to impossible to gain the rights to actually make the movie.
But one day, a couple years ago, he told a friend what he wanted to do and his friend directed him to a program Stephen King runs for emerging filmmakers and students, where he allows them the rights of one of his unlicensed books or stories to make a film of their own.
The Dollar Babies program has a few rules: when a request for rights is accepted by King, the film cannot be released commercially – but can go to film festivals – and it must be completed within a year. The program has run for approximately 40 years now, and The Doctor’s Case was (and is) one of the titles available to filmmakers.
Making the film
Once Douglas had gone through the process of getting the non-commercial rights to the story, “I just assumed it would be something small, like many of the Dollar Babies are – just a way for me for me to practise directing and use all my friends and we’d film it all in Barkerville.
“And then a series of serendipitous events occurred that started to grow the project much larger than I had initially envisaged,” says Douglas.
One of those events was getting permission to film in Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria, B.C.
And then Denise Crosby (of Pet Semetary and Star Trek: The Next Generation, among others) and William B. Davis (of The X-Files, among others) expressed interest in doing the film. “So suddenly we knew that we were going to have to raise as much money as we possibly could,” says Douglas.
Douglas was able to arrange the use of the castle through an old theatre connection, and because they were not going to profit from the film, they were allowed to use the castle for free after hours, from 5:30 p.m. to 3:30 a.m. each day.
They shot the film in a total of 13 days in April; 12 days spent filming in Victoria and one in Barkerville. The film was also shot in the Emily Carr House in Victoria.
“We shot all night long at the castle and then we had daytime stuff to shoot during the day,” says Douglas. “So everybody was running on fumes by the end of those couple of weeks.”
Stewart Cawood, who runs the historic street interpretation program and the blacksmith shop in Barkerville, played the son of a murdered lord in the film. He was also the production co-ordinator, meaning he was the one who made sure everything was ready for the next day of filming.
He says Douglas had spoken to him about wanting to make the film for years before getting the license through the Dollar Babies program, and once he had, Douglas asked him to take part.
Cawood says none of them really understood what a massive undertaking it would be until they were in it. Most of them had little to no experience in film, he says, but “we had very experienced people in key places” – for example, the woman in charge of sound has worked on sound in films for more than 20 years.
“The rest of us were just flying by the seat of our pants. Including James. And myself.”
Funding a passion project
Douglas found out he got the rights to the film in late November, 2016. He adapted the script over Christmas so that it was ready to go in January 2017, and then fundraising took place throughout February and March.
It cost approximately $85,000 to make The Doctor’s Case.
The fundraising started with a Kickstarter campaign that raised about $42,000. Then, once the film’s cast and crew were at work in Victoria, a number of businesses and individuals donated above and beyond that amount to keep them going when funds began to run low. Douglas says Victoria is a very expensive place to pay for accommodation, let alone film – but they made it.
And once they entered post-production, the group ran an Indiegogo campaign to raise the rest of the funds needed to finish the film.
In reality, Douglas says, “$85,000 for a 65-minute feature is peanuts; really a low-budget film these days.”
The vast majority of cast and crew were volunteers, and they even filmed in Craigdarroch Castle for free – a location that typically costs $5,000 a day for film crews.
The post-production stage, which includes editing the film together, took about six months. Douglas had to learn how to create special effects so he could do things like add more rain to a scene or take modern signs out of a shot.
In the editing process, he worked as part of a team with two other editors.
When the film was completed in January, King was sent a copy. From there, it was time to apply for festivals, and the film is still making its rounds, picking up prizes aplenty.
A Cariboo audience will likely recognize many faces in The Doctor’s Case, as much of the film was cast and crewed by Barkerville actors. The lead role, Sherlock Holmes, was played by 20-year Barkerville veteran J.P. Winslow, while several other roles were also filled by Barkerville actors.
“We didn’t hold a single audition for any of the roles in this film,” says Douglas. “I just — I thought particular people would be right for the roles and they came on board and we did it.”
Even Denise Crosby has a Barkerville connection. Crosby met Douglas at Barkerville, when she visited in 2013 to get a feel for whether Barkerville should host part of the Northern FanCon the following year. She and Douglas stayed in touch, and when he got the rights to the film, he called her and asked if she would be in it. He had a part he wanted to write just for her – and she said yes.
Another established Canadian actress in the film is Joanna Douglas (of TV series Being Erica) – who also happens to be James Douglas’ cousin.
In addition to the many festivals the film has been shown at around Canada and the U.S., it has also been shown in the Cariboo Chilcotin Film Fest in Williams Lake and the 22nd Annual Cinema CNC Film Festival in Prince George.
“Sometimes,” says Cawood, “because it’s so far away, I forget how significant it is. Just the other day I was talking to James and he said, ‘My God, we’re in the movies, man. We’re going all around North America and people in New York are seeing our faces on the big screen.’ Like without even realizing it, all my dreams are coming true – all my childhood dreams are coming true with this film.”
The film will be coming to Quesnel on Sept. 30. More details of the showing will be available soon.
It will also run in Wells this weekend, Aug. 24-26, as part of the Sixth Annual Moonrise Film Festival at the Sunset Theatre.
Moving forward into the fall festival season, Douglas is hopeful the film will appear in about 10 more festivals by the end of the year.
Find out more about The Doctor’s Case at www.thedoctorsmovie.com.