It’s a cold, rainy day in early November, and the main street in Barkerville Historic Town and Park is mostly quiet and bare.
Shops have closed for the season, and there are no historical interpreters in the town at this time.
But on this Thursday, Barkerville isn’t as quiet as it first appears.
Huddled around and inside the W.D. Moses Barber Shop are several students from Kitsilano Secondary School, some in historical costumes, others bundled in warm jackets and toques. The students are spending a week in Barkerville, shooting a western movie.
The students, who are mainly in Grade 12, wrote the script themselves and are the actors and production crew.
“Our characters are trying to flee what they thought was their home because they don’t feel comfortable with people who don’t make them comfortable in their own skin,” said director Max Riches. “It’s about the demise of their friendship and the ruin that comes with freedom.”
Seventeen students — nine actors and eight crew members — flew to Quesnel and then drove to Barkerville with their teachers, staying at the Barkerville Cottages from Nov. 6-12.
The idea was to take a rather small, dedicated group of crew and actors. The students say there were no auditions, and the cast and crew were chosen for their work ethic and dedication.
They are mostly Grade 12 students, and there is one Grade 11 student.
“It’s a good bonding trip for our last year,” pointed out Caitlin Stanley.
Chloe Pretchuk says they usually do projects that involve much larger groups of students, and this has been a unique experience.
“It’s a huge contrast to the projects we’ve done before,” she said. “This is much more tight-knit and focused, and it’s focused more on acting and learning.”
“We can work more efficiently, and we can get better work done,” pointed out Madelleine Johnston. “Everyone’s staying in character and got all their lines memorized. It’s a slightly different experience than most high schools would have — instead of treating us as high school students, our teacher is treating us like actors.”
Pretchuk says the chemistry has also been great, as they are all a group of friends, and they are playing a group of friends.
This is the students’ first full-length film, and one day into filming, they were using words like “amazing” and “cool” to describe the experience. They say no other school is doing something like this.
The students say they don’t even have a main drama program at the school, but they’re able to do this because their teacher is so dedicated, and his passion for the project is so contagious.
Morgan Abele appreciates the chance to film in Barkerville and be so immersed in the film project.
“It gives us an opportunity to explore physicality and a way of life we are not experienced in,” she said.
Many of the students say the experience has been “a little chaotic” but a lot of fun. Abele says they did expect it to be a bit chaotic, and so far, finding costumes has been hard, and the females have had to learn how to wear corsets, which has been interesting.
“It’s been a super immersive experience,” said Johnston. “That’s part of why it was such a small crew. Everyone understands the work that has to be put into it and understands it’s going to be difficult and not everything is going to go well.”
“It’s a very positive group,” added Pretchuk. “Everyone is able to roll with it. There’s no judgment and no blaming.”
A lot of work has gone into planning this trip, and students have been learning everything from how to feed a film crew to how to make costumes and how to operate cameras.
“We’ve been doing a lot of planning,” said Raphael Gutteridge.”We came here for a six-day shoot with only 17 scenes planned, and we realized we can do so much more. Barkerville has almost everything we need.”
Gutteridge says on their first night in Barkerville, all the directors stayed up and plotted out where each scene can go, using post-it notes. One wall of their cabin is covered in post-it note schedules, and he sleeps under it.
“Last night, it felt like a dream,” he said. “I’ve never been on a trip like this. I was walking through the parking lot thinking ‘wow, I’m here. I’m not going on a bus to go home.’”
Liam Bevelander built 25 costumes in one day and is doubling as an actor and as a costume designer.
“I’m having a great time,” he said.
Gabriel Blythe has been learning a lot about how to operate a RED camera, and he appreciates the chance to learn such valuable skills.
“You can be hired just for knowing how to operate a RED camera,” he said. “It’s very technical.”
Riches says the scenes they are filming are taking a lot longer than they expected, and he and several students agree they are learning a lot about time management and patience through this film project. They are also learning what life is like on a film set.
“It’s a lot less filming and a lot more waiting, which is just part of the learning,” said one student.
James Douglas, Barkerville’s public programming and global media development lead, is excited to have the students filming in Barkerville.
“It’s a really great opportunity for us because we are very open for business as far as filming is concerned,” he said. “Because of the educational component, given that education is our mandate, it seemed like the perfect fit to host this group.”
Douglas also points out that any one of these students could go on and get hired on by a film company and could become an ambassador for Barkerville as a filming location.
“It’s just another way of getting the message of Barkerville out,” he said. “We’re a great place to come visit and also a great place to shoot a movie.”