“I’d give it a 10.”
Gareth Smart is the new film commissioner for the Thompson-Nicola Film Commission, and that’s his answer when asked how much, on a scale of one to 10, it’s his dream job. He is only the second person in the job, succeeding Victoria Weller, who has been in the position since the film commission was created 20 years ago, and who is now retiring.
“I never thought I’d be doing this,” he says, then quickly corrects himself.
“I shouldn’t say that. The first time I met Vicci Weller was about five years ago, when I was being interviewed to work as a contractor for the film commission. She asked me where I saw myself in the future, and I said — half-jokingly — ‘In your chair,’ to break the ice. And now here I am.”
Smart has been working in the B.C. film industry since 2007. He graduated from the Vancouver Film School as an actor, and appeared in background roles in a number of productions. He took a break from the industry when he moved to Cache Creek, but got back into it around 2015, and was appearing as an actor in the film Tomato Red — which filmed around Ashcroft and Cache Creek in 2017 — when he decided he wanted to be involved in the industry in a different way.
“I was a police officer in that movie, and as I was sitting there having lunch I saw the camaraderie of the crew. It looked like fun, so when the next show came into town I asked if I could be part of the crew. I started by driving a truck for the film Juggernaut, and the people involved with that suggested me for other things.”
The job he interviewed for with Weller involved sorting and cataloguing photos of the region, going to places that weren’t represented to get pictures, and doing some location scouting. It was mainly around the Ashcroft/Cache Creek area, and Smart says he didn’t fully understand the scale and scope of the entire Thompson-Nicola region until he applied for the film commissioner position.
“It’s quite the space. You can drive in any direction and find any kind of landscape you want: mountains, forests, deserts, lakes, rangeland, small towns. But you’re still relatively close to Kamloops, which is such an opportunity.”
The film commission recently did a feasibility study to see if the region would support a film studio. The study concluded that Kamloops could indeed support a large studio with space for set building, and Smart is 100 per cent behind the idea.
“Not having that type of facility is one of the big reasons we don’t have TV shows filming here. Down at the coast a lot of the big film studios are bought up, so companies are renting out equestrian centres, airports, empty big box stores. People are trying to get creative with studio space, but it’s not perfect, so having a legitimate studio here would be a benefit.”
The region has little trouble attracting TV movies, which shoot on location over a short period of time. Studios, says Smart, attract TV shows and big films, which is pretty significant.
“They don’t just provide jobs: they’re well-paid jobs. You have between 80 and 120 people working on each show, so if you get three shows you need 360 people. They’re making good money, and that goes directly back into municipalities, because people stay here on their days off. All that money stays in the pool of the TNRD, so it doesn’t just benefit workers; it benefits the economy in general. And companies are always looking for local people to hire, so they don’t have to put them up in hotels.”
Smart says he has always kept his eye on the Thompson-Nicola Film Commission, and when the film commissioner job came up he didn’t even have to think about applying for it.
“I just did it. It’s such a good opportunity, and such an interesting position to have. I have a lot of tools I can bring to the job, and I’m looking forward to learning what Vicci is doing and what she’s done.”
Weller will be staying on for a few weeks to help Smart transition into the job. “She’s awesome, and I have big shoes to fill, which is saying something, because I have size 15 shoes.
“She’s done an amazing job, and I’m looking forward to being trained by the best. How easy would it have been for this job to fail? Vicci buckled down and got it done and has created a very successful career, which makes it so much easier for me to step into something that’s already established and ready to go.
“I’m looking forward to doing it the Vicci way until I’m comfortable enough to do it the Gareth way. The TNRD is well-known in the industry, and I’m looking forward to taking it to the next level.”