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Alberta-shot Western blazes a trail for new model of ‘movie tourism’

John Scott’s Alberta ranch will be the filming location for the new Western Diablo.


Lorraine Bodnarek and Ed Cyrankiewicz are big Clint Eastwood fans who have prospered in Alberta's booming economy. They never thought they would combine the two – Clint and career.

The Edmonton couple are investing $500,000 to help an Alberta-born director and his partner try to recreate some of the Eastwood Western magic of such films as Unforgiven, this time with the star's youngest son Scott in the lead role. It will be shot, like that 1992 Oscar-winning film, on southern Alberta's vast, rolling landscape. And there's a twist: The producers are seeking to blaze a new trail with a financing model they call "movie tourism" that is part crowdfunding and part loyalty program – offering everything from dinner with the younger Mr. Eastwood to a small role in the film.

Ms. Bodnarek, a commercial property developer, and Mr. Cyrankiewicz, founder of Edmonton's Delnor Construction, had not considered a foray into the risky business until their neighbour, producer Shana Wilson, approached them.

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"What piqued our interest, primarily, was the Eastwood name," Ms. Bodnarek said. "We love Clint Eastwood's projects. Both Ed and I are of that generation – a little bit younger, but still – and when we heard about Scott being involved and some of the projects that he's done, we thought this is kind of an amazing opportunity to get involved on the ground floor." Scott Eastwood, 27, has made a name for himself with roles in such films as Invictus and Gran Torino, both directed by his father.

Backing the Alberta-shot Western, called Diablo, will also offer the couple's 20-year-old son Matthew, a budding filmmaker, a chance to work closely with the director, even if the investment is "a little outside of our comfort zone," Ms. Bodnarek said.

Getting immersed in the movie-making and Hollywood-style experience is one carrot director Lawrence Roeck and his partner Ms.Wilson, a visual artist and businesswoman, are holding out as they seek money from well-to-do Albertans who want to see Westerns shot in the province. The long-term plan is to establish a studio to produce a string of such projects.

Diablo will be done on a shoestring by Hollywood standards – around $4-million – using a domestic crew and taking advantage of Canadian tax credits for about one-quarter of the total. For casting, the producers aim to use an independent film-industry practice that keeps costs down by hiring reasonably big-name actors for short stints on identical and relatively inexpensive terms.

"Because of Unforgiven, there's a definite history here and the Eastwood Western did very well geographically in this area," said Mr. Roeck, the 39-year-old filmmaker. That movie was prominent among others in the genre that used Alberta's vistas as a backdrop, including Brokeback Mountain and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

The pair recently secured their fourth major investment, from a Calgary finance professional also new to the film industry but interested in the business model. That gives them enough money committed to green-light the project, said the 47-year-old Ms. Wilson.

The movie tourism idea, suggested by an Alberta money manager who got the notion from the rewards offered at gala charity fundraisers, avoid the hazards of offering the project to a studio – rejection or loss of creative control. Crowd-funding sites, such as Kickstarter, provide filmmakers, musicians and others a way to gather financing for projects from donors anywhere, often at relatively small sums at a time. Those who pledge can get rewards, such as copies of a finished work or, for larger funders, more valuable goodies like trips to premieres. Kickstarter recently began listing Canadian projects.

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Diablo accelerates the model, targetting high-net-worth individuals and promising to pony up glitzy perks.

Besides a shareholding in the production, a contribution at the $150,000 "silver" level nets the backer a mention in the film credits, a trip with Scott Eastwood to the film's premiere in Hollywood, a "documentary" of the experience shot by Mr. Roeck, and some of the movie's props. For the $250,000 "gold" level, add an associate producer credit, a day shooting with Mr. Roeck and a standing invitation to join him at film festivals. The $500,000 "platinum" contribution also includes such perks as a small role in the film and a round of golf with Scott Eastwood in Carmel, Calif., at the Pebble Beach course partly owned by father Clint.

Of the six investors who have put up money for the project, all but one were attracted by the movie tourism pitch, Ms. Wilson said.

Born in Calgary, Mr. Roeck began is career making snowboarding movies. He spent a good part of his life in Carmel, where he worked on various projects with the Eastwood family.

"For me as an Albertan, it was a point of pride to be able to bring the Eastwood Western back to Canada," said Mr. Roeck, whose 2012 feature, The Forger, starred Lauren Bacall, Josh Hutcherson and Alfred Molina. The screenplay for Diablo is written and he aims to start shooting in the spring of 2014.

Calgary portfolio manager Steve Smith, the newest investor, said he is more interested in the the prospects for making independent films with the right model than he is the "lifestyle package" on offer. Mr. Smith, a chartered accounted by trade who assesses oil companies for investment, said he is not frightened away by the risk of a flop.

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"Clearly Shana and Lawrence have a vision of something that has some scope and repeatability," he said. "They're not seeing this as a one-off opportunity. Fortunately, they do have a one-off opportunity with the Eastwood connection, but they look beyond that to set up the infrastructure and do this over and over again."

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