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For this TV actress, her film at VIFF serves as sanctuary

Amanda Tapping, left, and director Katrin Bowen had worked together years ago on TV before reuniting on Random Acts of Romance.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

It's a good thing Amanda Tapping can act. She was shooting the film Random Acts of Romance this year when Sanctuary, the series she helped create and on which she starred (as Dr. Helen Magnus), died a fairly abrupt death.

"We fought, we fought, right up until the last minute and then had, like, 24 hours to get our stuff out of the studio," Ms. Tapping said this week. "I remember one lunch hour, walking down that little alleyway and calling my husband in tears and saying, 'Thank God I'm on this movie.'

"Honest to God, it saved me emotionally."

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Ms. Tapping is telling the story in Vancouver's Waldorf Hotel, sitting with Random's director Katrin Bowen, in the same row of booths where they shot a number of the film's key scenes. Ms. Bowen, hearing this story for the first time, is stunned.

"You would never have known. Honestly, you were just so solid."

The film is a kind of screwball romantic-comedy, following a number of Vancouver couples who are interconnected in various ways – including that restaurant, where some are dining on the same night. Ms. Tapping plays Dianne, who is out celebrating her five-year anniversary to Matt (Zak Santiago), but is frustrated in a marriage where she is the sole provider, and the responsible one.

Random Acts of Romance, which has its world premiere at the Vancouver International Film Festival on Oct. 5, was meant to be Ms. Bowen's feature debut, but funding fell apart at the last minute. With a crew all hired and ready to go, she wrote a new script in two weeks. Amazon Falls – shot in only two weeks with a paltry budget of $50,000 – premiered in 2010 at the Toronto International Film Festival and the Vancouver International Film Festival.

By comparison, Random's budget was $1-million – much more workable, but still a challenge. Ms. Bowen, who has lived and worked in Vancouver for many years (initially as an actor), called in favours. In Vancouver, where everyone wants to see a thriving (or at the very least surviving) domestic film industry, people – and companies – are only too happy to help a production like this, offering breaks on lighting equipment or post-production facilities, taking a pay cut, crewing pick-up scenes for free.

"People rally," Ms. Bowen says. "And you see it with all the filmmakers here. It's not cutthroat competitive. It's: 'What are you doing? Oh right on. What do you need?'"

Vancouver's production industry has grown up around the service industry – U.S. productions that shoot here because of financial incentives, choosing Vancouver because it shares a timezone with Los Angeles, but also because of its physical beauty, talent pool and infrastructure.

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But with a higher Canadian dollar, and better tax credits offered by Ontario and Quebec, it's been tough in B.C., with actors and crew members leaving for work in the east. And that ultimately trickles down to affect even little Canadian films such as Ms. Bowen's.

"A lot of the producers that are moving to Toronto because they can work there, they would, aside from producing series, they would also take their hat off and help a little indie like me, and now they're gone," she says.

There are also concerns – justified – over the state of Vancouver's indigenous industry: domestic productions that allow Canadians to create their own films, not just crew them. So when something like Random comes along, even big deal stars such as Ms. Tapping are excited.

"We've been a service industry for big U.S. series and films for so long, that the eagerness of local filmmakers is so palpable," says Ms. Tapping. "It's soul food. We have to have it. We have to. Without it, we'd just become product, as opposed to producers."

Ms. Bowen and Ms. Tapping go way back: Ms. Bowen – who is even taller than Ms. Tapping – was Ms. Tapping's stand-in on Stargate SG-1 years ago. Last year, Ms. Tapping hosted the Women in Film & Television Vancouver Spotlight Awards, where Ms. Bowen was honoured for Amazon Falls.

When Ms. Tapping's agent sent her the Random script, she said yes as soon as she saw it was Ms. Bowen's project, even before reading it.

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This was very good news for Ms. Bowen. Unknowingly, she returned the favour during production. Sanctuary was shutting down – and Ms. Tapping was devastated. But redeemed, she says, by Ms. Bowen's passion project.

"To have this [film] as sanctuary as we got the news about Sanctuary? Saving grace," Ms. Tapping says. "That's a huge chapter of my life that's just closed. And this felt like a new chapter."

New filmmakers

Want to make films on a shoestring budget? Max out your credit cards to pay for those final post-production costs?

You too can live the dream – and learn all about making it in the industry as the VIFF Film & TV Forum wraps up with New Filmmakers' Day on Saturday (where Katrin Bowen – a former creative director of the Forum – will appear during Telefilm Canada's Talent to Watch! session).

Fortify yourself with success stories such as that of Tanya Wexler (director, Hysteria); hear from some actual working actors (including Aleks Paunovic and Joely Collins) and sci-fi writers (including Once Upon a Time writer Jane Espenson). And yes, learn about "Mastering the Microbudget" from producers of films such as Donovan's Echo and Your Sister's Sister.

Then cap the day off at the New Filmmakers' Day Reception, where you can practise that most important of film producing skills: the art of schmoozing.

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