SUNDRE — A cross between Ozark, Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy featuring drama, sex and drugs.
That’s how the creative mind behind a new original series being filmed in and around Sundre describes his show.
Pipe Nation, an entertaining story that Raoul Bhatt says will offer a glimpse into the real struggles and compelling stories faced by families and people who work in Alberta’s oilpatch, takes place in the fictional town of Hardwell, which will be portrayed by Sundre.
More than 400 people — including a mix of locals and visitors — attended a press conference on Tuesday, July 7 at the Greenwood Community Gazebo to not only officially announce the new production, but also to seek extras.
The Edmonton-based cinematographer has a passion for storytelling and feels Canada’s energy sector is misunderstood and even misrepresented. He was driven by a desire to present a homegrown, Alberta-made perspective on an industry that has fuelled the livelihoods of so many people.
“It’s about a small oil and gas community coming together in a transitioning economy. Essentially, it’s about a single mom who works in the oil fields and works in pipelines,” said Bhatt, adding he specifically chose pipelines in the foothills because of their proximity to captivatingly vast natural vistas.
The single mom is the lead character played by Natallie Gamble, who has real life experience working pipelines, and the series of adventures she embarks on as the boss of a pipe crew navigating through a changing economy.
Featuring the dynamic of a female lead in a usually heavily male-dominated industry was an appealing aspect, he said.
“There’s a whole lot of drama that goes on between male and female dynamics, and also a woman in leadership and a single mom.”
He aspires to present a story that captures “the colourful people and the human dynamic of what we all face. My goal out of this whole show, is to showcase that these are beautiful people with problems, just like everybody else in the world. But they just happen to be in the energy sector and in the beautiful Rocky Mountains.”
Scouting locations for Pipe Nation brought him out to places such as Edson, Hinton, Jasper, Banff, and Lake Louise, but Bhatt decided in part to settle on Sundre because the community boasts a breathtaking backdrop that so many people — including himself — have not seen.
“When I went up by Ya Ha Tinda and then Panther Road and further up, there were views that I haven’t seen before. So, for me, that was quite special and quite unique,” he said.
“And then Sundre, it’s quite an interesting town — it is a small town, but you guys have invested a lot in the façade, in refacing the façade. So, it actually looks like a movie set,” he added.
The buildings’ aesthetics appealed to him, and Bhatt was before long sold on Sundre. The ideal location in the foothills further sealed the deal, he said, adding Bonneyville had also been considered.
“Bonneyville is big oil and gas town, too. But they don’t have the foothills. For cinematic value for TV, I needed something with mountains. I needed some rolling landscapes. It makes for a better show.”
Additionally, he said the town’s economic development officer, Jon Allan, played a pivotal part in working to roll out the proverbial welcome mat and facilitating the whole process.
“It’s hard to say no when you essentially have the keys to the town and access to everything. It definitely makes production a lot easier,” he said.
“The fact we’re not paying over $150,000 for locations. Sundre has been so generous in supporting us that it’s made this production possible and cost effective,” he said.
“(Jon Allan) has been an extraordinary support. He’s so energetic and I think more municipalities in our province need people like him, of his calibre level, energy level, and ambition,” he said.
Bhatt said he also drew his inspiration for the story from his own personal experiences of being raised in Alberta.
“I grew up being surrounded by the energy sector, which gave me a very fortunate life,” he said, adding he knows many people who made a living in the industry.
“And I felt there needed to be a show told from the inside, and not an external foreign crew coming in and telling the story their way.”
Pipe Nation offers a neutral to leaning towards pro perspective on the patch, he said.
“It’s very honest. There’s going to be sex, drugs, drama, all staged in our energy sector. There’s actually quite a bit of drama in our sector,” he said.
“It’s definitely grittier. It’s definitely not a boring show — it’s going to be fun,” he said.
“Think Ozark, Sons of Anarchy, Breaking Bad — it’s along that level.”
And regardless of people’s stance on pipelines, they’ll want to watch the show because the issue is so prevalent in the daily news cycle, he said.
Shooting for the pilot episode is expected to begin later in August. A lot of planning is required prior to being able to start rolling the cameras, including lining up all the necessary talent to bring the story to life, he said.
“I’m trying to create local employment,” he said, estimating upwards of 100 to 200 jobs.
Bhatt hopes to start filming the next nine episodes next spring.
“I want to cast preferably local Albertans, I want local music written by Albertans,” he said.
“I really want to make it our own story.”