Sticking to his script: Filmmaker Lowell Dean brings the apocalypse home to Regina

Die Alone, a movie being shot this week in Regina, features high-profile Canadian actors like Carrie-Anne Moss and Douglas Smith.

Published Jun 20, 2023  •  Last updated 3 minutes ago  •  4 minute read

Director Lowell Dean speaks with actors Douglas Smith (L) and Kimberly-Sue Murray (R) on set of the Die Alone.
Director Lowell Dean speaks with actors Douglas Smith (L) and Kimberly-Sue Murray (R) on set of the Die Alone film which is being shot at Saskatchewan Polytechnic. Photo by KAYLE NEIS /Regina Leader-Post

As the script for Die Alone collected dust over several years, Lowell Dean questioned whether it would ever see the light of day, let alone find its rightful place in Saskatchewan.

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Lo and behold, the veteran filmmaker commenced principal photography this week in his hometown of Regina — a breakthrough moment that could only be described as “a long time coming.”

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“This became a bit of my white whale,” Dean admitted during a break on Monday afternoon. “I thought this movie would never happen. I’m still a little in disbelief, but we’re on Day 2 now so I’m assuming this is actually happening.”

Indeed it is.

The cast and crew established their temporary home at Saskatchewan Polytechnic, a roomy campus on the outskirts of Regina. The location has already breathed new life into Dean’s script after nearly a decade on the shelf.

“We’ve been developing it for years and it was kind of a foregone conclusion that we wouldn’t get to shoot here, even though when I wrote it these were the landscapes I was picturing,” explained Dean, who is the writer and director. “We never anticipated that it could happen but, to be back here with over 100 people working on this film, many of them friends who I’ve worked with for decades, it’s surprising and doesn’t feel like reality.”

First AD Jason Bohn.
First assistant director Jason Bohn instructs extras on the set of Die Alone. Photo by KAYLE NEIS /Regina Leader-Post

Dean was able to secure his preferred locale thanks to Creative Saskatchewan’s new grant program, which is funded by the Government of Saskatchewan. It was introduced last year as a long-awaited replacement for the tax credit that was cut in 2012, forcing most filmmakers to take their business elsewhere.

“The incentive had gone away and it was a very tall task to make films here for a while,” said Dean, who shot WolfCop here in 2013. “You could cobble together enough money to do films at a million-dollar-budget level but the hope and dream for (Die Alone) was always a much bigger budget than that.

“With the new (government) incentive, it actually worked out that we could come back and make the movie bigger and better than what I was originally thinking.”

Extras on set.
Extras prepare for rehearsal on the set of Die Alone in Regina. Photo by KAYLE NEIS /Regina Leader-Post

Die Alone is a post-apocalyptic love story starring Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix), Douglas Smith (Don’t Worry Darling), Kimberly-Sue Murray (V Wars), and Frank Grillo (Captain America), plus Regina’s Amy Matysio (WolfCop).

Smith plays the lead character, Ethan, who has amnesia and wakes up to discover that a virus has turned people into zombielike creatures. Ethan joins forces with a rugged survivalist (Moss) to locate his missing girlfriend (Murray).

Dean came up with the plot many years ago while daydreaming about what it might be like to live through a pandemic.

Sound familiar?

“Now the No. 1 question people ask is, ‘Oh, you were inspired by COVID?’ ” Dean said with a laugh. “The script that I was having a hard time getting out into the world (suddenly) became really relatable.”

Murray is experiencing a similar case of déjà vu.

In fact, she conceded that it’s a bit “scary” to film a pandemic-related movie when COVID is so fresh in your mind.

“We just did a scene where I was in full getup with the visor and the mask,” she said. “It feels fresh and relevant. My siblings are in the health care system so my heart goes out to all those people who really saved a lot of lives.”

Actors Douglas Smith (R) and Kimberly-Sue Murray.
Actors Douglas Smith (R) and Kimberly-Sue Murray (L) film a scene for Die Alone on Monday. Photo by KAYLE NEIS /Regina Leader-Post

This is Murray’s first experience filming a movie in Saskatchewan, but she’s familiar with the recent challenges. After several years as a wasteland for film and TV, the province is finally getting its due.

“I’m very happy to be a part of the comeback,” said Murray, who lives in Toronto. “It’s great that the government is reinvesting in its film industry.”

She’ll get no argument from co-star Smith, a Toronto native who’s visiting Saskatchewan for the first time.

“It’s great to go to different parts of our country,” he said. “Usually I work in Toronto or Vancouver. There’s a lot of other places to make movies.”

Although he’s still acclimating to the flatness of the Prairies, Smith felt right at home inside the John Hopkins Soundstage. He was immediately impressed by the state-of-the-art facility, noting that productions the size of Die Alone don’t usually have that kind of access.

“I was not expecting such a large stage,” he said. “Usually that size of a facility is reserved for a large-budget television production like a CBS show or something like that.”

Actor Douglas Smith
Actor Douglas Smith. Photo by KAYLE NEIS /Regina Leader-Post

Kevin Dewalt, who’s president and CEO of Minds Eye Entertainment, says Die Alone has a budget “in the range” of five to nine million dollars.

Filming is scheduled to continue for 20 days in multiple locations, moving from Regina to more picturesque areas in the Qu’Appelle Valley.

When shooting wraps, post-production is expected to take eight or nine months and, depending on negotiations with distributors, the film should hit theatres in the summer or fall of 2024.

However, first things first.

“We’re absolutely thrilled to be back after 12 years of shooting our movies in different parts of Canada,” said Dewalt, whose Regina-based company produced a 2021 Mel Gibson movie called Dangerous that was filmed in B.C. “Because the (Sask.) tax credit wasn’t competitive, it just didn’t make any sense to shoot it here.

“It’s really a thrill to come back and have an incentive that competes with any incentive across the country. At Minds Eye, we’re very confident we can attract bigger projects here. This is a good example of that.”

gharder@postmedia.com