Local talent breathes new life into Netflix's zombie show Black Summer

Special Effects Makeup artist Yvonne Cox and actor Travis Friesen on the set of the second season of Netflix's Black Summer. Courtesy, Daniel Schaeffer/Netflix

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As with most TV series these days, plot points for the second season of Black Summer are being kept safely under wraps.

But there are at least a few hints that the new season of the acclaimed Netflix zombie series will start off with a bang.

When cameras began rolling last week on an otherwise tranquil farm in Rocky View County near Indus, returning cast members Jaime King, Justin Chu Cary and Christine Lee were joined by no less than 24 local stunt performers.

On the set of the second season of Netflix’s Black Summer. Courtesy, Daniel Schaeffer/Netflix. Daniel Schaefer/Netflix / Calgary

“Right off the top, on Day 1, we had the caterers putting 170 people through lunch, which was pretty amazing,” says local producer Linda Ambury, who joined the team for the second season. “It’s really exciting when we can be putting so many Albertans to work right away. But, yeah, 24 stunt performers right off the hop.”

So even if we don’t get specific plot points, we can probably assume the zombie hordes will be restless.

“Yes, there will be lots of action,” Ambury says. “It will be fun.”

Season 1 ended in a suitably chaotic manner, with the survivors — spoiler alert! — finally making it to the stadium where Rose (King) was reunited with her daughter, Anna (played by Calgary’s Zoe Marlett.) However, it came at a great cost, with the stadium overrun with the undead and far from the sanctuary they were hoping for. Main character William (Sal Velez Jr.) was among the casualties, meeting his end in one of the most harrowing and heartbreaking scenes of the series. Meanwhile, when we last left Lance (Kelsey Flower), he was being chased by zombies and his chances of survival seemed grim.

As the second season begins, the group find themselves on the road again.

“As we left off in our story, our characters thought that they were on a mission to find something of real benefit for them in the zombie, post-apocalyptic stage and it may have fell short in terms of what they actually found in the end of Season 1,” says Ambury. “So onward they go on foot, looking to find what can keep them alive and keep them safe.”

Which will require the second season of Black Summer to have a very different look than the first. Season 1 began filming in July of 2018 in a three-month shoot that took production from Calgary’s downtown and suburbs, to Cochrane, Irricana and Beiseker. The resulting vibe was that of a nondescript, abandoned suburbia in the U.S., with producers using none of the mountainous vistas the province is known for.

But, as a testament to Alberta’s versatility as a location, this season will have more of a rural and small-town vibe. Over the 52-day shoot, production will move from the farm in Indus to Bragg Creek in K-Country, to Morley and finally High River. While the production offices remain in Calgary, none of the action will actually be shot in town for this season, Ambury says.

“It definitely takes them out of that suburban city feel and into some really wonderful rural locations,” says Ambury, who was also the Alberta producer for the Alberta-shot British series Tin Star, AMC’s Hell on Wheels and the 2019 unit shoot for Game of Thrones. “Which is why Calgary is so amazing, because we have so much of that around and it’s very diverse. There is a great opportunity to find so many different looks in short distance.”

Ambury says the production will also be taking advantage of other Alberta resources. There will be 40 new performers coming on board, which includes Calgary actors Linda Kee, Elaine Yang and Chantelle Han. Lethbridge’s Judith Buchan and Rosebud’s Travis Friesen have also joined the cast. Marlett will also return for Season 2.

“It’s very, very much an Alberta story,” says Ambury. “Between stunt players and actual cast, we’ve got some really fabulous members. It’s a rare opportunity. It really does excite me that we have been able to draw on that. Our showrunner (John Hyams) is an amazing individual who really looks at talent and looks for what he can bring out of people and really wants to support the local, Alberta crew and cast.”

Season 2 of Black Summer is scheduled to shoot in Alberta until April 24.

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