Local movie set backdrop in Discovery miniseries

By: Kathryn McMackin

  |  Posted: Saturday, Jan 25, 2014 06:00 am

CL Westerntown has been the location for numerous film and television productions over the years.
CL Westerntown has been the location for numerous film and television productions over the years.
Ryan McLeod

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From the centre of CL Westerntown, you feel you could be anywhere.

Facing south, there is a view of fields and trees for miles. Turn westward and mountains are in the horizon. Turn your eyes eastward and you expect to see tumbleweeds blowing through the elaborately designed western town.

It’s all part of the appeal of the CL Westerntown and backlot, said Teresa Copithorne, co-owner and manager of the facility. The set sits on the property of the CL Ranch, located just south of Highway 1 in the Jumping Pound area.

“When people look at the location, you could be anywhere,” she said. “You look west and see the foothills, look east and see the prairies. The views are completely unobstructed.”

Most recently, the CL Westerntown was transformed into Dawson City, Yukon, for the Discovery Channel miniseries Klondike. The first of the three-part series aired Jan. 20 and stars Richard Madden, Abbie Cornish, Sam Shepard and Tim Roth.

The town was constructed in the early ‘90s when producers were on the lookout for a location to shoot the Lonesome Dove television series. The series filmed on the ranch for three consecutive years.

For Teresa and her husband Marshall, allowing the construction of the town was a tough decision.

“It was hard to see some of the remote areas of the ranch be (compromised),” she said. “But when you ranch, you learn about the importance of diversifying.

“We realized we had something.”

She said CL Westerntown doesn’t interfere with the family’s beef ranching venture. Still, she and Marshall have strict regulations written into contracts to keep the property pristine.

The circa 1850-1930 western town consists of three streets and more than 30 finished buildings, including staples like a saloon, hotel, mercantile and a general store.

Lonesome Dove wasn’t the first time film crews have paid a visit to the CL Ranch. Little Big Man, which starred Dustin Hoffman and was released in 1970, was also filmed at the ranch.

Since then, the set can be seen in a number of movies, television series, commercials and music videos. The site has been visited by the likes of Donald and Kiefer Sutherland (Forsaken), Christopher Reeve (Black Fox), Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson (Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights), and Tom Selleck (Crossfire Trail and Monte Walsh).

In addition to the varied terrain, the location appeals to production companies thanks to its proximity to Calgary and the airport. During the height of production, Teresa said there could be as many as 250 people on set.

While the Copithornes are responsible for basic upkeep, the production companies handle most of the maintenance, explained Teresa.

Each production comes in with it’s own ideas for set design and “dresses” the town accordingly.

For Klondike, the town was designed to be a rough and tumble boomtown. Crews added telephone poles to the set, along with tent towns and an assortment of rough, temporary buildings.

“There’s no limit to what they can do,” she said.

Teresa does keep a warehouse full of props that can be rented out to the crews. The prop inventory spans a variety of eras and includes furniture, books, curtains, lamps — you name it. She estimated the warehouse holds well over 5,000 pieces.

“It’s a self-run business,” she said. “At this point, our biggest investment is the props.

“It’s been a good thing for us.”


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