Entertainment

Martini Film Studios offers a slice of New York — in Langley

Martini Town is a hotspot for Hollywood North productions that companies such as Netflix and Hallmark transform into urban Chicago, small-town Main Street U.S.A. and more.

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Nestled off a rural road in South Langley, there’s a city street that looks like it’s straight from New York.

Located on a large property  owned by Martini Film Studios, it’s a hot spot for Hollywood North productions that companies such as Netflix and Hallmark transform into urban Chicago, small-town Main Street U.S.A. and more. Dubbed Martini Town, it’s complete with a movie theatre, storefronts and a newly acquired stand-alone diner.

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“From production to production, it transforms,” said Gemma Martini, founder and CEO of Martini Film Studios. “Last week, it was full-on Christmas. It’s often Christmas in August because that’s when they do the production of the Hallmarks. From now until October, we have a lot of MOW (movies-of-the-week) happening.”

The idea to turn the property into a production backlot came about in 2021, after Martini had compiled a list of production locations the Hollywood North industry was missing.

“We needed New York, we needed an alleyway. As a result, we hired a production designer who did the drawings, and I submitted to the township for approval. And, in that process, they took a long time,” she recalls with a laugh.

But a call from frequent filming partner Netflix got things moving in a hurry.

“We were on one of our regular calls that we have with Netflix every two weeks, and they said it’s really too bad that you don’t have New York there. Because we have to go to Toronto in order to get New York. And I said, ‘Hang on, let me send you our drawings,’ ” Martini says. “Within six weeks, they had hired a producer, they brought the show here, and they built New York for us, which was amazing.”

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That fortuitous filming was for a series called Grendel. It was announced last year that Netflix had decided not to go forward with the series.

But while the future of the production that helped build Martini Town remains to be seen, the impact it had on the Langley lot remains. To date, the backlot has been the site of more than 30 productions including Apple TV’s Schmigadoon!, the thriller film Vindicta, The CW’s Kung Fu and others.

Martini Film Studios founder and CEO Gemma Martini at her company's lot in Langley, B.C. on Wednesday, September 6, 2023 after receiving an award from BC Hydro for power conservation.
Martini Film Studios founder and CEO Gemma Martini at her company’s lot in Langley on Sept. 6 after receiving an award from B.C. Hydro for power conservation. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

“They built what we call Phase 1, which is our New York, Brooklyn and alleyway. And, what was key to having production do it, and the fact that it was Netflix and this incredible producer, is that they top-flashed it and back- painted it, because they knew it was going to be here for a long time,” Martini says. “There are cable runs in the concrete. It’s really well set up for production. We get a lot of compliments on that.”

Offering a permanent shooting location for productions allows crews to skirt common issues found filming in live city streets such as hiring police for traffic control, which Martini calls “a real pain in the butt,” shutting down streets and privacy concerns.

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With only a third of the property developed so far, Martini says there’s still lots of potential to build out the filming options even further.

“The only thing that we’re missing, I’m just putting it out into the world, is the facade of the modern building. The entrance to the airport or the hospital. We have room for it right there,” Martini says gesturing toward an open space beside the towering town hall.

Along with a backlot forest in the Langley area, Martini also offers a Boeing 767 airplane at the airport in Fort Langley and a “set rescue” from a show called Debris. Martini says the small local airport has been used for filming of Snake Eyes, Godzilla and more.

“There’s quite a bit of filming that happens there as well.”

Martini Film Studios lot in Langley, B.C. on September 6, 2023.
Martini Film Studios lot in Langley on Sept. 6. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

Speaking during a media event in celebration of the studio’s recent recognition by B.C. Hydro as a Clean Energy Champion, Martini addressed some of the ‘green’ energy updates put into practice at the studio lot including shifting from diesel-powered generators to the use of film kiosks powered by B.C. Hydro’s 98 per cent renewable electricity. The upgrades were made possible with $280,000 in funding provided by the power utility’s Low Carbon Electrification Program.

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“The diesel generator use and non-renewable fuel sources are our biggest source of carbon impact in the film industry, so that’s our main focus. And, here in B.C., we have the opportunity and the advantage in partnership to improve upon that,” Martini says.

The average big-budget Hollywood film produces 2,840 tonnes of carbon dioxide — “the equivalent of driving a gas-powered vehicle nearly 12 million kilometres,” according to statistics shared by B.C. Hydro.

While filming is continuing at the rural Langley location, Martini said the Hollywood North industry slowdown caused by the writers’ and actors’ strikes is being felt everywhere.

“Generally not just for Langley but for British Columbia, the strikes have been extremely challenging. And, the longer that it goes on, the harder it is on the crew,” Martini says. “There are about 88,000 people that are involved in the film industry, and we’re down to about 10 per cent of production. So, there are a lot of people hurting right now.”

The studio executive says she’s looking forward to the day when production can resume to its full pre-strike levels.

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“We look forward to the time when it’s over and we can all get back to work.”

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