Former Campbell River radio personality, city councillor pursuing film dream

Former Campbell River resident Ryan Mennie is trying to rustle up some support for Western Steele, a western TV pilot he’s starred in, written and directed.

Mennie worked in Campbell River for years 16 years as a former radio host on 97.3 The Eagle and served two terms as a city councillor. In his private life, he indulged in his interest in acting, taking roles in Rivercity Players productions as well as other film projects.

Now he’s competing for $50,000 in funding to complete the series from a Telus-funded effort to support filmakers in B.C. and Alberta. Now-Lethbridge-based Mennie is competing from funding from StoryHive between Feb. 5 and Feb. 9 15 Alberta projects (including Western Steele) and 15 BC projects. There will be one winner in each province.

The idea for Western Steele, based on the life of historical figure Kootenai Brown, came to Mennie while attending a one-day Telus Storyhive event 10 months ago in Lethbridge. It was an introduction to what Storyhive does to encourage and enable local filmmakers.

“I started working on very early versions of the script, hoping there would be a funding opportunity through Storyhive later in the year that would fit what I was writing, and sure enough… they announced their web series competition just a few months later,” Mennie said in an email to the Campbell River Mirror. “This is my first foray into the world of filmmaking as a writer and director at a funded level. As a young adult I created original programming for local TV stations in Drumheller, Alberta and Nanaimo and Campbell River. I’ve also starred in several short films.

“As a 19-year-old I wound up on the WWI battlefield as both a Canadian and German soldier in different scenes of the Brad Pitt/Anthony Hopkins movie Legends Of The Fall when it filmed just outside of Calgary, Alberta in the summer of 1993.”

Mennie says the biggest challenge for this project was rounding out a team with experienced filmmakers to bring a level of quality to the project that he was aiming for.

“I was very fortunate to have discovered the Lethbridge Independent Film Society and several of their members ended up as part of the crew.”

The second biggest challenge was the elements.

“We faced winds of 100 km/h the first week of filming in the Waterton and Pincher Creek region of Alberta. The second week it snowed 40 centimeters the night before the cast and crew had to drive through the mountains of the Crowsnest Pass to film at Fort Steele (B.C.). We survived the weather that was thrown at us, and it really added to what you see on screen.

“Along with my passion of bringing a piece of epic and exciting Western Canadian history to the screen, I’m incredibly grateful to have found shooting locations that brought a big budget feel to the show, and in return have been able to increase the profile of those attractions and the non-profit organizations that run them. Fort Steele is a major part of the first episode and I couldn’t have done it without the behind the scenes support of their staff and the Friends Of Fort Steele Society. The same can be said about Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village in Pincher Creek, AB. Both attractions were not only substantial to bringing Western Steele to the screen, they’re also favourite destinations for myself and my family.”

All of the Alberta and BC web series pilots that were successfully funded $10,000 each (30 in total out of about 280 submissions) will be viewable at the week of Feb. 5. They’ll also be shown as free programming to subscribers of Telus Optik TV On Demand. Western Steele big screen premieres for one showing only are this Sunday, Feb. 4 at the Plaza Theatre, Calgary, and Monday, Feb. 5 at Victory Church in Lethbridge and The Garneau Theatre Edmonton.