When Just Friends was released in 2005, it was the first hit feature film commissioned by a major studio and filmed in Saskatchewan -- representing a key moment in the evolution of the province's growing film industry.
Starring well-known actors Ryan Reynolds, Amy Smart, Anna Faris and Chris Klein, and set over the holidays in a New Jersey suburb, Just Friends presented producer Rob Merilees with the perfect project to bring to Saskatchewan.
Merilees, then with Infinity Features in Vancouver, had been meeting frequently with Susanne Bell and Valerie Creighton of SaskFilm, and liked what they had to say about the benefits of shooting in Saskatchewan.
"They'd been telling me all about Saskatchewan; the amazing tax incentives, the new stages that had been built, and how they could service a production. I was very interested in working with them, and had been looking for a project that would suit the setting."
Just Friends came to Infinity through New Line Cinema, and the decision was made to co-finance the project. In discussions with director, Roger Kumble, Merilees suggested Saskatchewan as a potential stand-in for New Jersey during the wintry Christmas season.
"Saskatchewan is the perfect place for that," said Merilees. "We came out and scouted the area, and once we determined that we could get everything we needed, both creatively and financially, the decision was made."
Shooting took place over February and March of 2005 at a number of different locations in and around both Moose Jaw and Regina.
The biggest challenge, however, proved to be the weather. "We got caught in a real cold snap -- I think it was around -55 with the windchill. We had blizzards and cables snapping and all of that crazy cold-weather stuff."
The results were worth the effort, said Merilees. "What we ended up getting was a look you just can't get anywhere else, where it's very cold but with that bright, beautiful light and sunshine that you only get in Saskatchewan. It suited the movie really well, and worked perfectly as a stand-in for New Jersey."
"I loved shooting there. It's a totally different experience than you get anywhere else, but it's a great one."