Sunday, September 9, 2007

Production 2: Props, Costumes, and a Mad Dash

Things got really hectic in the last three weeks before the shoot! There were a lot of props to finish up, as well as all kinds that still needed to be found or bought. Also, Candace Bank and her crew collected, bought, made, and/or altered at least 100 costumes. It was truly a mad dash to the start of filming.


First, here are some more pictures of the props we made. Our props team grew from just Kristine Dowler (Art Director) and myself to include Don Wood (playing Tom Sukanen), Raul Viceral (Head of Story) and Dauminique Napier (Line Producer). Thanks, guys!

Last time I posted a picture of the little ship it looked like this:

With its copper paint and little handmade sails, it looked like this. I think it turned out beautifully!

It was used in a bedtime scene with Tom and his son Taivo:

"A fine little ship, all made of copper..."

Then there was the tower of rocks. I would have loved to have had a huge tower built out of real rocks, but we had limited resources, so I hoped that just building the top out of papier mache and shooting it from directly below with the prop mounted on a ladder on a steep little hill would work. Here's what it looked like at first: just a couple of boxes Dauminique and I found in a recycling bin in East Regina affixed to some crossbeams which line up precisely with the cross bars on an 8 foot tall ladder:

Next we began building 'rocks' with more of the cardboard from the boxes and duct tape (the prop maker's friend).

Dauminique and Kristine start layering strips of newspaper soaked in wood glue over the rocks. There are about four layers of this papier mache.

After letting it dry out for a couple of days, we coated it with a texturing layer of wall plaster.

After a grey base coat, Kristine begins mixing various colors and bringing out the highlights with lighter tints and pushing back the shadows with darker tones. Each rock is a slightly different color of grey, and dry brushing starts to bring out the rough texture created by the spackle.

The final touch was a variety of lichen or moss -- what's the difference, anyway? The rocks on Tom's actual homestead have a lot of orange, yellow, and red lichen on them so we thought we'd pay homage to the real tower.

It begins to be one of my favorite props!

Here it is on its way to its debut! Kristine 'the turtle' carries the prop up the hill.

This (below) is where I began to have second thoughts, but I kept them to myself. Everyone else seemed to think everything was normal, so I just went along with it too. Don was nervous as he climbed the ladder with his fake telescope, but determined!

I don't have a shot of Don on the tower but Raul climbed up afterwards to see what he could see, and I have given the photo a touch of the sort of treatment I might use on the actual footage, which is supposed to be a dreamy memory, fractured and partially obscured. You know what? I think it's gonna pass! Only those who worked behind the scenes on 'Sisu' or have seen this blog will know how ridiculous this really was.

We also needed some vintage-looking packages for the general store scenes, one of which takes place in 1910 (more cans) and the other in 1935 (more boxes). There is an amazing assortment already at the museum, but the sheer randomness of their collection took away believability that it could be a functioning store. So Kevin Dowler (Assistant Art Director, among other jobs), Raul and Kristine all got on the computer and came up with a few brands that no one has ever heard of. Since we had to start from scratch anyway, I figured we should have some fun and also avoid copyright problems. Don and Dauminique were the brains behind finishing the products off using cans, tape, foam core, and hot glue.

"They never told me acting would be like this."

"Hmmm, which one do I want?"

Moxie Brand Black Pepper and Django Djangerson's Extra Strength Baking Soda: products names after our dogs.

Geezer's tobacco, Green Griffin tangerines, and enough Bobert's Golden Syrup for at least a week.

The fabricated packages really brought the store to life. Here's how it looked on the monitor (without that big director in the foreground, of course):

There's also a scene where Tom designs a threshing machine, in a mad frenzy, on many little pieces of letter-writing paper at his kitchen table, which he then attaches to the wall in some kind of order. The drawing then begins to animate. Raul designed this cool prop. To make installing the drawing faster, he assembled it in advance on a large piece of card stock.

I think this turned out so cool.

On location in 'the pretty house' as we called it, at the Sukanen Museum.


It's hard to know where to even start with talking about the incredible costuming that was done for this production, but to put it simply, the costumes made the film, and Candace Bank (Costume Designer) is a genius and a wonder, and a VERY hard worker and a perfectionist, not to mention a very sweet person. The thought and love and sheer effort she put into her work on 'Sisu' shows in every single moment of the film. And thanks to Reynaldo (one of our Executive Producers -- and Candace's boyfriend) who was her wingman throughout the whole process.

Reynaldo and Candace

Candace collected costumes from the Globe Theatre, the Regina Little Theatre, the University of Regina Theatre Department's costume collection, and the Motherwell Museum in Abernethy. She also bought many items and created several beautiful peices from scratch. She organized a bunch of us to pin different colored ribbon into each costume piece to indicate where it originated, and then she set up several racks, divided by actor (or, in the case of the Background performers, by scene). The sheer number of costumes was a bit overwhelming. I hadn't quite pictured how many we'd need or how we were going to pull it off. Thank God for Candace!

These are only two of the racks; there are more around the room.... these, for example!

Don gets measured.

Candace made these unique overalls for Tom...

...and designed this beautiful shirt, too. Don's starting to get plumb tuckered with all the attention. You ain't seen nothin' yet, Don! Wait 'til we're pulling 20 hour days on set!

Don had to look like a young man in Finland (left), a middle-aged man in Saskatchewan (middle) and an old guy in the hospital (right). Even without makeup or acting the costumes are already selling the illusion. And all designed by Candace Bank personally!

Here are some pictures of Don in Tom's costumes on location, just to give an idea of the variety Candace was able to create for the 50 year span of the film (1890 - 1940):

Finland, 1898 (minus the styrofoam cup of course!)

Minnesota, 1910

Saskatchewan, 1920

Saskatchewan, 1938

North Battleford Mental Hospital, Saskatchewan, 1943, with Geri Hack as the day shift nurse

Bravo, Candace!

Then there is beautiful Megan Fries in her many-layered costume as Tom's mother in 1890.

Megan says corsets aren't so very comfortable after a few hours...

Her hair is just quickly clipped for the picture so isn't quite right, but the dress fits like a glove.

In one scene, Mama appears to Tom in a dream. Megan looked absolutely ethereal under the moody prairie sky we were blessed with that day.

In another scene, Mama puts young Tom Sukanen to bed. This is a magical scene as well.

And lovely Lori, also in corsette and petticoats, needed at least six different costumes for her role as Tom's wife.

Candace designed and made the incredible bridal gown.

For one scene, I needed a selection of vintage photographs showing Tom's family growing. Kevin Dowler (Photographer, among other credits) took the pictures which turned out great. Here are a few of the set-ups (click on the image to see a bigger version):

Sweet little Gracelyn played Tom's young daughter. She was adorable in everything Candace put her in!

Gracelyn, Amanda, and Lori as Tom's family after the loss of Taivo, his son

There were fittings for over 40 people throughout one week, and in addition to the above selections, we had two costumes for Mark, the general store owner: one for 1910 (below) and one for 1935. The mustache is taped on with masking tape in the picture below; it looked slightly better when we were shooting!

"Canmph I helph youmph?"

Lili also had two costumes: one for a late summer party in 1925 or so, and one for her visit to Lloyd's store in 1935 (below). Minus the sandals and leggings, of course!

Then we had a lot of people come by to get fitted for their costumes for the post-threshing party (circa 1925):

Our awesome musicians at the party: Lorne on guitar (left) and Al on fiddle (right).

And Geri sneaked in as one of our party extras too, even though she is playing one of the nurses in a scene that takes place 20 years later. Yay, movie trivia! Here's some more: she's married to Al, the fiddler in the picture above.

And did the background performers ever look great once everyone got down to dancing and eating pie! This is the sweetest group of near strangers I have ever run into in my life. Within minutes of their all arriving on set I just loved them all. Each and every one of them was in character and working really hard to help bring the party to life, and their performances were honest and realistic. Thank you, everyone!

Click on the images below to enlarge them.

There were also quite a few farmers for the threshing machine demo scene, circa 1924. Here are a couple of pictures from the fittings:

Kevin Dowler, farmer, among other credits.

Again, once we got them on set, the farmers looked just great. And their performances were really stunning. One time I asked them all to take a step to their left, indicating their right, meaning screen left, and without hesitation they all moved to their right like they'd choreographed it. They made me want to work with every one of them again.

Try to imagine the scene sans the chick with the yellow radio...

Putting them in front of this 100-year-old threshing machine and having it start up was a living image right out of my dreams. I wanted to scream and do cartwheels.

Jerry as the threshing machine salesman, a city slicker trying to make a pitch to a bunch of smart farmers.

Ultimately these old memory scenes may be sepia, or at the very least somewhat desaturated. It sure sells it!

With limited time and practically no budget, Candace pulled off a miracle. But she didn't do it alone! This woman has an incredible network of other beautiful, hardworking, happy women who all put in an amazing amount of work on the costumes. Some needed hemming, some needed ribbon, some needed snaps, and pretty much all needed some little bit of attention. I was blown away when I went to visit Candace on her 'work day' and found every chair filled and every head bent to work. Several of these ladies came to the set to help too, when Candace couldn't (did I mention that Candace has a full-time job??)

I have been experiencing a strange blend of awe, wonder, and guilt as I have gone through this process. There are so many loving, giving people here, and without them this project could never have happened.

Thank you, wonderful women!

Makeup and Hair

Then there was Clara Edvi. Like many of the people on the show, she seemed to fall from heaven, just when I had resigned myself to doing all of the makeup and hair for the film. Clara is not only a highly skilled professional artist with both makeup and hairstyling, she is also one of the most pleasant and sweet people you could ever hope to meet. I don't have great documentation of her work but suffice it to say, she is incredible.

Our first meeting. I already think she's cool!

First, she had to take Brian, who is in his early thirties, and make him his actual age in one scene, in his 50's in one scene and in his 60's in another. Aging people realistically for the camera is not simple and she did a superb job.

What can be done with this handsome young man?

Clara gets to work. Not long after...

Before/after. Reverse botox!

Clara kept everyone in good spirits. I always felt a smile spread across my face just seeing her working and laughing with everyone.

An older Vic.

I also got in on the action. Whodathunk the beauty college I attended over 20 years ago would come in handy as a film director?

Mark both with his huge 1910 handlebar mustache and his more refined 1935 look had definite 'stache troubles. We couldn't afford the expensive theatrical mustaches, so did what we could with the $7 ones Candace had in her kit. There are a hilarious number of pictures of a very patient Mark having his mustache clipped and shaped by both Clara and me throughout the day.

Clara adds a few years to Mark's life.

Lori's hair always looked great, and so did all the different styles Clara came up with to put our actors and actresses squarely in the right periods.

Clara's work on Wayne, one of Tom's fellow patients at the North Battleford Mental Hospital, might not seem so remarkable -- until you realize that he also played the minister in the wedding scene! More movie trivia! Check him out (below). Awesome job on Clara's part.

Even Raul gets in on the action, giving Wayne a nice fresh pee stain for his role as the old man who has wet himself.

Craft Services

I joined CostCo and Dauminique and I spent quite a few hours strolling the aisles and filling our carts with stuff for snacking and drinking on set. The meals were handled separately, by Kali the caterer, but it was essential to have various types of munchies on hand to keep everyone happy and feeling fed.

Look at the length of that receipt!


Some of the most spectacular props on the show were made by the genius artist and woodworker Chris St. Amand. First, the ship's wheel, a very hero prop, which I don't have a picture of in its complete form, took shape EXACTLY as I had seen it in my mind, without a single deviation. Chris and I were totally seeing the same thing. It was crazy to see it manifest in the physical realm. Completed wheel pics coming soon!

Chris and I took a trip out to the ship, where he paced off the size of the actual boat. His plan was to build a skeleton of the hull on his prairie acreage, TO SCALE.

We met a few days later at a lumber yard where Chris showed me the difference between more period looking, rough-milled wood such as what Tom would probably have used, and more modern lumber.

This flexible lumber will be used as 'cladding' to skin a portion of the skeleton.

When we got out to Chris' land in Avonhurst and saw that skeleton rising up over the prairie into the sky my heart swelled until I thought my chest was going to burst. I have been painting this image for years, and here it was, come to life before my eyes. Don couldn't hold back the tears as we approached the ship. It was a truly beautiful way to spend our last day as a full crew.

Tom inspects his work.

Off for another day of working on a dream.

Tom sits with the Sontiainen.

Clearly this film is a labor of love from everyone involved, and I believe the final product will be imbued with sense of the care and sweetness that everyone brought to this summer shoot. Over 90% of the live action sections of the film is shot, with the remaining winter scenes scheduled for November and a scene in a bar in San Francisco scheduled for sometime this winter.

Next post: being on set!

Until next time, Sisu!