Monday, March 10, 2008

Winter shoot Day 01: Bridge

Over the winter Raul and I went out on a couple of B-Roll shoots, getting footage of snow and ice, dead wheat waving in the snow, and the shoot of young Tom (Zach Ford) playing with his toy boat in the icy water. But we were all looking forward to the big winter shoot when the crew would be together again. It was scheduled for the first week of March.

Don and Andrew were flying back up from San Francisco, and everyone was excited that Clara and Trevor would be joining us on set again. Kevin and Kristine would be there one day and of course the intrepid Dauminique was not only Line Producing but this time also providing all of the food! Wonderful Paul from the Sukanen Museum would be back with some beautiful antique vehicles, and officer Richard and his police car from the summer shoot, now properly labeled R.C.M.P., was coming too.

"Honest, Andrew! You'll LOVE the Saskatchewan winter. And I promise: these are ALL light days."

The first day didn't start off looking like too much fun.

Our breath mingles with the car exhaust and I wonder, is a winter shoot
really necessary in these days of convincing CG? Shouldn't we just all
spend the day indoors drinking hot chocolate laced with good Scotch??

As soon as we got to location, however, and started scoping out this really cool old bridge south of Moose Jaw, our spirits rose with the mercury as the dawn miraculously brought the second day of above-freezing temperatures in the past five months.

Andrew and Trevor discuss shots while Chrystene and Paul head down to check out the cars.

It was starting to feel like a set. We had a motorhome to keep the cast and crew warm and give folks a place to crash between takes, not to mention a kitchen for Dauminique's fantastic snacks and hot coffee! And there were various characters wandering around, like Constable Fisk...

Rod says these boots take an hour to get on and lace up.
They're very stylish but one has to wonder:
how many bad guys got away while the RCMP officer got his boots on? well as these tough guys ...

(L to R: Lorne Allen-Fries, Derek Finnik, Mike Staffen)

...and the make-up and hair department, Clara Edvi, along with this scruffy looking Tom Sukanen character (Don Wood)...

Clara knows exactly how to make Don look his worst. Perfect! well as the director and Brian Dueck, playing an old Vic Markkula.

I think I might have squeezed Brian just a little too hard...

Andrew set up for the first shot down below the bridge, and got great footage of the old cars pulling into the shot.

The vintage cars were really co-operative (thanks to the mechanical genius of Paul, Lorne and Richard) and executed their cues perfectly time after time.

I admit I got a little nervous whenever the hoods went up and the guys carried out mysterious little boxes full of wires and got very serious for long periods, but in spite of the chilly weather everything is going just perfectly.

Lorne sweet-talks the old Ford

We were shooting the arrest scene, where old Tom is taken away. It was a pretty emotional scene for all of us and I think there were more than a couple of tears on set.

A few last minute notes...

... and here we see the actor preparing.

Tom looks back at the cabins he has built...

Rod McLeod as Constable Fisk

Then the constable tucks him into the RCMP car and takes him away.

Lunch was fantastic! Tuna and egg salad sandwiches and delicious homemade soup, and lots of chips and homemade cookies. Jim's motorhome was a godsend.

Andrew liked his sandwich, honest, Dauminique!

After using it to get their beautiful truck back to its garage, Paul and Lorne graciously brought this trailer back to the set when I got the idea on the spot that we could use it for the last shot of the day, which is of Tom in the passenger seat being driven away. I don't know how we would have done it otherwise; as always, things just seemed to work like magic.

We lashed the camera to the side of the car, then Raul and I got in the back seat with the monitor, directing Andrew who was clinging to the window and riding on the trailer outside the driver's door. Lorne got in the truck and pulled us along at about 3 miles an hour. The footage was fantastic, just what we were looking for!

Good bye, Tom.

Tomorrow we're back at the good old Sukanen Museum. It's supposed to be cold. Hopefully we all survive!

Until next time....

Winter Shoot: Day 02: Sukanen Museum

Yes, it was a frigid dawn. With the sun up the mercury read -20 but with the windchill factored in the temperature hovered around -30. The Sukanen Museum is a summer attraction and none of the buildings are heated; in fact, there isn't really much power on location. We kept blowing fuses just trying to keep the heaters running, which we eventually had to give up on as we needed power for the lights for the shots. If Jim hadn't been there with his motorhome we would have had to scrap the shoot altogether. Not only did he keep us alive and save fingers and toes, he was even able to supply us with power to run one of the lights heater, which was a total bonus and not even something I'd been worrying about.

Something else I've never thought about before, but can now definitively attest, is that nothing looks quite as good as a warm motorhome when you can't feel your face.

Home sweet motorhome!

I wanted to be able to see breath in the shot, so we saved this scene for the winter. In retrospect I guess we could have shot it on a less insanely cold day (even in the summer) and composited frozen CG breath in later, but hey, where's the adventure in that? We shot in a homesteader's cabin at the museum that had gaps between every plank that made up the walls. These added some great whistling sounds to our audio when the wind picked up but I think by the end of the day we all had newfound respect for those families of 8 and 10 who spent long Saskatchewan winters cooped up in little shacks like these.

The photo does not do justice to how bloody cold this cabin actually was inside.

As with most of the buildings at the museum, this cabin is packed with artifacts, but in order to get us all in and make it look like a sparse Depression-era dwelling we there was quite a bit of art directing to do. Kristine and Kevin, as always, worked their magic and had it looking absolutely perfect in record time, and were back in the motorhome sipping hot drinks before I knew it.

Before: cluttered.

Trevor didn't have enough warm clothes with him for the really desperately cold temperature and we all felt pretty bad for him. He was a real trooper though, flirting with hypothermia all day, and, as we later found out, finally putting six packs of 'Hot Toes' shoe warmers in his boots, spending the next few hours feeling like he was walking on hot coals. I'd never used Hot Toes before but grabbed them on a whim at Home Depot and am I ever glad I did. Most of us used them, although Trevor outdid us all.

Trevor Derrick: Gaffer, Sound Technician, and Hot Toes King.

The little Sony we were using on this shoot was a trooper too; all of the shots looked great, even though the LCD screen froze up and quit working at one point.

Partway through the day batteries started dying. Raul's camera quit working, which explains why there aren't as many shots from this shoot, which is too bad because the actors looked awesome (Kelly Liberet as the cold Depression-era mother Sarah and Keenan Fafard as her son Robert). Clara did her usual magic and they looked cold, hungry, and tired. Of course, the rest of us kind of looked that way too, even without Clara's help!

I got the frozen breath I wanted (it's beautiful) and so I hope ultimately it was worth it.

What was kind of stupid was that we needed to cut Don's hair for this shot, as yesterday he was meant to look rather scruffy, but this shot needed to match his look from the hospital scenes we shot in the summer. The only time we could find was just before the shoot, so Don and I found a place in the sunshine (which I don't think helped at all) and I gave the coldest haircut I've ever done. After about two snips I couldn't feel my hands, and Don couldn't feel his ears. I think it is safe to say it is also the worst haircut I have ever done.

Tom's appearance in the scene is a kind of dream scene where he leaves his hospital bed and sort of 'astral travels' to this cabin, so he is supposed to just be wearing his gown.

Don: "Are you sure you can see my parka in the shot?"

For the close-up we gave Don a blanket for his lower half, but he was still freezing. He was a total champ, holding on those long shots were nothing was happening but it was looking great, and I couldn't help holding on his awesome expression, holding, holding, and then finally with "Cut!" there would be this mad scramble to get Don wrapped up in his coat and toque, with more blankets thrown around him between takes.

Don looks warm in this shot but it's just the lighting. Great work, Andrew and Trevor! I think Kevin helped on the lights too. Anyway it was terrific.

We had several angles to shoot from, each one requiring a new set up and some set dressing, and even though we were only shooting one scene, unlike the summer where we sometimes shot five or six in a day, with all of our warm-up breaks it really did take us all day. I think there were several times when Andrew could not feel his hands and was just relying on his eyes to make sure he was actually pressing the 'record' button as there was no sensation left in his fingers to feel it.

Here's where Raul's camera quit working, so you'll just have to imagine how we kept shooting until lunch time, when we devoured Dauminique's amazing chili (which really hit the spot), and then went back out to that cold cabin to finish shooting, then as the sun was dipping below the horizon got all the gear back in the van, reassembled the cabin, and headed back to Regina after saying good bye to wonderful Paul who made it possible, and Jim who saved the day.

We had a simple little wrap dinner at La Bodega, and said our goodbyes in the ice bar outside.

See you all at the world premiere!

Tomorrow is truly a light day, and it's all indoors in my studio at the University. The crew will just be Andrew, Raul and me, and the only talent is Don. Today was pretty extreme and I think we're all looking forward to a warm environment where we have control over the lights and the set. And where it will be warm. And it won't be cold.

Until next time...Sisu!

Winter shoot: Day 03: C's Studio

Ah, shooting in a nice controlled WARM environment with three of my favorite people in the world. What better way to spend a winter Monday in Regina, Saskatchewan?

Today it is all dream scene stuff. While drifting in sleep Tom repeatedly visits this workbench in his mind, finding things a little different each time. Andrew did a great job of lighting and Kristine dropped by between classes to work her magic on the workbench.

terrific 'vintage' photos of Tom and his family by Kevin Dowler

Don was awesome, as always, but I got into a little directing anyway. And Raul as Assistant Director just quietly somehow made it all work, the way he's done for the whole shoot.

"OK, Don, so this is like, a photograph. Just act like you're holding a photograph and, you know, like, looking at a picture of something that you're holding in your hand."

It's great to watch it all unfold on the monitor. This is a tiny little screen; next time we shoot HD it would be great to have a huge 36 inch monitor! But this little guy was nice and portable, and VERY co-operative, even out in that painfully cold weather we were shooting in yesterday. Thanks, Kalyn and the NMSL lab!

I'm actually teaching a university class as a sessional this term, and had to take off for three hours at the end of the day to go run my class. When I got back, Don, Raul and Andrew had set up this terrific bedroom set for another dream sequence. Andrew lit it beautifully and it turned out to be a real magical ending to the winter shoot. You'll just have to wait and see the film to find out what we shot on this set, because Raul didn't take any pictures of it (his hands were kind of full).

After we wrapped this shoot it was time to get Andrew on the plane for his red-eye flight back to the Bay Area. This time the visit was too short and I don't want him to go back yet. But he's got lots of other big projects on his plate and can't linger, so it's goodbye again for the time being.

Off to the airport...

Bye, Andrew!

This marks the end of principle photography. It's kind of sad because it means that I am on my own with the project now. Other than a single B-roll shoot sometime during the summer, I am now entering post-production. Over the summer I will be editing the film, as well as creating animations for some of the sequences. I am hoping to get some help with the visual effects from students and alumni from Ex'pression, and will be looking for help with the score and the post audio.

Things will fall into place but once this term ends I think I will need a few days to recover before I really dig into post production.

So until next time...sisu!!!