Wednesday, December 19, 2007


I’m sure most of you are familiar with the story of my early, formative years; certainly the tabloids and various news outlets have had a field day repeating the tale of a brilliant young lad held against his will by a kindly, if misguided, middle class couple and forced to spend his childhood in a ghastly, northern Ontario backwater.

Thus, I’m sure you’ll understand that it is with no small amount of trepidation that I pilot my rental car through rural British Columbia on the way to our location for the next five days of shooting “On The Other Hand, Death”, the fourth of our Donald Strachey mystery movies.

As the last few traces of civilization – gas stations, electric lights, humans who can walk upright – slip away, I recognize the grim signs of what only wealthy urbanites who’ve never had to endure a ten mile walk to get the mail can afford to call “getting back to the land”.

I can’t for the life of me understand the charm of living in these dreadful places, hundreds of miles from restaurants where the waitresses don’t refer to the patrons as “youse” and god only knows how far from a copy of the New York Times which isn’t stained by reindeer urine, but I suppose people have to live somewhere.

Perhaps it’s part of that great lie of the Western World which states that beauty is only skin deep, the poor are nobler than the rich and making your own butter out of mud and tree sap gets you into Heaven. Trust me, dear reader, as someone who grew up in a village without even a single stop light, none of these things are true. Especially about the butter. And while rusted automobiles in the midst of open hood surgery may be considered authentic “Canadian Primitive” lawn ornamentation in some circles, to me they represent nothing more than a spine chilling reminder of my own distant past, so by the time I arrive at the set, I am already in a foul mood.

Unfortunately, that mood is not lightened when I get out of the vehicle and take a deep breath of the “fresh country air”. Granted, the atmosphere in rural Langley is normally so thick with the stench of “fertilizer” – a coy name given to the mountains of pig feces which dot the local terrain, turning it into a sort of olfactory mine field – that one can almost stir it, but in this particular instance our locations department really outdid themselves. They somehow managed to park the various trailers, trucks and catering tents which make up our “circus” within eye-watering distance of “ground zero” for an outlet of Future Bacon Strips of Canada, so not only do we get to enjoy the fetid aroma of LIVING swine, we are also treated to the unmistakable stench of the recently ex-pigged.

But even the smelliest cloud has a silver lining, and ours has arrived in the form of the fabulous Margot Kidder.

While her reputation certainly preceded her, as befits any legend who has made it through several decades of international cinematic success – and excess – I was charmed by this wonderful woman instantly.

From her very first scene when, tucked into bed with her make believe lesbian lover (played by Vancouver treasure Gabrielle Rose)--

-- she started wondering out loud which one of them was the “top” and which one was the “bottom”, Margot’s outspoken honesty and total professionalism won over even our jaded crew. Both Chad Allen and I have decided that every movie we make from now on would be enriched by having a little bit of Kidder in it.

The plot of this picture involves some rather nefarious vandalism being perpetrated against our charming “lesbian” couple, and one would assume that busting a few vases and smashing a couple of keepsake photographs would be one of our simpler tasks. Of course one would be wrong. The wooden floors of the two hundred year old farmhouse we’re filming in apparently can’t withstand the awesome force of the cheap, dime store glassware we can afford to break, let alone the deadly impact of half a dozen eight ounce picture frames, and we are forced to shoot several intricate angles to make it “ appear” as if incredible mayhem has been unleashed when in fact nothing actually happens at all. The height of this lunacy occurs when we erect a fake door across the rear threshold of the house in order to shatter a small pane of glass to infer a breaking and entering crime. The fact that the fake door, the glass pane, the equipment to remove and re-install the original door AND the time it takes for us to accomplish all this as well as film it is roughly three times more expensive than just smashing the actual door glass and replacing it would have been simply adds to the fun.

All this of course, takes place under the watchful eye of the Farm Owner who was apparently having second thoughts about turning his house over to a film company, even more so when the special effects department rigged a massive smoke machine inside his barn to make it look as if the place was burning to the ground.

(Note to Aspiring Screenwriters: if your story calls for the burning of a barn, do yourselves a favor, put down the bag of Doritos and the diet soda, get out of your apartment and go visit an actual farm before you start typing. You will be surprised to learn that there hasn’t been a burnable – ie: wooden - barn built since 1956; they’re all made of metal, for the very reason of your tired plot device.)

The oath of a film crew on location is to “do no harm”, and most of the real professionals live by that creed, but the truth is that even under normal circumstances, the sheer size and speed of a cinematic beast rampaging around a property leaves residual damage. The place we’re in, however, is hardly the Louevre, it’s a dingy old farm house but even so, after a couple days the cagey Farm Owner – obviously taking his cues from some of the other area residents who’ve brought gouging to a high art - tried to soak us for a few more bucks, telling our already overwrought Production Manager that he wants more money paid for the time we’ve spent bumping into each other trying to keep from scratching his apparently priceless particle board furniture.

Fortunately, our Locations Manager has a signed contract for the place so the deal is the deal and we continue filming our scenes, still doing our best not to stain the heirloom Sears brand couch.

We move outside to do a suspense sequence involving our “Shadowy Figure” lurking around outside the farmhouse, causing more trouble for our Lesbian Couple. As if on cue, the rain begins to fall, adding some much needed drama to the moment, but when I call “Action” the drama is dissipated somewhat as the Figure – clearly confusing Malicious Intent with Interpretive Dance – does a peculiar loping trot around the yard, arms outspread as he swirls and turns like he’s auditioning for CATS. I call “cut” and, after a quick conference with the dear fellow where I explain the difference between Terrorism and Off Broadway Theater – minimal, at best, but still! – we try again. Fortunately he gets it right just as the temperature plummets and the rain turns to snow.

My first Assistant Director, the very clever and completely wonderful Sirish Harman, calls an early wrap to make sure everybody gets home safely in this sudden winter storm.

How on Earth he can concentrate on any of this nonsense is beyond me, given the fact that his wife is extraordinarily pregnant – as in ready to bring a new Li’l Harman into the world ANY MINUTE NOW!

But he’s a total pro and, like the rest of my team on these movies – all of whom are working for WAAAAAY below their regular rates just because of their fondness pour moi (which humbles me to a degree best left undiscussed in this forum for fear of making me sound like an actual human being) he is determined to see this project through to the end.

However, the snow keeps falling, faster and heavier-

- and as I make the rather terrifying drive home through what quickly becomes a blizzard, I am starting to think that perhaps this whole thing about Vancouver being located in Canada’s “British California” may be, in fact, a ghastly, tourist industry fib.

Back at the hotel, where my loyal staff downstairs takes care of my every need-

- I calmed my nerves with my evening martini – and reflected on what might have happened to me had I been forced to stay overnight on a farm. The smell was bad enough, but with the cramped quarters out there, the sleeping arrangements might have been even worse. I will admit I’ve occasionally used less than my very best judgement in choosing some of my bed time companions over the years, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to wake up next to an actual pig.


Anonymous Ulisses said...

happy new year for you

12:21 PM  
OpenID scriptchick said...

Glad you had the HHR to get you to and fro safely... despite rumours to the contrary!


1:39 AM  
OpenID mandolin13 said...

Trust me, I know the feeling. I recently had to move to the boonies of South Texas for my job, and there's 40 miles of nothing surrounding us.

Other than that, I can't wait to see the new movies. I recently went on a movie binge that's left me longing for the Donald/Tim relationship more than ever.

Happy New Year,

12:13 AM  

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