A crisis was threatening to erupt on the forested set of Moose TV just as executive producer Ernest Webb drove in early one morning. Lead actress Jennifer Podemski was in her trailer suffering from a mysterious ailment that had coloured her skin a disturbing shade of red. Someone wondered aloud if she might have trampled on some poison ivy. “Yeeeah, it was all over the ground when we were shooting in the woods,” said Adam Beach, in that relaxed, surfer dude voice of his. Podemski had a scene to shoot after lunch and no Oscar worthy make-up job or method acting can mask the symptoms caused by the vine. Producers Catherine Bainbridge and Christina Fon seemed aware of this fact and quickly drove off to base camp to investigate.
Movie shoots, from the low-budget guerrilla production to the Hollywood blockbuster, confront crises of varying degrees almost every day. A camera might malfunction, an attention-seeking extra could blurt out improvised lines, a dopey actor will repeatedly miss his mark, an airplane will fly over just as romantic kiss is planted, a cell phone will ring, a lead actress will get jailed, or a star will walk off the set too hung over to continue. Yet, the show must, and often does, go on.
Crisis averted, Podemski arrives on set in time for lunch looking ready for her close-up. Nathaniel Arcand is also prepared for Jennifer’s close-up when they film a hilarious morning-after-last-night scene. Arcand’s character Clifford Matthew is dressing and talking on the phone as Podemski’s Alice Cheechoo lustily pulls down his jeans, pushes him back on the bed and proceeds to bite and straddle him. Director Tim Southam looks to be enjoying his work immensely and chuckles audibly even before he calls cut. After numerous retakes and different angles the scene is captured and the crew move quickly setting up for the next shot.
Leonard George, the son of the late, great actor and chief, Dan George, is waiting for his call to set when Arcand storms out of a building, “I hate this shirt! I didn’t approve this costume!” He rips off the T-shirt and flings it into the nearby bush, where it hangs as the costume lady glares at him. She doesn’t notice but the actor is half joking and already smiling as he plops down half naked beside Ernest Webb at the snack table.
“Sorry about that guys,” he says. The tense moment passes as quickly as it appeared and the actors are soon called to rehearse the next scene. Leonard George, dressed as a Mistissini Elder, passes by Ernie Webb and asks what he should say before he delivers his English lines, “Agoodah,” replies Webb. “Agoodah, agoodah, agoodah…” says George as he heads to work, studying the script.
The community of Moose, like any small community, has more than its fair share of quirky characters. There’s wily George and brazen Alice, played by Adam Beach and Jennifer Podemski, who’ve just escaped the big city. Nathaniel Arcand’s upstanding Clifford, who unlike most of his peers, stayed behind to do right by his town. Gary Farmer’s corrupt but still cuddly mayor Gerry Keeshig. These and other characters many people will recognize are the brainchild of partners in life and crime, Ernest Webb and Catherine Bainbridge of Rezolution Pictures. Moose TV, still in production, will air on Showcase sometime in 2007.
The day is ending in the fictional town of Moose and, as in any Native community and as if on cue, the mosquitoes and other flying pests are beginning to bug the residents and refuse to yield to Southam’s direction. A few takes of a complicated shot are ruined as the tiny hungry beasts buzz around and dive bomb the cast and crew. “Can you do something about these bugs??” whines an actor to no one in particular. But there is nowhere to flee to and the director knows no mercy and will not wrap until he’s finished and happy with the final scene of the day.
The glamour of the movies exists only after the grunt work’s been done, long after the camera’s whir has died, the director’s cry of “It’s a wrap!!”, and the producer’s command to reshoot. The magic of film appears only when the audience has assembled in the dark and the screen begins to glow.