I recently watched yet another rerun of Dab Iyiyuu and it brought back memories of the day when I was in the movie business.
I was a soundman, a professional sounding board (no, not a soundman sounding bored), location scout, casting director and pyrotechnical technician. We were filming fantasy stories on a not-so-fantastic (ultimately fictitious) budget. The final results, aired nationally on APTN, were made for and by the “real people” of Eeyou Istchee.
Things didn’t always go as they were supposed to, however. Murphy was working extra hard on his case law during our now-infamous shoots in Whapmagoostui.
One of our skeleton crew was a student out to make his name in the film biz. Another was trying to maintain his name in its bright lights. The cameraman didn’t need to make his name, as he was already named after a famous person.
As for myself, I was unemployed and actually didn’t care for a name in the limelight. The simple reward of my name, Sidney Orr, zipping by in the end credits was fine enough for me.
Our star, whose lone claim to fame up to that point was as the only Cree Elvis impersonator in the world, George Trapper, was perhaps the only son raised up by the lawmaker Murphy himself. I make this astonishing claim because he was the only one to be seen by television viewers across Canada, both of them.
But it was us, the crew, who made things happen at ground zero. We came up with shots that would have made those sissies Cecil B. De
Mille and James Cameron cry tears of anguish and joy.
Many of our costumes and props were created on the spot by talented, home-grown artisans and made the show all the more convincing. Our local actors and actresses, film virgins all, knew the script through and through. They actually enjoyed all the backbreaking moments needed to carry a story told to countless generations of Dab Iyiyuu audiences.
Sometimes, the shooting of our scenes was downright dangerous. One scene depicted a caribou swimming across a great sea. We cunninglystrapped a pair of antlers to the bow of our prop canoe.
We had planned on shooting the scene in a calm cove by the world’s largest bay. Our little craft, painted to look like a birch bark canoe, was really rated for barely more than a puddle. Still, this amazing boat managed its way out into the huge swells typical of Hudson Bay. I stood safe on the shore monitoring the canoe-cam’s progress. After a while, I started to lose sight of the crew as the waves rose and fell around them.
“Turn back, guys!” I radioed. But they were lost in the scene. “Come on guys. Turn back!” I shouted with increasing panic.
The captain, upon realizing his predicament, dropped his camera and paddled for his life toward the pounding surf. Twice a huge wave washed over the tiny canoe, nearly swamping them.
We ran toward them. About half a mile down the beach, the flimsy canoe washed up amid waves powerful enough to surf on. The frightened and soaked paddler, now too tired to curse, collapsed and kissed the beach. Wiping the sand off his grin, he hugged his trembling assistant director and cursed words of thanks.
I, on the other hand, was secretly glad I hadn’t earnestly volunteered to steer that canoe into almost certain death that day. The scene done, we climbed a mountain and set off pyrotechnics that turned the sky black and shook the ground.
Yes, Murphy had worked overtime, grinding our finely honed production schedule to the dust of fantasy, rendering it in the end nothing more than a strenuous exercise of wishful thinking. But we bravely carried out our producers’ wishes – through rain, dangerous gasoline-fueled explosions, collapsing teepees, countless flat tires, an actor with pneumonia, another who threatened to walk off the set, and, finally, the rapidly fading light high in the high northern hills.
Working on movies behind the scenes is painful, unglamorous work. If you’re not up to it, it will certainly appear impossible. That’s why I quit the business and got a day job.