Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Maine Thing

Some of you guys (and you know who you are), were just talking about Maine, which got me thinking about the last time I was there. I've talked (even recently) about shooting Iron Will in Northern Minnesota. I'm don't think I've discussed the fact that the winter we shot there, it didn't snow in Minnesota which is kind of a problem when you're making a movie about an epic dog sled race. OK, it snowed, but not after the first day of filming. So, for weeks, we would plow snow up from wherever we could find it, load it into trucks and have it dumped where we were shooting. Now on any normal movie, they'd have hired a "Greensman" to deal with this, but somehow it became my job.

Anyway, we needed some frozen rivers and waterfalls, and some really impressive vistas to finish the movie and we knew we weren't going to find those in Minnesota that year. So, a few weeks before we were scheduled to finish, I hired one guy to look in the Dakotas and Wyoming and Western Canada for some great locations and I went east to scout Maine and New Brunswick and Newfoundland. I won't go into detail, but its not only about finding something that looks great; it has to be shootable, too. If you can't get 150 people and four or five tractor-trailers worth of equipment to the location, it isn't going to do you much good. Needless to say, there are a lot of places that look great, but get rejected for some other reason.

So anyway my guy out west wasn't finding anything good and I'd spent a bunch of time looking at crap and time was running out for finding a location. Two days before the end of shooting the scenes they could do in Minnesota, I found two perfect locations in N.W. Maine, about 50 miles south of the Canadian border. If any of you have ever heard of Moxie Falls, that was one of the two locations.

Bear in mind, I could have FedExed pictures to the Producer and Director, but they had a charter plane booked and the trucks had to get on the road. If I'd FedExed pictures, they'd have arrived in Duluth about an hour after the production had to leave. So I'm sitting in the middle of nowhere in Maine, on one of the first movies where I was really a full-fledged Location Manager and the entire company (at great expense) is moving half-way across the country on my say-so alone. Sight unseen. To say that I was scared shitless would be a gross understatement.

While they were traveling to Maine, I still had some permits to line up. I had to go sign some paperwork for one of the locations and I got myself completely lost trying to find some guy's office, (which is a pretty neat trick in a part of the country that only has three roads). So I pulled into a gas station to ask for directions. I might as well have stopped in to "The Andy Griffith Show". This one guy in a pair of dirty Carhartts rubs his chin for a minute and then says, "Ya see that road yer on raht there"?

He won't say another word until I acknowledge that "I can see that road Ahm on raht there", so I say "Yes".

"Well, ya wanna go raht back out onta that road and keepa goin' the same way you were goin' when ya pulled in here."

"O.K.," I say.

"Yer gonna go 5 mebbe 10 miles til ya come to a barn on the left side o the road. Well, it ain't so much of a barn enymore, not since it burned back in '87, but there's still a bunch o burned timbers still stickin up. Ya can't miss it.

"O.K.," I say.

"So, when ya see the barn, you wanna just keepa goin' straight. Now another 5 or 10 miles and yer gonna come to a flashing yellow light. Just keep a goin straight on through there."

(Here, I'll truncate the directions just a little, ok?)

He continues, "So after ya pass that diner, there, yer gonna keepa goin' straight another 5 or 10 miles. Then yer gonna come to a "T" intersection where ya gotta turn either right or left. The buildin' yer goin to is the one that you'd hit if ya kept goin' straight.

It took him fifteen minutes to tell me "Go straight until you can't any more."

One of the other things I remember from our brief sojourn in Maine was driving an awful lot and sleeping awfully little. The nearest place with a hotel big enough for the whole crew was in Waterville, about an hour and a half south. On the last of four days of filming, we were supposed to shoot at a frozen lake. When we got there, it was snowing its balls off and the visibility was about 100 yards. Since the shot was all about a vast horizon, we had a little meeting and decided to go back to the frozen waterfall and shoot there instead.

Most of the crew were having breakfast at a place we had rented a few miles south, so I told one of my assistants to drive back there and tell everyone about the change of plan. Did I mention that cell phones were as useful as bricks in that part of Maine in the early 90's? So, Bob gets in his car and pulls out, headed north. That didn't trouble me because the road was so narrow that you sometimes had to go a little bit out of your way to find somewhere you could turn around.

Long story short, I didn't see Bob until about 2:00 that afternoon. It turns out he just completely spaced out and didn't remember he was supposed to be headed south until he got to the Customs booth at the Canadian Border. He said, "I really hate all the curves in the road. They make it hard to sleep."


MWT said...

So did the crew show up at the right spot for shooting that day?

And man... it's a wonder we managed to get anything done before the Internet became popular in the 90s. Not be able to instantly send color pics from Maine to Minnesota? Inconceivable!

Jim Wright said...

Yep, that's the Maine I remember.

Mainers put the 'quirk' in 'quirky sense of humor.'

common joke when asked for directions:

Q: "So, I take this road here?"
A (completely deadpan): "Oh no, you betta leave dat road right der, Chummie, others might wanna use it, eh?"

Common outsider joke:
Q: If you've got twenty Mainers in a room, what do you got?
A: A complete set of teeth!

But it's a beautiful place and the people are incredibly decent, once you get to know them. I loved living in Maine.

Nathan said...


I bought my first computer on that job. It was the Apple PowerBook 160. Clunky trackball, B&W screen, no internet hook-up at all. It was a kind of shiny typewriter. And nobody in my office had a clue how to use it.

"You need to hit that thingy at the same time you're holding down that thingy to make it work."

On the good side, I could pretty much take the day off and say, "sorry, I was running around doing my job all day and I didn't get your message until I got back at Midnight", and get away with it. Try that today.