My Brief But Exciting "Career" in Television

Dawson City has a way of collecting people.  You come up for a summer or two, decide to stay for one winter and all of a sudden it's years later and you're still here.  Or maybe you reconnect with a long-lost boyfriend and pack up your fancy Toronto career in favour of love in (and of) the Yukon.  Never mind what brilliant and amazing things you could be doing elsewhere--you choose to do your amazing and brilliant work here, alongside all the other amazing and brilliant people this town has collected.
Thanks to one of those amazing and brilliant people--my fellow DCAS board member and grocery store cashier (among other things!) Leslie Grant--the television show Murdoch Mysteries came to town recently to shoot the season five premiere, and Leslie offered me a position as Props Assistant.  I'm not quite sure how a couple of short animations and a few Super 8 films qualified me to work on a "real" production, but of course I jumped at the opportunity.  Fortunately my day job was sympathetic--even when two days away from the office turned into four.
I spent the first couple of days working on set dec.  This was grunt-work:  staining wooden flagpoles, taking down non-historical items like Christmas lights, hanging curtains, carting around crates, more painting, turning the old crack house into a hardware store (okay, no one calls it the crack house anymore since the new owners took it over, but at one point...).  During the shoot, I did a combination of set dec and props.  Production Designer Rupert and Set Decorator Kent kept stealing me away from Props Master Craig for random jobs like sprinkling gravel and hay on the streets.  Props involved satchel-wranling, loading people (and a horse) with packs, buying mineral oil, and following Craig around with a fire extinguisher.
Murdoch Mysteries is a (Canadian) CSI of the late 19th century, and while the historic character of Dawson is a good fit for the show, I did feel that being involved with the set decoration side of the production really highlighted just how modern this town really is.  The more we tried to make the town look like 1899 again, the more it looked like 2011 to me.  Which is one of the reasons I love living here.  Toronto blogger Bill Brioux, roped into the role of Miner #7, didn't quite see it that way.  I had to chuckle when I read this:
“The place barely needs to be dressed to pass for its late 19th-century glory. There seem to be brightly painted saloons and Klondike hotels with swinging doors on every corner. A few signs and street lights get obscured by set dressers as does the one sign for the town’s only franchise: a Home Hardware store. The only nuggets in this town belong in the hills and rivers, not McDonald’s.”
Not quite, Bill--but I'll forgive him because he says so many other lovely things about Dawson (and mentions so many Dawsonites).  Read the full article here, and an additional blog post here.

It was hard work--especially after spending so much of the summer sitting at a desk--but so much fun to be involved with.  The Toronto folks were great, and I loved the opportunity to work with some of those amazing and brilliant Dawsonites--particularly Veronica, Rebecca and Ellen on set dec.  The experience would not have been nearly so interesting to me if I hadn't been toiling alongside some of the people who remind me why I have made this place my home.
I think it would be great if, once this episode airs sometime next year, we could make one of those commentary tracks--except, of course, from the Dawsonites' perspective rather than the director's.  In the meantime, some photographs I took on the second day of shooting...

My favourite job on the shoot: babysitting the campfire.  I hung around with the fire extinguisher and a bucket of water to make sure things didn't get out of hand.  I also had to throw hay on the fire before each take so that it would look dramatically smoky.

I wasn't the only one who liked the fire.  Camerman Kevin spent the first day of the shoot doing his Katharine Hepburn impression whenever he saw me.  Thanks, Kevin (and thanks, parents).

Fabulous local filmmaker Lulu Keating, hard at work script supervisoring.  Because working on two of her own films and trying to get a pilot for a television program based on a short film she shot in Dawson isn't enough to keep a lady busy.

Local filmmaker Nathan Bragg in something of a different role than Dawson last saw him--although still with that devilish grin (it's a good thing he wasn't in charge of craft services!).

The building formerly known as "the crack house" turned hardware store.  I was responsible for the white lettering in the windows!  I even got to peel the vinyl letters off the windows when we were un-decorating.  I also packed all those white jugs (shopping tip: they're Ikea) to be shipped back to Toronto.  It was so glamourous!

I am so glad this Murdoch gig gave me the chance to become better acquainted with the incomparable Rebecca, seen here relaxing after six of us hauled that wall tent back across the street.

Eve and Mercedes.  I tied those burlap sacks on to the horse.

Getting the all important puddle shot.  Apparently back in Toronto they had meetings about Dawson puddles.

Props Master Craig and his smoke machine.  He had waaaaay too much fun with that thing (actually mineral oil loaded into a insecticide fogger) and only managed to turn it into a flame thrower once.  Craig was so much fun to work with.  I had been warned that he was a great guy, but you have to experience Craig's Greatness to really understand it.

See that satchel?  I wrangled the heck outta that satchel.

I spent a few minutes all by myself in the Palace Grand.  It was actually a little spooky. 

An actor in action.  This is the star of the show, Yannick Bisson, busy not requiring the razor and shaving brush that I had at hand.

Shooting inside the old Post Office.

I was really excited when we went to the Bunkhouse to shoot the last scene, and discovered one of Donna Akrey's Nonuments left over from last year's Arts Fest.  I didn't think there were any left in the wild.

Look up--up past the prostitutes--there's Rebecca and Ellen hiding behind the laundry line they just hung.  Because no whorehouse is complete without sexy laundry.

Meat & Potatoes #44

Aired Sunday August 21st, 2011.

  1. Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros--Home
  2. Michael Andrews & Gary Jules--Mad World
  3. DeVotchKa--Til the End of Time
  4. Yo La Tengo--Gentle Hour
  5. Tim Buckley--Once I Was
  6. Joni Mitchell--You Turn Me On I'm a Radio
  7. Paul Simon--Papa Hobo
  8. Marvin Gaye--What's Going On
  9. Undisputed Truth--Smiling Faces Sometimes (Futureshock Main Ingredient Mix)
  10. The Staple Singers--I'll Take You There
  11. The Tragically Hip--New Orleans is Sinking
  12. 54-40--Ocean Pearl
  13. Pearl Jam--Black
  14. Aretha Franklin--I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)
  15. Tina Turner--What's Love Got to Do With It
  16. Dolly Parton--Jolene
  17. Procol Harum--Whiter Shade of Pale
  18. Joe Cocker--Bird on a Wire
  19. Leonard Cohen--Suzanne
  20. Chad VanGaalen--Sara
  21. Chic Gamine--Don't Think That I Can Stay
  22. Asobi Seksu--Transparence
  23. Mott the Hoople--All the Young Dudes
  24. Them--Here Comes the Night
  25. The Lovin' Spoonful--Summer in the City
  26. Wang Chung--Dance Hall Days
  27. Nick Gilder--Summer in the City
  28. Sanford & Townsend--Smoke from a Distant Fire
  29. Hall & Oates--You Make My Dreams
  30. Beach Boys--Barbara Ann
  31. Beach Boys--Surfin' Safari
And the bonus-because-Ben-and-Brendan-were-late-track was "I'm Too Sexy" by Right Said Fred (because, you know, Ben and Brendan are too sexy to show up on time).

Meat & Potatoes #43

Aired on Sunday August 14, 2011.

This week I unearthed two tracks I love to have but never listen to.  I was inspired by the questions about oral tradition and storytelling raised by the short documentary Cry Rock, in which the filmmaker wonders whether or not to record her grandmother's stories, and I played a few minutes from interviews given by my Granny and my grandfather in the early 1970s.  A few years ago, my dad had the old reel-to-reel tapes of the interviews digitized and gave my brothers and me each a copy.  I have never really managed to listen to the interviews: my grandfather died long before I was born, and Granny died in 2001, and it has just always seemed really painful to listen to these interviews.  They evoke such loss.

I am really proud of my family history.  My great-grandfather (who has come up on the radio before) was a speculating adventurer who amassed something of a fortune by first running, and then selling for a healthy profit, a tramway around the Whitehorse Rapids during the Gold Rush.  He later lost almost everything in a recession--except for a "vacation" property on one of the Gulf Islands.  When my dad was growing up, they grew almost all their own food.  Granny worked as a teacher, and my grandfather was (among other things, I think) a telephone lineman.  They knew almost everyone on the island and threw great square dancing parties.  The farm is now in its third iteration--retirement home for my parents--and while I never grew up there, it functions as a sort of ancestral home and is important to me emotionally.  I'd rather hear, however, my father's reports of how much rain has or hasn't fallen and how the Christmas trees are doing, and would rather listen to my mom talk about having to mow the lawn (there is a lot of it), than listen to these old interviews that could put me in closer touch with an era I would love to know more about.  Hearing Granny's voice is particularly painful.  Her voice is very distinctive--even forty years younger than when I knew her best, when she was frail and loopy, it sounds so familiar.  I think in some ways it is her voice that I remember best.

Seeing Cry Rock for the first at the film festival back in April (it won the Audience Favourite award) got me thinking about the interviews, and seeing the film again during Arts Fest a couple of weeks ago made me want to listen to them.  I'm a little jealous of Banchi Hanuse; I grew up thousands of kilometres away from both of my grandmothers (and in lots of ways I never really had a grandfather--my mother's father died when I was quite young, and I actually think my one memory of him may be just... made up by my grieving child's brain).  Learning stories from that generation first hand--hearing them so often as to create an oral tradition--wasn't possible.  I understand the decision Hanuse reaches in her film, and have great sympathy for First Nations struggling to preserve their cultures, but I'm glad someone recorded my grandparents while they had the chance.

And then I made people listen to it on the radio.  I also played some music:

  1. Beach Boys--Kokomo
  2. LCD Soundsystem--Dance Yrself Clean
  3. Braids--Lemonade
  4. CocoRosie--Lemonade
  5. The Rolling Stones--Under My Thumb
  6. Chester Knight--Love Me Strong (requested by Charlie, who walked in off the street)
  7. Bruce Springsteen--I'm On Fire
  8. The Band--Ophelia
  9. Opening few minutes of the interview with my grandfather, Arthur
  10. The Vern Williams Band--Oh Susanna
  11. The Be Good Tanyas--The Littlest Birds
  12. Hank Williams--Move It On Over
  13. Opening few minutes of the interview with my Granny, Florence
  14. Helen Humes--Song of the Wanderer
  15. Bing Crosby--Mister Gallagher and Mister Shean
  16. Ethel Merman--You're the Top
  17. Okkervil River--A Stone
  18. Neko Case--Lion's Jaws
  19. Jenn Grant--Britt 'n Kip
  20. Chic Gamine--Don't Think That I Can Stay
  21. Elvis Perkins in Dearland--Shampoo
  22. Patrick Watson--Big Bird in a Small Cage
  23. Alex Ebert--A Million Years
  24. Wil--Tell You Twice
  25. Gowan--Midnight Desires
The family farm... as of a few years ago.
I looked for a more recent picture--the gardens have come a long way since this was taken--but for some reason whenever I'm on the Island I only take pictures of all the partying we do.  It must be the legacy of all that square dancing back in the day  (but I don't think my mom wants those hilarious photos from our Christmastime vodka tasting put on the internet).

Meat & Potatoes #42

Aired Sunday August 7th, 2011

  1. Nat Baldwin--Lake Erie
  2. Joanna Newsom--Sadie
  3. Calexico--Alone Again, Or
  4. Neko Case--Runnin' Out of Fools
  5. Luke Doucet & the White Falcon--Bombs Away
  6. Monsters of Folk--Baby Boomer
  7. Fleet Foxes--Helplessness Blues
  8. Tim Buckley--Once I Was
  9. Joni Mitchell--You Turn Me On I'm a Radio
  10. Paul Simon--Papa Hobo
  11. The Black Keys--Never Give You Up
  12. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings--Inspiration Information
  13. Stevie Wonder--I Wish
  14. Dr Hook--Penicillin Penny
  15. Joe Cocker--Feelin' Alright
  16. Tommy Jones & the Shondells--Mony Mony
  17. The Like--You Belong to Me
  18. Maximum Balloon & Tunde Adebimpe--Absence of Light
  19. Miles Fisher--This Must Be the Place
  20. Talking Heads--This Must Be the Place
  21. Hot Chip--Transmission
  22. Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah!--Gimme Some Salt
  23. Procol Harum--A Whiter Shade of Pale
  24. The Rolling Stones--Beast of Burden
  25. Lindi Ortega--I'm on Fire
  26. Cadence Weapon--I'm Yours