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Vancouver Sun: Harsh Realm

Vancouver Sun


8:17 a.m. Burly, bearded assistant director Vladimir (Val) Stefoff squints into the early morning sun, takes one look at a mockup of a bombed-out church near Cordova and Abbott streets and yells, Robin Williams-style: “Good mooorning, Vancooouver!”

9:03 a.m. A lighting technician asks cinematographer Joel Ransom if one of his colleagues is qualified to pull off a tricky camera move. Ransom: “If he knows the difference between four feet and five feet, then he can do the job.”

10:17 a.m. A studious-looking extra, dressed in a tattered, torn grey longcoat in his role as a Sarajevo refugee, is reading The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis while waiting for his scene to be shot. I later mention this to Harsh Realm writer-producer Chris Carter. “One of the things you learn quickly in this business,” he says, with a wry smile, “is that extras will do anything to get noticed.”

10:23 a.m. “I hate the sunshine,” key grip Al Campbell says, casting a sour look at the uncharacteristically clear sky. The crew anticipated rain; now they will have to fake a cloudy sky in case it rains the next day.

2:10 p.m. Props assistant Ina Brooks wanders around the set with a plastic bag filled with earplugs while armourer Rob Fournier unpacks a crate of M16s. “For my protection and your protection,” Brooks intones loudly while handing out the plugs. Most of the crew take her up on her offer.

2:12 p.m. How can people communicate with each other if they have plugs stuck in their ears? Ransom: “We just kind of make it up as we go along.”

2:41 p.m. I pick up a prop M16 and feel the cheap, plastic workmanship where one would expect metal. I imagine real M16s are much heavier, I tell Fournier. “That is a real one,” he replies.

3:41 p.m. Joanne Service, Carter’s assistant in Vancouver for five years before leaving with the departure of The X-Files, blocks her ears for an upcoming shot. “Has it happened yet?” she asks plaintively, and uncovers her ears. The quiet is instantly shattered by a hail of gunfire.

4:10 p.m. Gaffer Richard (Bucky) Buckmaster proudly shows off his three-month-old son to an admiring crew. “Good thing it looks like him,” Campbell says. “I wonder when he had the time to do that?” “Too many hour lunches,” Carter replies.

5:03 p.m. A woman’s voice, seemingly disconnected, heard above the noise: “I’m getting a headache from all this gunfire.”

5:17 p.m. A props assistant spills a bag of Cheezies all over the street and sheepishly scoops them up, one by one.

“Yeah, spill Cheesy Poofs all over a Sarajevo street, why don’t you?” another technician says, witnessing the scene. “That’ll look real good in continuity.”

5:46 p.m. “We’re losing the light,” co-executive producer Tony To announces. By now, everybody is too tired — and too cold — to block their ears against the gunfire.

7:10 p.m. “I lose the kids at 7:30,” To tells director Daniel Sackheim, referring to an industry rule that says young actors can work no later than that hour. “We wrap at 7:30.”

8:45 p.m. Shooting wraps.


7:08 a.m. The day dawns pissing with rain, a biting wind blowing hard from the east. Production manager George Grieve folds his arms and regards the sky unhappily. “It could be worse,” he says.

8:19 a.m. Sackheim calls for a gunfire test. Muzzle flashes and gunshots erupt from the Downtown Parking Centre parkade on Cordova, echoing off the surrounding buildings. Ungurait looks up from her notes happily. “Good mooorning, Vancooouver!” she yells.

8:26 a.m. Sackheim wants to make the Sarajevo street set look more realistic. “How about a dead dog with flies buzzing around it?” he says.

“How about a two-legged dog with flies?” Ungurait adds. “How about one dead American director?” To says.

8:35 a.m. “How do you take your coffee?” a production assistant asks Sackheim. “With cyanide,” To interjects.

10:41 a.m. Between setups, To tells anybody who will listen an old show-business joke. “There’s this movie package being put together in heaven that’s going to be the greatest movie ever made, see?” he says. “The pitch from the top goes something like this: Will Shakespeare is going to write the script. Michelangelo is our designer. We’ve got Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for the music. Perfect. So far, the best movie ever. There’s just one other thing, by the way: God has a girlfriend who can sing.”

11:17 a.m. Sackheim calls a crew meeting. “Group hug!” Stefoff shouts. “Group hug!”

8:03 p.m. As the Oscars drone on, Harsh Realm cast-member Max Martini, who appeared in Saving Private Ryan as Matt Damon’s squad commander, is engaged in a spirited contest of wills with Ungurait, who is rooting for her own favourite, Shakespeare in Love.

Martini is suffering the barbs of the crew over being trapped in the basement of the old Woodward’s building in a pool of cold, brackish water and mud while his Private Ryan compadres are dolled up in tuxes and tails for the evening, with a night of serious Oscar partying to look forward to.

Ungurait has managed to tune a weak, snow-impaired signal from CTV on her video monitor and the crew is giving Martini a running commentary of the evening’s events. Martini breaks up the crew with his sarcastic rendition of a typical Gwyneth Paltrow acceptance speech — plenty of sobbing and clutching the chest — but Ungurait gets the last laugh when Paltrow cops the Oscar for best actress.

Martini briefly gets his own back when Spielberg wins the best director award, but Ungurait is appropriately thrilled when Shakespeare in Love does the unthinkable and tops Ryan for best picture.

9:41 p.m. Shooting wraps to a round of applause and spontaneous hugging. Sackheim: “Thanks for a great week, everybody.”

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