Sunday, July 23, 2017

A taste of Hollywood acting as a U.S. Army soldier in the war drama INDIVISIBLE

When I think back to last month when I had the privilege to act as a U.S. Army soldier in the film INDIVISIBLE, I am amazed at how the whole opportunity came about, and how well the shoot was completed. It began with an e-mail I received from the film's casting department on May 26th. They were looking for healthy background actors to play U.S. Army soldiers in California. The plot summary intrigued me. It was a war drama about an Army chaplain who suffers with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) after a long deployment to Iraq. This neurosis almost ends his marriage. Throughout my 15 year career in the Royal Canadian Air Force I have had friends with similar stories. I knew of the Director, David Evans, from the first film he made, GRACE CARD (I had watched it several times, and had been moved by its intensity and emotion). Also, Sarah Drew, the Executive Producer, was familiar to me from the movie, MOM'S NIGHT OUT. Also, Bob Scott, known for his work on WAR ROOM, FIREPROOF, and the NASHVILLE TV Series (as camera operator) was working as the Director of Photography.

The following Sunday I prayed about the casting e-mail with a friend at church and had confirmation through a vision that we shared that I should pursue this further. There were three problems though: the movie ranch where they were shooting this for ten days in June was over two-thousand kilometers away; I didn't have enough money saved up to afford the trip down south, and our unit at work was having a formal mess dinner which no one could take leave from without the submission, and approval, of a memo. I wrote up the first draft of my memo and leave pass, and submitted to my chain of command the next Tuesday. In order to make it to the first day of filming in California the latest I could leave Vancouver Island was by early Saturday morning, June 3rd. Thursday, June 1st, I got some encouraging news; I was getting a 6% pay raise, with three years back pay. I would now be able to afford the trip down to California. At work my memo went up the chain of command all the way to the Major. Friday, June 2nd, around noon, I received the signed memo and leave pass. With the encouragement of my superiors, and co-workers, I left for home at the end of the day, making a mental list of the items I would need for the long drive and stay in California.

The next morning, around 9:30 am, I crossed the border into the U.S.. My van was searched, and I was interviewed by a Customs and Immigration Officer who seemed to think my reason for traveling was a little odd. I showed them my approved leave pass, the e-mail inviting me to participate in the film, and the memo. These documents all backed up my story. I was approved by U.S. Cutoms to gain entry. I was happy to find out that whoever searched my van ended up fixing the automatic passenger's side window that was stuck.

Over the next twenty four hours, along with a couple of short naps, I made it all the way to a rest stop just south of San Francisco. I phoned my wife, Olivia, from there to let her know that I had made it safely that far. Seven hours later I was at a campsite near Castaic Lake, just off the I-5. It was the perfect spot; quiet, yet a short drive away from a busy truck stop with restaurants, and a 7-11 store. From there, it was a thirty-to-forty minute drive to the Blue Cloud Movie Ranch where I'd be volunteering.

I arrived to the set early on the first day of shooting. The Hollywood Catering van was setting up for breakfast outside the building that would serve as our cafeteria and holding area for actors, crew, and extras. A row of tables set up just inside the door was spread with craft foods. The smell of French toast and fresh brewed coffee wafted into the air. Four rows of make-Up, wardrobe, and cast trailers were parked in the next parking lot where I was told to leave my van. The 2nd Assistant Director found me there and directed me to wait in the cafeteria where a few of the other volunteer actors were seated. I was surprised to see so many crew. It takes a lot of people to make a feature film. After signing release paperwork a group of us were taken to get costumes and make-up done. Being in the Canadian Air Force my hair was already at the right length for a war drama. One of the men in our group had to get clipped.

Because I don't want to give away any spoilers in this blog, I can't go into the details of the scenes we shot over the course of the ten day shoot. I can say it was a lot of physical work. I felt that the cast and crew I worked with over the twelve-hour long days became like a family. The Director, Executive Producer, Producers, Director of Photography, and starring cast, were patient and kind to us. Though many of the scenes I was involved with were intense and emotional they would inject enough humor from time to time to keep things fun. Though we came to be volunteers a background actors we were given opportunities to play featured acting parts. Nathan Kimball, one of the volunteers, had his first speaking part in a feature film on this picture. Throughout the shoot in Santa Clarita in several scenes we were honored to work alongside some veteran Hollywood actors, many with the common trait that they had acted at some point in their career in the ABC TV Series GREY'S ANATOMY.

As volunteers we were given privileges. A big bonus was being able to eat from the Hollywood catering food truck. Freshly prepared salads and hot meals twice a day helped to get us through the long days. I especially liked 'Taco Tuesdays' when beef burritos were served. During the final days of the shoot in Santa Clarita it became very hot. Thankfully someone arranged to have natural frozen fruit Popsicle, and a freshly cut fruit, vendors stop by. As talent we felt appreciated.

Sunday we had the day off so I went to CBS Studios in Studio City to meet up with an old friend, Kevin Renel, who was the best man in my wedding in Pasadena in 1990. He was part of a Christian film artists' fellowship that met for prayer and worship in a small studio on the CBS lot. Before the service started I stopped at a cafe on Ventura Blvd for a dark roast coffee and sat on the outdoor patio taking in the view of the tall palm trees that lined the street. It was nice to relax after working so many 12 hour days in a row.

The most blessed part of being involved in the INDIVISIBLE movie shoot was meeting other Christian volunteers like myself, who were invited, and felt led to serve in this production. They saw it as ministry. I was able to pray with some of them as we waited for the camera and lighting crews to set up. At times we felt God's presence on set. Hopefully this will carry over to the audience after its theatrical release in the Fall of 2018. Watch it then, and you will find out.

To sign up for e-mail updates on this movie visit here:INDIVISIBLE MOVIE

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Training run on the Western States 100 Endurance Trail

Last month my wife and I traveled down the west coast of America on the I-5 to visit relatives near San Diego. Along the way we stopped for a couple of days in Auburn where the finish line of the famous Western States 100 Endurance Trail is located. This involved taking a slight detour north/east on highway 80 in Sacramento. A local working in at a cafe in Old Historic Auburn was able to give us directions on Google Maps to the high school football stadium track on Stadium Way, the precise location of the Western States 100. My wife and I soon found Robie Drive and drove down the winding steep road to Robie Point park to scout out the trail head. Since it was already late in the day we decided to find a hotel. The plan was that the next day I would run an out and back of three hours from the Auburn finish in the morning. This route included some good hill climbs and would give me a 12 mile taste of what the Western States 100 competitors had to face. Because I was alone we decided it was best for me to take a small two-way radio with a 20 mile reception radius. The temperature was to reach near 80 degrees in the canyon the next day so I took along 1.5 litres of water with 2 dissolved Nuun tablets.

After enjoying an evening visit to the Auburn Running Company store (featuring WS100 memorabilia in its front window) and the Pub across the street on Lincoln Way, we spent the night in Motel 6 off Auburn Ravine Road.

While there was still coolness in the morning air I set off from the stadium gate at Stadium Way and headed up Finley Street. Following Marvin Way and Robie Drive I descended to the Robie Point trail-head. With clear skies, and the early morning sun rising over the hilltops to the east I continued on running the wide Western States Terrace trails that switched back and forth into the canyon. The trail narrowed, and became much steeper after leaving the terrace. A rainy winter had the creeks and rivers filled. I ran on tree shrouded, muddy trails, pock marked with horse hooves, for the next 1/2 mile, descending into the canyon. Before long, I was back into the sun. I could see the North Fork American River below. I knew that No Hands bridge crossed this somewhere ahead, so I ran along with confidence, passing a waterfall on narrow wooden bridge. It was so beautiful, I had to stop and take a photo.

After crossing No Hands Bridge I took a sharp right turn onto a trail that ascended up into the forest. I was starting to feel the heat so the shade was welcomed relief. Switchbacks led up the hillside until I came into a clearing that gave me a great view of the Highway 49 bridge over the North Fork American River.

On the far side of the clearing I met up with some runners headed in the opposite direction. We exchanged greetings. I noticed one of them had a two way radio strapped onto their camel pack. I had to be careful on the switchbacks beyond this as I crossed over several creeks balancing on rocks so I wouldn't get a my shoes soaked.

Before I knew it, it was time to turn around. I was one hour and forty five minutes into the run when I arrived at an open plateau where the trail branched off in two different directions. That's where I decided to turn back. The descent back toward No Hands Bridge was fast. I felt the the midday heat near eighty degrees. I tried to imagine what the WS100 racers would feel like when they reached this point in the endurance run with one more ascent to endure, up out of the canyon, to Robie Drive. It must be a great sense of relief. I felt a taste of it as I came down Finley Street after following the small spray painted WS100 foot steps that marked the trail as it wound through the city streets to the finish. I was fifteen minutes later than I had planned getting back to the Stadium Gate. My 12 mile/three hour taste of the Western States Endurance Trail had left my legs burning. My wife treated me to a bacon cheese burger at Local Heroes in Auburn so I could get a good boost of carbs. I had booked another night at our motel knowing that I would need it to rest and recover. My foresight was true.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Authors can save time and money with Google Maps Street View

While I wrote the trilogy, Angelic Army Conquests, I found Google Maps Street View to be a great tool for research. Using this, I was able to travel to Israel, and walk the narrow streets of Jerusalem where the climax of this post-apocalyptic adventure played out. It allowed me to accurately describe the architecture, directions, and street names, that my fictional characters encountered. While editing my first book, Lost Ark Found, I sought out the advice of experienced writers, and one of the common things I heard them say was, "Write what you know," so that's what I did. My third and fourth fictional books, Dance With Me, and, In Heaven, were set, for the most part, all on, or around, Vancouver Island. My wife and I would sometimes take day trips to do research at the locations on the island where my stories were set. We talked with the locals, hiked the trails, and stopped for a snack at the small town general stores. Being physically on location to do research helped to add to the authenticity of my writing. Seeing a sunset, or meeting a quirky person, can spark a bunch of creative writing ideas. But when I couldn't afford to travel to Washington D.C., the Middle East, or Koro Island in Fiji, to do research for the Angelic Army Conquests trilogy, Google Maps Street View helped me to get there.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Running with Terry Fox

It was near the end of grade six at Edmison Heights Public School in Peterborough, Ontario, that I first heard the name of Terry Fox, and learned of his quest to run across Canada on one leg. I found the short radio news broadcast of interest because at the time I considered myself a long distance cross-country runner. I ran most days in the early morning before school from my house on Royal Drive down to the Peterborough Riverside Zoo trails that snaked along beside the Trent River. These were the days when Bill Rodgers was at his prime, having won the Boston Marathon, three straight years, 1978-1980. I purchased every issue of Runner’s World to learn the latest tips for diet and training regimes.

When I heard that Terry Fox would be running through Peterborough I eagerly arranged to have my parents take me to where he would be heading. The meeting place was on George Street out in front of the public library. I was one of about a dozen runners who showed up to run with him.

He smiled, but looked weary when he arrived, running with an unusual gait, ahead of his support vehicle. We continued with him down George Street. Some of us had plastic buckets that we used to collect donations from pedestrians, who curiously watched us from the sidewalk. There weren’t many people who gave that day. I was discouraged that more of a crowd hadn’t turned out for his reception. We ran with him to the steps of the hotel where he would be spending the night. He took the time to thank us, and shook our hands, before he starting to answer the questions from the media scrum gathered by the main entrance.

I was so inspired by this meeting with Terry Fox that I upped my training efforts that summer. When I heard that Terry’s cancer had returned, and he had to cut his run short, I convinced a friend that we should run a marathon distance for him and collect pledges.

We wrote on white t-shirts in permanent black marker, “We Are Running For Terry” and set out on a cool autumn Saturday morning. I had only run a ½ marathon once before, so this ended up being a challenge. My parents followed us in their car, and provided snacks and drinks along the way. We began the run on Armour Road in Peterborough, and followed it until it joined another street that meandered through Trent University. We turned onto Nassau Mills Road that runs along beside the Otonabee River, and continued to press on to Lakefield. Looping back on Lakefield Road, fatigue began to set in. To keep motivated the last hours of the run we spent talking about what we would eat when we were finished (A can of Chef Boyardee beef ravioli had never tasted so good).

By the time we were back to my home in Peterborough the car speedometer said that we had exceeded the marathon distance. We ended up collecting over a hundred and twenty five dollars in pledges, and donated it to cancer research.