Note from Nick: I don’t expect you to be prepared for an unbiased look at the behind the scenes shooting of the film I’m a producer on. This is more like a shared experience and because I was knee deep in being involved in the day-to-day of the movie I certainly wasn’t the person to track the progress. In fact, Dane Walker has a mighty journal of anecdotes from the shoot but that’ll eventually have a birth on the official Grizzly Park website when it launches sometime this spring. In the meantime, enjoy one budding director’s [11 Colonels ATTACK!] take on the work of another [Grizzly Park is Tom Skull’s feature debut].
"It’s Jaws with bears." That was the first thing I heard about Grizzly Park. It wasn’t a term of derision, more as a general description. Thus began my experience with the upcoming horror flick, one that a certain Mr. Nunziata [it ain’t Jaws with Bears, by the way] has a producer’s credit on.
The general plot of the film is straightforward: A group of troubled teens are taken out to the woods as part of a "Scared Straight" program. A park ranger will lead them around, build some team spirit between them, then have their assorted parts annihilated by a carnivorous and upset bear. I was invited to spend a few days on set in Abingdon, Virginia by Nick to come up and observe things, see how the cast and crew worked, how the film was coming along. I only mention this to point out that it wasn’t a standard set visit. No PR rep leading a group of us around on a dog and pony show, this was one guy (me) interloping on a film set to see warts and all about the day to day operations of Grizzly Park. Further, I also made sure I’d be able to write whatever I saw, so long as it didn’t enter into spoiler territory.
I arrived in Virginia on a chilly Sunday, driving up from Atlanta. I met Nick, Dane Walker (the illustrious Dr. Food), and Erik, the still photographer on Grizzly, at the Abingdon Chili’s. After a healthy bit of small talk, we got into some conversation about the film. We talked about how things were going (which was pretty well, considering the weather) and the sheer amount of photos that had already been taken. (Note: This number would finish just below 10,000 individual photos. Of these, seventeen contained genitalia) After a long meal and a healthy bit of cheesecake, we settled in to rest for a solid four hours before heading to set.
Okay, that last sentence would prove to be a lie. I got up with Nick, but then was told I could wait until just before noon to come to set. Four more hours of sleep later, I met up with my handler (Mr. Walker), and we headed to the set, deep in the Abingdon woods. After a rough bit of navigating, we arrive on set of Grizzly Park. After parking and a short walk, we come to a stone wall straight out of Helm’s Deep [Backbone Rock’s the real name, right around the Virginia and Tennessee border]. This appears a couple of times throughout the film, but this is a piece of rock about forty or fifty feet high, with a hole blasted in the middle where the road goes through. The entire area is wilderness, and even on this modern film set, it’s difficult to see much aside from all the nature around us. The crew is setting up on top of the Helm’s Deep rock, where there is a walkway about five feet wide. That sounds like a pretty good size until you think about having cast, crew, and equipment up there at once, all trying to get a decent shot or two. There’s an incredible amount of coordination that goes on in shots like this, making sure everyone is safe and making a decent shot at the same time. I wanted to ask about this, but being that I was the stranger on set (and I had just missed the director at lunch anyway), I contented myself to stand aside and try to look small.
After the director got what he was looking for, the crew moved in to dismantle their elaborate setup and the cast came back down off of the rock to do some still photos for promos and for the character posters. We meet Erik the photographer again, where he puts a couple members of the cast through a rigorous set of poses, complete with directions like, "Move your head to the right about- Wait! Too far. Now go back just a- okay there. There! Wait, go back. Now turn toward that tree…" and so on. I would later see these photos and I have to say, all of that back and forthery was worth it, because the shots would end up looking pretty great. Also, I’ll talk more about this later, but the cast really seems to get on better here than in most instances. I’ve been on a few sets where it was evident that the cast members didn’t speak or socialize, just came to do the work and get the hell outta Dodge. Here, that’s not the case.
As it happens, the cast are fairly young, compared with most of the crew, so they’ve bonded into their own little group. They take potshots at each other, share inside jokes, and generally behave like decent people would, when shoved together in the woods. They’ve obviously not been briefed on how actors are supposed to act. (Standoffish, selfish, etc..) I’m told they’ve also got a running "cover" story for when they’re out amongst the townspeople, something about an all-star team of some sort. That was the biggest thing that I noticed about this young cast, was that they legitimately seem to enjoy themselves, even when they’re working. (After seeing an unfinished cut of the film, this really comes through in their performances, which is a credit to Director Tom for setting up.)
After a hearty day of shooting, Dane, Nick and I head to a haunted pub where Thomas Jefferson once ate, or some such historical thing. All I can verify about the evening is that the food was damn smashing and the dessert was plentiful. That’s my tip for all Chud readers, if there’s a restaurant that’s haunted, don’t pass it up. (Like I have to tell you Joes anyway)
We head back to the hotel where I watch Nick play the single gayest video game since Choaniki Great Brother. I don’t use the word "gay" as a derogatory term, I mean this game [Enchanted Arms] has the most blatant homosexual overtones that I’ve ever seen, and I’m from the Midwest. To cleanse our palletes from such lavender in the room, we pop in the romantic comedy screener Nick received in the mail today, the DVD for The Proposition. Good Lord, that’s a fuck-all depressing film. But it makes the next day that much sweeter, knowing I’m not being hunted in an Australian desert.
We start the next day early, cold, and wet. The big scene for today is the initial shot where each of the main characters are dropped off at their "Scared Straight" community service meetup. Early in the day, Nick’s car is called into service as a picture car, so look for the weird Venus-orange HHR of his when you see the flick. As Cinematographer Matt Cantrell takes control of the set to set up this complex shot, I strike up a conversation with animal handler Jeff, who is also playing the police driver who starts the day with blood all over his shirt. His day doesn’t improve, let’s leave it at that. Jeff is responsible for the bear, who is headed to the set next week. He’s in town to play his small role, as well as to set up the bear fence, which will separate the bear from the cast and crew. He’s a pretty smart guy, and after seeing his work, he’s definitely got a great talent for it.
Eventually, Jeff is called to take his place on the set, so I take a quick moment to pester Nick about this one on one with the director he promised me a month before. Apparently, Mr. Skull (Still a great name) is crazy busy today as well, so this chat is now in jeopardy. Aside from this, I’ve had some opportunity to talk with Matt (the DP) and Belle (the producer) about the production and it’s obvious that they have this thing to the nines. Why they can make time, but Mr. Skull can’t find a moment, but I later discover that he was never over schedule and never over budget so I guess he was doing the right thing.Eventually, the scene is set and we get to filming. The scene runs again and again, with the cute little rich girl showing up, then the white supremacist, then the wealth of ages guy coming in last. From one angle, then another. To their credit, the cast seems to have fun with it, even if it is drizzly and cold from the start to the finish.
The cast and crew work until midday, and Nick signals me that my time on set has to come to a close. (Not that I’m being booted, but this is the only time that he can take me back to town to pick up my car.) At this point, I don’t quite have a feel for if the film is going to be decent or not (which it would turn out to be as I’ve subsequently seen a rough cut of the film), but I do have a sense that everybody is at least happy to be working together, which proves to be rarer than you’d think. At any rate, the film’s an odd duck, similar to Lake Placid. It has as many comedic elements as it does horror ("Rarrr!"), and when these sync up right, it clicks as it should. Oughta be good.