(Location Scout)

- How did you get involved in EATERS OF THE DEAD?
- I am known as one of the best location scouts in British Columbia. I had scouted a feature film, called THE YELLOW DOG, and travelled all over Vancouver Island. I had also scouted and location managed THE SCARLET LETTER, which had filmed in the Campbell River region. As I was the person with the most experience working on the North end of Vancouver Island, I was asked to join the production. I worked on the show for 32 weeks and found all of the locations used, except for the Main Village, which John McTiernan had already chosen.
- Tell me more about location scouting. How does it work exactly?
- Basically, anyone can location scout. John McTiernan went flying up the coast of the US and on up the British Columbia coast. This is how he found the area, North of Campbell River, called Elk Bay, that was used in the film. As a full time scout and location manager, it is my responsibility to suggest locations for the film company to use. The locations must look right, but also be obtainable. I negotiate the contracts and the terms of access. I must also liaise between all affected persons and businesses, and pay them for any inconvenience the film company and filming may cause.
- From what elements did you work? Did you get the script? Did you meet the filmmakers?
- I was given the script to read and met with the production designer, Wolfe Kroeger. (One of my favorite big budget European films is ENEMY AT THE GATE - the story of the Nazi siege of Stalingrad. Coincidentally, he also production designed it!) I also had an excellent knowlege of what locations were in the area. So, I also suggested locations. I eventually met John McTiernan, but his ideas were related to me via Wolfe and the location manager, Rino Pace.
- Did you read the book from Michael Crichton?
- I tried, but it is very dry! Did you know that Crichton based it on an real expedition by a young Arab into the land of the Vikings? The young Arab was very educated and documented his 2-3 years voyage. Transcripts of the original documents are supposed to exist in some of Europe's great museums...
- What did the filmmakers want for EATERS OF THE DEAD? What sort of landscapes and sceneries did they seek?
- I don't really know. The production designer did alot of research into what the Viking lands looked like, and what their boats looked like. However, we were limited by what the West coast of British Columbia looks like. They wanted mountains in the background, a forested area and a clearing in which to build the Viking Village. The production design team wanted the most realistic look and wanted it to be believable. In film, you can just make up alot of stuff.
- Now, could you elaborate on the exact shooting locations where each scene was shot?
- Sure. The opening sequence (if I remember correctly) was shot in a studio in Vancouver. The scene where the Arabs meet the Vikings by a river was shot on the banks of the Fraser River, near a town called Williams Lake, BC. You will have to access a map to locate it. The Main Village was located on a high point of land, in a clear cut, next to Elk Bay. Elk Bay will only appear on a detailed map of Vancouver Island. It is approximately 60 kms North of Campbell River, on the East side of Vancouver Island. A clear cut is what we call the land after the forest has been cut down and the trees harvested. British Columbia is one of the largest producers of lumber (wood) and wood products (paper) in the world. The area had been harvested (logged) and the trees removed about 6-8 years before we had filmed. We used the beach nearby, for the sequence when Antonio finds out his friend has been killed. All the fighting sequences and horse riding sequences were also shot in the same clearcut as the Village. The clearcut area was about 1000 hectares. The boats were not really seaworthy, they leaked alot. We filmed the boat sequences on the ocean, near Elk Bay. We also used an old marina near Vancouver for a sequence that was cut from the film. For the village of the old sorceress, we went into the forest, North of Vancouver, near a town called Squamish. At the base of some rather large mountains, we built a village in the woods, next to some really big rocks that had fallen down from the mountain side. The village where the Vikings see the first evidence of the Bear People was in the forest, 10 minutes from the Village set. There was an enormous amount of work to be done on the set, to build the Great Hall and the Village, and to clear away all the old tree stumps and logs so that trails could be built for the horses and riders to do their scenes. The interiors of the viking camp (tent) were done in a barn we turned into a studio, near Campbell River. Those sequences had Omar Shariff in them. He also travelled to Williams Lake. The Williams Lake set was very challenging, as we could not build roads into the area and had to bring all the set materials and cast and crew in by helicopter!
- And what about the cave scenes?
- The cave entrance and suspension bridge were built at a provincial park, 10 minutes from the North end of the town of Campbell River. The park is called Elk Falls Provincial Park. It was only coincidence that we used "Elk" Bay, they are not related in any way. At Elk Falls, we built a suspension bridge accross the falls to a natural rocky ledge. There, we built a false cave entrance. The cave interior scenes were shot in a very big stage in the Vancouver area, called the "A-Frame". This stage is 200 meters long and 50 meters wide and 20 meters tall.
The viking boats were also built in Vancouver, at a shipyard. We bought all the raw Douglas Fir logs (Douglar Fir is a type of tree that grows in British Columbia and is considered a hard wood) and cut them to the lengths and widths we needed. 3 boats were built. 1x20 meter boat and 2x30 meter boats. One of the 30 meters boats was put on a very long trailer and taken to Williams Lake, where a large crane picked it up and lowered it into the Fraser River. This boat had 3x200 horses power engines in it. This boat was 3 meters wide. The 2 other boats were 5 meters wide, but did not have engines in them. They were towed everywhere they went and for sequences that required them to look like they were moving.
- I read that, at one point, they wanted to shoot 2nd unit photography in... Northern Russia?!! Does this sound a likely scenario to you?
- Northern Canada looks just like Northern Russia. I never heard of them going to Russia, however some Hollywood types may have talked about it, because that's what they do. But we would have been able to find anything they wanted in Canada, especialy in the Yukon or the North West Territories.
- Here are some photos from the film... Where did they shoot these particular scenes?
- The Arab caravan scenes were shot in Williams Lake area. The Vikings on horseback in snow scene, I do not know, could be California or McT's ranch in Wyoming. Antonio in the water scene, either Elk Bay area or California. Antonio jumping his horse scene was shot on the back of the property in Merville, which is just South of Campbell River. This property had a large horse ridding barn we used as a stage, in which the Viking tent interiors with Omar Shariff were shot.
- Did you find (or propose) great locations they finally decided not to use?
- There were possibly 10 other locations that we looked at, and possibly 150 other locations that I scouted and photographed! If you want to see the pictures yourself, you can take a holiday to Campbell River, because all the pictures are in the Film Commission office there. Alot of them are on the wall in the office.
- You mentioned a beach sequence "when Antonio finds out his friend has been killed." That doesn't ring any bell to me... Could you possibly tell me more about it?
- I can not remember exactly what happened on this beach sequence, that was shot at Elk Bay. I remember that there was a very large log laying on the beach, in the background, and the boats were there... All I recall is a fight sequence on a beach and someone dies.
- And what about the old marina cut scene?
- The old marina scene was of the Vikings and Antonio loading their horses and all their stuff onto the Viking boats. It looked a bit like a medieval bazaar, near the water. If I remember correctly, it was supposed to look a little Russian, or Baltic, in appearance. This was the beginning of Antonio's sea voyage to the Viking lands.
- I have heard about a whale sequence and, also, about a scene where Banderas kills the plotting son of the old King...
- Yes. The whale sequence was to the sighting of a whale at sea. The whale comes up to the boat and hits it. I do not remember a plotting son.
- Did you hear anything about the reshoots?
- The reshoots in California, I think, involved scenes shot at Williams Lake.
- Can't you tell, when watching the final cut, which scenes are from the reshoots? (locations you would not recognize, for example...)
- No, I can not tell which are original and which scenes are reshoots. As a scout, I work ahead of the shooting crew and I am not around when they actually shoot a scene. Also, they would have matched the sets so well as to make impossible to tell the difference.
- Weren't some of the shooting locations environmentally sensitive areas?
- All the Vancouver Island and especially the Williams Lake locations were considered environmentally sensitive! Most forest areas in British Columbia are near streams and rivers and lakes. If you disturb the soil, then, when the winter rains come, they wash the soil into the streams and rivers. British Columbia also has an enormous salmon industry and the salmon need absolutely clean streams to spawn in. We worked very closely with the British Columbia and Federal Ministry of the Environment. They approved all our work, oversaw what we did, and approved and inspected all the restoration work we did. There were no complaints from them what so ever.
- Tell me about the burning the Main Village scene. Fires usually get on badly with forests, don't they?
- We had a very wet year in Campbell River in 1994. So the ground was quite saturated with water, which was very good. The special effects crew had the area networked with water hoses and water pumps. We use the lake in the Village as our water source for fire fighting. All the fires were put out and the area monitored to insure there were no underground fires.
- I have heard also about some funeral sequence for the ending of the movie, but not used in the film, where a Viking ship was lit with flaming arrows...
- Yes, there was a scene with a boat set on fire to cremate a body. I think it was the big long blond haired guy's body [Note: Vladimir Kulich]. It was a smaller boat that was built for that occasion.
- In some early version of the script I read, the Vikings were supposed to enter the Bear People caves by climbing down some cliff (using ropes), then swimming through an underwater tunnel. Do you remember if this scene was still in the script you got during your location scouting? Do you remember scouting cliffs? I was wondering if the reason why this scene was abandoned and replaced by the one we all know (Vikings entering the caves through the suspension bridge) was because they couldn't get the right location to shoot the cliff sequence...
- Every script starts out as the writers wish list, then the director and the producers turn the script into what they want to do. Then, reality rears its ugly head and the cost of doing everything is added up. I was the one who suggested Elk Falls Provincial Park, because it looked so dramatic, and the suspension bridge was decided upon at the location scout. I scouted for caves and cliffs for months and months, and about 5 cave entrances were looked at by the production designer, but they were too far away and it would have been too costly to go there and shoot.
- At the very end of the movie, there is the usual credit: "THE PRODUCERS WISH TO THANK...", and amongst the various canadian Film Commissions and Ministries, I noticed "the Alkali Lake Band" and "the Canoe Creek Band"...
- Yes. The areas used in the Williams Lake area are on land owned by these two native Indian Bands, "The Alkali Lake Band" and "The Canoe Band". In British Columbia, Native Indian Bands have legal ownership of some large pieces of land, as this is where they have lived for the last 15,000 years. The scene shot by the Fraser River was on a gravel bar, adjacent to the river. This piece of land is as archeologicaly important as the Pyramids in Egypt! There were indications of very ancient human occupation evident. It was the most sensitive area we filmed on. The head of Archeology for the British Columbia Government and the head of Anthropology at the Univercity of Victoria had to sign off on all our plans. And, again, everything went perfectly.
- While on this subject, I could not help but notice that you were not credited...
- Who gets credit is entirely up to the producers and, on many occasions, I have not received credit. Yet, Woody Allen, who shoots exclusively in New York city, has given location scout credit to up to 5 locations scouts on one film alone! As long as the money is good, I'm there and I don't complain.
- There are several rumors about a professional dispute between producer Michael Crichton and director John McTiernan on the set of EATERS OF THE DEAD...
- McT and Crichton did not get along. It is the result of too many chefs in the kitchen. Each one wants to make the movie distinctly theirs, and only one vision can prevail.
- What did you think of the final result, the movie itself?
- I think the film failed for me because there was not enough emotional range and action did not translate well; I can compare it to GLADIATOR, where the action sequences were very good (however, GLADIATOR was criticized because there was no emotional range...). There were no good comedy moments and truly joyous moments. The boats looked fantastic in real life, but they were poorly used and there was no spectacular scenery shots. I had hoped for so much and I was honestly disappointed. I am truly glad you enjoyed the film. That's all that should matter to you and I am happy for you. It's sometimes hard to enjoy a film whose script you have read 20 times and saw many of the scenes actually filmed. We all want to be the one who calls the shots and make our owm film. Again, I'm truly glad you liked it. But you have to remember it was only a movie. It did so badly at the box-office that I made more money off of the film than Disney!
- By the way, do you still have got your copy of the shooting script?
- No, I did not keep a copy. Over the years, I have collected too much junk! Today, most scripts are numbered and there is also a way for the photocopiers to print the crew members name on each page so as to keep track of each script. The studios do not like the idea of scripts being sold or traded...
- Do you know why they finally changed the title, from EATERS OF THE DEAD to THE 13TH WARRIOR?
- The new name sounded better. They market test everything these days. That means the studios want to be sure what they present to the audience will be appealing.
- Finally, what was your best challenge on this project?
- My biggest challenge was staying ALIVE!!! Whenever I scout wilderness locations in the spring, black bears are coming out of their dens. (There are no grizzly bears on Vancouver Island) This can be a somewhat dangerous situation, should you startle one by coming up on it quickly without the bear realizing you are nearby. Bears like to be near water and if the stream or creek makes alot of noise, the bear will not hear you coming. For about 5 years in a row, I was off scouting wilderness locations in the spring. I have seen so many black bears and grizzly bears close by that I do not know if I am brave or stupid. I scout by myself. I carry a large spray can of pepper spray (like police use, only designed for bears), I do not carry a gun. I am always afraid of getting lost either driving or hiking. There are truly tens of thousands on miles of logging roads in British Columbia and there are no roads signs!!! Some maps are very simple and I am constantly going into unfamiliar territory. I almost slipped on some very slippery rocky flats near Myra Falls once. Both my feet slid forward about 0.7 meters and stopped. Had I slid forward further, I would have fallen backwards and the back of my skull would have hit the rocks first. It could have been days before anyone else came to the falls. It's a bit bifficult to explain, but personal safety is always an issue and a major concern for me.
- Anything you would want to add?
- The only thing I can add was that the set was really incredible, and so were the Viking boats. Everything looked truly fabulous. Maybe that is why I was so disappointed at the finished product: I had really high expectations! Another film that went to the North end of Vancouver Island is playing now in North America, called TRAPPED. It stars Kevin Bacon, Charlize Theron and Courtney Love. It's a kidnapping film... If you ever get a chance to travel to Vancouver Island, Joan Miller, the Campbell River Film Commissioner, could arrange a tour of the locations we shot. The most lasting impression I have was the incredible locations I saw. Mostly caves and raveens, carved in limestone and sand stone. The North end of Vancouver Island has some truly spectacular scenery!


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