The cameras keep on rolling in Greater Sudbury’s burgeoning film sector.
The latest film, Deadweight, wrapped up filming Nov. 6 in the city’s south end.
Starring Sam Trammell of True Blood fame, producers are tight-lipped about the plot. However, it’s a thriller that tells the story of how far people will go to escape their humble backgrounds to join the wealthiest one per cent of American society. It’s a safe bet someone is going to get killed.
“When young lawyer Richard Hunter and his wife Tara spend the weekend at the boss’s cottage, they stumble into a violent dispute, and are forced to decide what they’re willing to sacrifice for success – their morals, their marriage and their lives,” said producer David Anselmo, carefully reciting the approved press release so too much about the movie isn’t given away.
Shot entirely in Sudbury over three weeks, the film was into its last few days of shooting when Northern Life was allowed to visit the set. With pressure building to complete the final scenes, the mood was tense but focused.
The three producers – Anselmo, Jordan Walker and Justin Kelly – rented a huge Raft Lake Road home to serve as the set, putting the homeowners up in a hotel for a few weeks. Inside was redone in a Mad Men-style décor.
The film required the Louisiana-born Trammell to dive into the chilly waters of Little Raft Lake on a late October night in Sudbury. Clearly, he’s not in Bon Temps, anymore.
“I went in twice,” Trammell said, sitting in the living room set, still bundled in a hooded green winter coat after a freezing outdoor shoot a few minutes earlier.
“I went in about two weeks ago, and I was told the water was about 42 degrees (Fahrenheit). And I went in the day before yesterday, and it was about 36 degrees.
“I mean, the first time I went in, I had to swim to the bottom of the lake – and it wasn’t too deep – and pull out this scuba diver who had the breathing apparatus in. It was unbelievably cold. I’m a surfer and I’m used to being in the cold Pacific Ocean. But a Sudbury lake in (late October) makes that feel like the tropics.”
On this cold November night, with temperatures hovering around -4 C, Trammel and his Canadian co-stars in Deadweight — Laura Harris (Dead Like Me, 24), Josh Close (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) and Lina Roessler (Lost Girl) — had to spend considerable time outdoors, dressed like it wasn’t freezing, as director Leah Walker tried to get the last frames she needed to complete her movie.
The cliché that movies are all about hurry up and wait played itself out on this night.
Crews spent close to an hour ensuring lighting, sound, continuity and camera angles were all what they should be, before the actors were brought out to film.
What followed was 30 seconds of shooting — much of which involved the camera panning up from the dock to Trammel’s face, who then turned around to see another boat coming.
Then back to the warmth of the house for the actors, while the chilled but enthusiastic crew set up for the next shot.
Of the 65-70 crew members, more than half are from Sudbury or Northern Ontario, said Anselmo.
Many of them are working on their third film in a row without a break, he said, and are learning skills that will be vital if Sudbury is to have a film industry in the long-term.
In the last six months, more than $10 million in film work has been shot in Sudbury. Incentives from the Ontario government combined with money from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund make Northern Ontario one of the most incentivized places to shoot in Northern America, Anselmo said.
“I’m proud to say, in three films shot back-to-back, we’ve kept the same Northern crew, and they’re learning, they’re gaining experience,” he said. “Now they’re taking on top-level positions in their departments because of the expertise they’ve learned in the last six months.
“It’s hands-on training. And because I’m from Northern Ontario, I’m determined to (hire) as many Northerners as possible.”
Trammell has several northern connections himself. He says his first paid acting job was in Winnipeg.
“My very first job ever was at the Manitoba Theatre Centre with Len Cariou in a play called Another Time by Ronald Harwood,” he said. “And then I shot a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie in Winnipeg and it got extremely cold. It got to the point where Celsius and Fahrenheit meet, which is -40.”
These lakes are incredible. It really feels perfect for the movie. It feels isolated out here. And the lake, really, is a character in the movie. So this is a perfect spot.
Actor, True Blood and Deadweight
He’s also shot movies in Toronto and Vancouver — and played in a Rush cover band.
“Yeah, I did, I played the bass,” Trammell laughs. "I was Geddy Lee. We played Limelight and Red Barchetta, Tom Sawyer, of course. Our drummer was obsessed with Neil Peart. He played him beat-for-beat.”
Like many American actors who have come here over the last couple of years, he’s impressed by the beautiful landscapes, although he admits he hasn’t been out to see the city proper.
“It’s gorgeous,” he says. “These lakes are incredible. It really feels perfect for the movie. It feels isolated out here. And the lake, really, is a character in the movie. So this is a perfect spot.”
Trammell said he welcomes the opportunity to play a different character than shape-shifting bar owner Sam Merlotte.
“In True Blood, I’m a country guy, real simple,” he said. “This character is a wealthy, successful, lawyer. It’s wonderful to play a totally different part. I shaved and got to cut my hair a little bit.”
True Blood fans can rest assured a sixth season is in the works. The show, which is populated by vampires, faeries and a host of other supernatural creatures, has built a growing fan base since it debuted in 2008.
“We go year-by-year,” Trammel said. “They’ve never, ever told us that we have two more years for sure. They say you have one more year, one more year, and so on. It’s unbelievable that this show still has so much momentum. It really is amazing. And it just has been a slow build from the very beginning.”
It’s produced by Alan Ball, who also produced the Oscar-winning film American Beauty, as well as the critically acclaimed TV series Six Feet Under. Trammell said Ball excels in putting together a talented cast and crew and allowing them the space to be creative.
“He’s a really good hand at the tiller,” he said. “He knows when to let creative people be creative and do their job. He doesn’t micromanage. He has a very good sense of balance as far as when to step in and voice his opinions, and when to kind of let things happen. I think that’s one of the reasons True Blood is so successful.
“I have loved working for him. He’s a great boss.”
One of the stars of Six Feet Under – Michael C. Hall – was later cast as the lead in a little show called Dexter. And Trammell has the distinction of being one of Dexter’s victims, killed on the now famous slab, held down by plastic wrap.
“I think I was one of the very first,” he said, of his 2006 appearance as Matt Chambers, a serial drunk driver who refuses to stop getting behind the wheel and killing people.
“It was a really fun character,” Trammell recalls. “I was a bad guy, and I really like playing the bad guys.”
But the reality of being on set, waiting for Dexter’s fatal attack, wasn’t quite as fun.
“They wrapped me in cellophane and I was wrapped up for four hours,” Trammell laughs. “I started to go numb.”
With Deadweight nearing completion, Anselmo said Sudburians can expect the string of film production to continue into 2013.
“I can’t be specific, but the answer is yes,” he said. “We’ve got quite a few projects coming up in the next six months. Northern Ontario is becoming a hot spot for filmmakers and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Anselmo said key to establishing a film industry in Sudbury and Northern Ontario in the long-term is developing expertise locally so when films want to shoot here, the people they need to hire – key grips, gaffers, lighting and sound technicians, etc. – will already be here.
“I think the industry is establishing itself right now,” he said. “We’ve seen Northern Ontario (viewed) as a transient filming centre, heavily reliant on incentives from the NOHFC. By building the infrastructure, like the Northern Ontario Film Studio and other service providers, that will help propel us into the next level of really turning this into a sustainable industry for the future."
Co-producer Justin Kelly said coming North from Toronto to has been a positive move.
“Every movie has its hiccups, but there hasn’t been anything we haven’t been able to overcome,” Kelly said, as we stood outside waiting for Trammell and the rest of the cast to shoot a scene.
“Ideally, we would have started shooting a month earlier,” he said. “But casting and the bank and locations and all that stuff took a little longer.”
Post-production will take until January or so, Kelly said.
“There’s lots of sound design, especially with thrillers, and you have to create the tension and the atmosphere and all that stuff. There’s only so much you can do with acting and the camera. Sound really does play a huge part.”
He’s been surprised how quickly local skills are developing he said, and foresees a day when almost all the expertise needed to shoot a fill will be local.
“I’ll be shooting two movies here next year, and hopefully I’ll get to work with all the same people,” Kelly said. “Two or three years from now, the only person coming up from Toronto to shoot a film will be me.”
“Nope, not even you,” Anselmo replies.