'Stargate' shoot goes full circle
EmptyAs the submarine slips under the ice, water splashes a cameraman who is lying on the ice's edge with a submersible camera. Here in the Arctic Circle, the temperature is minus-37 degrees Fahrenheit -- the point at which mercury turns solid -- and this crew member is in immediate danger of freezing.
Director Martin Wood quickly radios for help, and the cameraman is whisked away by helicopter to the base camp. He's treated and will be OK.
The shoot is taking place as close to the North Pole as possible -- at the Navy's Applied Physics Laboratory Ice Station, 3,000 kilometers north of Vancouver and 200 nautical miles north of Prudhoe Bay, the northernmost city in Alaska. A team of about 15 crew and actors arrived Thursday for a seven-day shoot of six scenes for MGM's direct-to-video movie "Stargate: Continuum," a $6 million-$7 million production that is an extension of the long-running sci-fi series "Stargate."
The "Continuum" production, headed by Wood and writer-producer Brad Wright, is housed in prefab plywood huts with stove heaters called hooches. Drinking water is obtained by going outside, grabbing a chunk of ice and melting it in a container on the stove. The closest Internet connection -- and shower -- requires a flight to Prudhoe Bay.
Charles Cohen, MGM senior executive vp finance and corporate development, sat in on the Navy briefings before the shoot and stressed two points.
"One, if you fall in any water, it's so cold that you have about 10 seconds to get out or you're dead," he said. "And two, the polar bear situation."
"A bear and a cub were spotted 14 miles away when we first got here," Wood said in an interview via satellite telephone. "(The other day) they were five miles away, so we're expecting them (to come) closer."
Riflemen stand guard in case they do.
The complicated sequence, filmed last weekend, called for the USS Alexandria to break up through the ice, surprising a lost Stargate team. The submarine was rigged with a camera, and a hole was cut through the 4-foot ice so that a submersible camera could be placed about 18 feet below the surface. The ice was then cleared of snow, with an 'X' marking the area where the sub would, in theory, break through.
On the first try, the whole sub came up pounding though the ice. On the second take, it fought to grind through, not quite hitting the mark. Each time, the crew and actors were surprised.
"They say if you want to be in the safest position when the submarine comes up, stand on the 'X' because it never hits it," Wood said.
The landscape changed daily, because of the constant breaking and reforming of the ice atop of the Arctic Ocean. But Wood said continuity wasn't a problem. "Because everything that we're looking at is pretty much ice and pressure ridges," he said. "It's as nondescript a background as you can get."
The production opted for the difficult terrain because the filmmakers were convinced it couldn't be replicated in a studio or CG environment.
"I don't think it could have been done with the same sort of intensity that you're going to have by shooting it real," Wood said. "I don't think you can capture the right feeling and sound if you tried to re-create it in an unnatural way."
Frank's 'Lookout' not in Kansas any more
Although it's set in Kansas City, Kan., "The Lookout" -- writer Scott Frank's directorial debut being released Friday by Miramax -- was filmed in Winnipeg, Canada, in January 2006. The determining factor, as you would expect, was economics.
"We couldn't shoot in Kansas, it was too expensive," Frank said.
Frank learned that "Capote" shot in Winnipeg and "thought it looked so beautiful and I thought it looked just like Kansas that I thought I'd do the same thing."
But while the topography and geography of Winnipeg and its environs were a perfect match, the cold winter was a different story.
"A lot of it was night exteriors so it was a really difficult shoot," Frank said. "It was difficult because you're so cold that you're rushing yourself. And you have to make sure you're really getting what you want to get and not rushing just because you want to get inside somewhere warm. It slowed everything down."
But there was a plus side that he warmed up to. "One thing it did do is it bonded everybody, cast and crew. We were all in it together."