I was shivering at the edge of a bluff on Prince Edward Island, Canada,
freezing rain pricking my face like tiny needles, the sea below me white
and rigid. I had never seen a frozen sea before. I didn’t know
it could happen. The land I stood on was bleak, merciless. I imagined
my characters, Jack and Rose, a misanthropic man and his beautiful daughter,
surviving winters in this place, on the abandoned commune which had
once housed Jack’s dreams. We would be shooting in summer. But
there had to be a logic to the location. I had so wanted to shoot at
the edge of the sea. But to build a commune here they would have had
to be lunatics.
We trudged half a mile back to the cars, dragging our feet through
the snow. The tires of our rental car churned up a cement-like mix of
mud and snow, and had to be towed to the road by a massive truck owned
by one of our local allies, a taciturn farmer who owned many of the
blueberry fields in the area, a fervent Christian who, as it turned
out, would one day revile me for refusing to see the local production
of Anne of Green Gables. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Once safely back in the car, as I tried to regain some feeling in my
extremities, the production designer, Mark Ricker, said, “Well,
it’s isolated, anyway.” He’s one for understatement.
On we drove to the next location—our fourth that day.
Desperately in need of warmer clothing, we stopped at a local clothing
store which was closed, except luckily the owner’s cousin, who
ran the convenience store across the street, had a key, and we rifled
through the merchandise, gratefully pulling on long underwear and wool
socks and warmer gloves—it was March, and we hadn’t been
expecting quite this level of frigidity—writing our credit card
numbers down on a pad of paper for the owner to ring up whenever he
Back in the car, as we negotiated the black ice on the road, my heart
was sinking. Finding the perfect location for a film is as likely as
finding your soul mate—there is nearly always one crucial thing
wrong, and you just have to live with it. Or you find the perfect one,
and it turns out to be unavailable. And the location for The
Ballad of Jack and Rose is so crucial to the story, it is in
a sense the body of the story, inside of which the characters play out
the internal struggle, the struggle of life and death. So, needless
to say, I felt a little pressure to find the right place. So. We drove
up to the sea. Got out. The air felt warmer. The sea on this side of
the island was, strangely, thawing already. The freezing rain had abated.
And, my breath suspended, I walked out to the pond that I had written
in the script, connected by a little tributary to the sea. The feeling
I had when I saw this place is very difficult to describe. It felt like
falling in love. There was a softness to the landscape, a femininity.
Even on this grisly day the light of the sky as it met the sea was pearly,
like the inside of a sea shell. A hundred yards up a dune, just as I
had written it, there was an open field, standing at the edge of a far
lower bluff than the one we had just come from. Mark placed his little
models onto the frozen grass. Little doll houses as big as his feet.
I could imagine them now, grass-covered earth houses in disrepair, all
but for the main house, the house where Jack and Rose live. We had the
houses to build yet, but we had found the land—the Eden that made
sense of the story—a story about finding paradise, ruining it,
and finding it again.