by director Don McKellar
Greetings from Newfoundland. Wish you were here.
Out of nowhere I'm asked to direct The Grand Seduction and before I know it, I'm out here on the farthest edge of the continent, the Bonavista Peninsula, two and a half hours north of St. John's.
Every turn of the road presents another jaw-dropping vista. It shouldn't be hard to find locations, only to narrow them down. I only need one small town. Top contenders now: English Harbour, Elliston, Red Cliff, Keels, New Bonaventure, Old Bonaventure.
I am looking for somewhere that can pass as an outport town, remote and romantic, only accessible by boat. This presents serious practical complications of course and a bit of a scouting paradox, because I am scouting by car.
There is a parade of icebergs down the coast. One parked offshore at Old Bonaventure, bigger than the local church, a spectacular focal point in the deep-set harbour. But I'm told they will all be long gone by summer. I ask about the possibility of towing one down from up north for our shoot and my producers pretend they don't hear me.
Barbara Doran, our Newfoundland producer, makes her famous martinis with a chunk of iceberg in each glass. A reckless and gutsy cocktail: each year a handful of adventurous mixologists die chipping chunks off bergs, which are capricious and flip without warning.
In the end, as predicted, I couldn't pick: I've made our fictional harbour out of bits and pieces from all my favorites: the church from Old Bonaventure, the pier from New, the post office from Red Cliff, Kathleen's house from Elliston, etc.. We're calling the amalgamate Tickle Head ("Tickle," local lingo for a deep, narrow channel, and "Head,” meaning headland), a name that after much discussion, pleases all and passes muster with the locals.
I see a moose almost every day. They are more dangerous than the icebergs. The locals are hesitant to drive at night. I thought they were joking at first, until I witnessed an incident myself: a full grown bull striding out from the forest and straight onto the road as if our car was invisible.
Greetings. Very happy.
We're shooting and it looks great. Love, love, love my cast. As Mayor of Tickle Head, Brendan Gleeson is brilliant, as predicted, but the entire population around him is hilarious and persuasive.
I'm staying in Port Rexton in an ultra-charming trad house. Taylor Kitsch is my nearest (and only) neighbor. On off days, he jogs by shirtless down Ships Cove Road, a ritual that must have won him some new fans down at The Two Whales Cafe by now.
After work, I can barbecue on my veranda and watch the whales frolic in the bay, but I rarely do. Usually too tired. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, Doug, my Director of Photography, comes over and cooks Indian food. Tonight it's Lamb Dansak. Seriously, he's an excellent chef—not why he was hired, but it doesn't hurt.
There are few restaurants within driving distance, and the two good ones stop serving at ten, although sometimes, if we call ahead, they'll stay open for us. God Bless them. The people that live around here are almost insanely tolerant and accommodating of this restless crew of mainlanders who have tripled the local population and filled every empty bed and bar stool in a 20 mile radius.
Many of the locals are also good actors, as you will soon see.
Me again. I'm still alive.
The weather out here is famously fickle. A year of seasons pass in a day. But somehow, we've lucked out. They're calling it "The Best Summer Ever." So sunny I'm afraid Newfoundlanders won't believe we shot here. Not even a morning of fog.
Oh, okay, there was one hurricane. Yesterday. Two years ago this whole area was devastated by Hurricane Igor and many communities are only now recovering, so locals were genuinely concerned at the prospect of another. So was my Supervising Producer. He made us stop shooting when the winds picked up. (You can see the ominous stirrings in the scene with the boy running to Murray's to wake him in the middle of the night.) We battened down our sets and went home to wait it out.
A dramatic night and morning. The waves in the bay were enormous and my little house was shaking and moaning, but then, around ten in the morning, the storm passed as quickly as it came and the sun burst forth in an absurdly blue sky.
I was eager to shoot, and so was the entire crew, but the unions in Montreal wouldn't let us. According to their reports, Hurricane Leslie was still blowing strong somewhere inland.
"But not here!" I said, echoing generations of frustrated Newfoundlanders. "Why are we letting someone 2000 miles away decide when it's safe to work?"
That's it. Newfoundland is wrapped.
And we're all sad to leave.
I think it's safe to say that all of us, like the doctor in our film, have been seduced by this place. Many of us outsiders have fantasized about buying houses and settling down here (some, in fact, will). It's beautiful, of course—staggeringly so—but the people are the chief lure. Their traditional way of life is endangered, more than the cod stock, but the depth of the Newfoundlanders passion for their culture and their land is stirring and persuasive.
There will be blinkered urbanites, I suppose, who will resist the appeal of such a place, who will assume that the desire to preserve this culture is by definition reactionary. But it's impossible to feel that way when you're here. The people I've met aren't close-minded or afraid of progress. They're actively working to save their communities.
If our movie can convey some of that spirit, I'll be happy.