Breathless Vision

by Chris Dias. photos by Christos Sagiorgis

“And that’s where they shot the dead dog scene,” Louise, Kim’s mother, said as we approached one of the locations for the short film, Final Breath.  

The atmosphere was wet, muddy, and chilly.  Rain blended with snow, making the drive somewhat precarious.  We passed burning piles of what resembled garbage, a future shoot.  I glimpsed across a barren frosted field to the cabin.  It looked beyond dilapidated, seemingly moments from crumbing under its own weight, a forgotten vestige in a cold, dying landscape.  

A perfect day for shooting a horror film.
Umbrellas protected the precious camera equipment and the most important members of the cast and crew, like Kim Feragen, the director.  This was her first film.  “The idea came about when Norm (Coyne) asked me if I had ever done any film before,” said Kim, “and I said I hadn't, but had always wanted to get into it.”

Despite said bolstering, the cabin was still in rough shape.  Jagged wood and nails projected at odd angles.  Every window was broken.  Undisturbed mounds of hopefully dirt sat about.  Animal skulls, cleaned with horns and mandibles, provided by Boneyard Skullptures, lay scattered on steps, shelves, and tables, bordering on nonchalant.  A rifle leaned against a wall.  Battery-operated tea lights twinkled down hallways, slightly compromising the suspension of disbelief.  Despite that, the house was positively creepy; thank goodness it was daylight.  

 “What are we going to do if they come back?!” said the actress, slightly amplified from a previous take.  This is how a film is shot, take after take until perfect.  Kim’s family owns the land, barely thirty minutes from Prince George.  From a cursory analysis, it’s looked dreary, helped by the late fall weather, unusable this time of year unless as a backdrop for a horror film.  

“Norm and I had two good story ideas and we put them both together to make our current script,” said Kim.  “It’s based on some true events that I experienced as a young adult, so we cast the parts according to some of the actual people involved in the true events.”
The cast and crew number less than twenty, with other members hiding out of shot, gripping chemical pocket warmers with plyer-like kung-fu grip.  Two actresses, Wakisha Williams and Melissa Flaterud, already in costume and bundled in coats, a stroke of red running down their foreheads, waited from the second floor.  

“I had never directed a film before,” said Kim, “but because of my photography career, I’m used to directing people in photos, so that definitely came in handy having that experience.”     

Prince George has seen several movie productions, both large and modest, including that one glorious yet fleeting period where Hollywood film after Hollywood film found location here.  I met Ben Affleck once.  Shook his hand.  True Story.  No one cares.  Unlike larger productions, it doesn’t take long for Kim and crew to setup a new scene.  They had been working all weekend at the cabin, maximizing the budget granted to them by Storyhive, a Telus-sponsored program for funding emerging content creators in BC and Alberta.    

The cast was comprised of almost entirely women.  Along with Wakisha and Melissa, listed in the credits as “mysterious girls”, the film also stars Sydney Hendricks, Madison Hill, and Cara Halseth.  Melissa, Sydney, and Madison were pulled from Judy Russell's Enchainement Dance Centre, while Wakisha and Cara both have theatre backgrounds.  The only man in the cast is a veteran, James Douglas, a filmmaker himself, coated in makeup to resemble a raccoon.  It was safe to assume James was playing the villain, and he later admitted his role was cryptically titled “Raggedy Man”, described by Douglas as a “hillbilly sorcerer”.  

After a few hours, the shoot finally migrated to the upper floor.  Every inch of the house was being utilized, and the crew shuffled equipment to clear out of the shot.      
“Final Breath, Scene 9C, take 1,” announced the clapperboard girl as she snapped down the arm on the slate, creating that iconic echo of a movie set.  It’s tradition and still required, though the crew weren’t utilizing traditional film cameras.  Both men wielded advanced digital single-lens reflex cameras (SLRs), a common economical alternative over the costly ARRI and RED cameras found in big-budget productions.  

Kim yelled for action, and two actresses drifted into view from around a stairway, a look of concern convincingly on their faces.  They reset and go again.  And then again.  And then again.  The monotony somewhat stains the allure of filmmaking—one must have a passion for the craft.  At least this is not a Stanley Kubrick production.  The natural light, their only source, was dwindling fast.  Everyone piled into a bedroom marked by a mattress topped by animal hides and red curtains on the walls.  The shoot continued.

And to think this is only one of several sets utilized for this film.  Obviously, none boast such ambiance as a battered and ominous cabin deep in the woods.  Larger productions would be envious if they saw this.  After sunset, the crew shifted back into town to film additional scenes, bound to return later tonight to the burning piles of garbage.  From there, it falls on Kim and crew to edit and mix, to forge an actual film from the scattered scenes.  Final Breath is more than a horror film.  For many, it’s a call to arms, a declaration that Prince George was and still is a significant source of not only talented filmmakers, but of actors, cameramen, musicians, and obviously, spooky sets.

“We have had so much support from the community,” said Kim, “it has been amazing everyone just wants to help each other, and that's why I love living here.”

(Final Breath will be made available on Telus Optik TV in the beginning of February as well as the Storyhive Website during the voting period.  Kim also plans on a local viewing.)