Make a No Budget Movie: Chapter Eleven

September 1st, 2011
Enter Le Renard

After asking three people to play Marguerite and being turned down three times for various reasons, I gave up on the character. So now every one of my characters was a boy, which was too bad, because I’d wanted a little more texture. But it was too late to do anything about it. I gave her actions to other characters and eliminated her speaking parts.

Marguerite was gone, but as so often happens, bad luck is balanced by good. In this case, the good luck was finally finding someone who wanted to play Renard. Mike Adams, another Citadel employee, agreed to take on the role. He was tall and thin and nothing like the Renard Gabe would have been, but that was okay. Gabe would have portrayed the partisan leader as a loud and jolly murderer, an approach I liked, but Mike’s Renard was menacing and creepy. I liked that even more.

Mike is not a reenactor, so we dressed him up in some of the clothes we had at our disposal. My black costume store wig gave him a head of crazy hair falling to his shoulders. For a hat, we had one of Rob’s narrow brimmed “bowler” types, of kind of hat favoured by Acadian militia and Partisans. My green French hunting shirt, haversack, canteen, knife belt, blanket, breeches, and leather leggings completed the outfit. I also made a second tomahawk from sponge rubber painted silver, this one with a head shaped like a fleur-de-lis. Fleur-de-lis hatchets were not so common, but they existed and it seemed right for the character, a hard-core supporter of French dominion.

With the casting of Renard, the period of uncertainty came to an end. By this time it was well known amongst the summer students at the Citadel that I was filming a movie, and several others came forward looking for roles and injecting new life into the project. Once again, momentum started to build.

The first parts I shot with Mike as Renard were at the woods location in Purcell’s Cove, the location I’d used for the battle scene. This was the last time I would use that location. Again we went there after work, arriving at about six o’clock. With us came Ryan Bamford, one of the summer students who had expressed interest. He had some experience in theatre and film and took on the role of another Ranger, the last Ranger I would cast. He wore the same wig Tom Cromwell had worn, plus one of the narrow brimmed hats, a navy jacket, blanket and accoutrements, and carried a fake musket, one I’d had for years that was just for show. It would come in handy a few times.

It was now late September and the light had changed. I only had about an hour to film before the sun started to go down, but we managed it. After shooting clips of Ryan supposedly listening to Noble’s speech, and then trekking into the woods (and passing the same pine tree landmark as before), we found ourselves at the battle scene location. Ryan was playing the last Ranger in Noble’s column, and his part called for him to run up the hill when Rob, as Noble, commanded his men to advance against the Acadians holding the ridge. Ryan would then run straight into Renard, with fatal consequences. I had a detailed shot list for his demise, and it took us almost forty-five minutes to get through it. After that we shot a few more marching scenes, making our way to the top of the rocky bluff and down again. The light was dying fast, but the sun low in the sky made for some dramatic shots that contributed quite a bit to the look of the final film.

With my battle scene at last complete, it was time to fill in another blank, and that was all of the scenes with Renard’s partisans. Although I’d originally conceived of these scenes as taking part in the Acadian camp, with the partisans lounging around a fire cleaning weapons and so on, I was content to shoot them with just Mike and Jim. This actually made the Acadians seem more shadowy, since you only see a few of them at a time.

The location for these scenes was a new one, a strip of woods on the edge of Purcell’s Cove Road where there had been little or no cutting for about two hundred years. Many of the trees were huge, their trunks up to three feet across, reminiscent of the forests of the mid eighteenth century.

I had written all of the dialogue for these scenes in both French and English and hoped to use only the French dialogue. Unfortunately, though they did their best, neither Jim nor Mike are fluent in French. I did take after take, hoping to get their accents right, but it wasn’t working. At the same time, a wasp had become attracted to Mike’s wig, and flew around and around his head. This held us up for a while.

In the end, though I had to rely on more English dialogue than I wanted to, I got all my shots in and everything was fine. The weather again had cooperated, giving me slanting sunlight through the massive old pillars of pine, beech and maple. And now there were only two sequences to go: the ending, and the beginning.