On set: A Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Rawdon, Que.: Ichabod, A Legend of Sleepy Hollow first appeared in 1819 in American author Washington Irving's most famous work, The Sketch Book, a collection of tales and essays which also includes Rip Van Winkle. In a new Canadian tv movie...

Rawdon, Que.: Ichabod, A Legend of Sleepy Hollow first appeared in 1819 in American author Washington Irving’s most famous work, The Sketch Book, a collection of tales and essays which also includes Rip Van Winkle. In a new Canadian tv movie adaptation starring Tony Award-winning actor Brent Carver as the ill-fitting, wandering Yankee Ichabod Crane, two suitors compete for the prettiest and richest girl in the village, culminating in a desperate midnight chase through a forest and a confrontation with a legendary ghost, the Headless Horseman.

The film was shot throughout August on location at Earle Moore’s Canadiana Village near Rawdon, Que. The show’s creators, including director Pierre Gang, have worked hard to bring the story’s old-time magic to the screen. In the late 18th century, people naturally believed in ghosts and goblins, says the director.

The evocative story opens one thunderous and rainy evening in 1825 in sleepy Tarrytown in a drab tavern as the author shares his vivid tale with a group of older, drinking men. From there, the movie develops with intercuts from the tavern to the dramatic narrative of the legend.

Ichabod, A Legend of Sleepy Hollow features an all-Canadian cast and crew and was scripted by Joe Wiesenfeld (Boys and Girls, Anne of Green Gables). The film is budgeted at close to $4 million and is produced by Montreal’s Muse Productions. It has been presold to ctv in Canada and Odyssey Channel in the u.s., with broadcast slated for Oct. 23. Hallmark Entertainment has international rights.

Shooting on the film was developed around actor and location availability. And although the crew was filming the end of the movie during the final week of production, it was only a coincidence, says producer Daniele Rohrbach.

From all reports, the shoot was very smooth despite a tight 20-day schedule, thanks in no small part to Rohrbach’s experienced guidance.

Rohrbach (Reseaux, Glory & Honor) says the tradeoff on the shoot was finding the perfect location, the Canadiana Village, balanced against having to spend more money, up to $200,000, putting up cast and crew in the rural Rawdon region. ‘It’s an hour from Montreal each way and you need people awake when they start to work,’ says Rohrbach, one of a few select Montreal pm/line producers to step up to the producer or coproducer position.

‘I’m working closely with [Gang],’ said Rohrbach on one of the final days of the shoot. ‘We analyze things together and we share creative decisions because he has a lot of input in that, also. You could call it producer, but it’s a big word.’ With the additional responsibilities, Rohrbach says the department heads have taken on more work themselves. ‘So I can spend more time on the set and watching dailies.’ The producer came on board in June and has just started a seven-week post-production period.

Story magic

Director Gang (More Tales of the City, Sous-Sol) has put the filmmaking emphasis on the story’s magic and stylized visual elements.

‘It’s not a big movie, and so if we want people to notice, we have to try to do some things differently,’ he says. ‘Not only is it a period piece but we have horses, chases, dogs and cats, children and even dancing [scenes].’

In matching this classic gothic American legend with a contemporary family tv audience, Gang says he keyed on the black-and-white psychology of the leading characters, including Carver’s Ichabod; Katrina, a coquettish 18-year-old unsure of her future, played by McGill University drama student Rachelle Lefevre; and Brom Bones, Ichabod’s fierce competitor, played by Paul Lemelin (Student Bodies).

Of Ichabod, Gang says he’s both vain and emotionally needy. ‘When I met Brent it changed my vision of the character,’ he says.

Gang says he’s ‘working the legend’ by deepening the storytelling with character development and generous setups and imagery.

The director had four weeks in active prep preceded by two weeks in script consultation. ‘It’s wonderful to have an a-team,’ he says.

In large measure, the shoot rested on the talented shoulders of Carver (Lilies, The Songspinner, The Tale of Teeka), who concurs with the director, saying a story can and should ‘change and shift’ based on an actor’s dramatic input.

According to the actor, Ichabod is an enigmatic and eccentric character who ‘has a huge appetite for food, make believe, knowledge and the spirit world. He has a wonderful, feverish imagination.’ Ichabod is also ‘a mysterious fellow,’ and so the story is ‘about how communities adapt or treat people from the outside,’ he adds.

Top craft talent

Sleepy Hollow’s department heads include some of the top craftspeople in the business – costume designer Nicoletta Massone, production designer Normand Sarrazin, cinematographer Serge Ladouceur, 1st ad Sean Dwyer, gaffer Brian Baker, sound recordist Michel Charron and casting agent Lucie Robitaille.

Muse Entertainment president Michael Prupas and Hallmark Entertainment’s Steve Hewitt are exec producers.

The film’s period design is closer to old ‘New’ Amsterdam than Colonial New England. Designer Nicoletta Massone says the lack of existing productions about the late 18th century made it especially difficult finding costumes. She says the entire wardrobe created for Sleepy Hollow is authentic and made from linen in the designer’s own atelier. The costume team, 15 in all, had five weeks of preprod preceded by a short research period.

‘The casting on [the show] is simply fantastic,’ says Massone, who also operates a wardrobe rental service. Massone (P.T. Barnum, Les 2 Freres) won an Emmy for Zelda in 1994 and a Genie Award for Margaret’s Museum in 1995.

Shooting ‘day for night’

Cinematographer Serge Ladouceur filmed on Kodak Vision stock – 5279 (500 Tungsten asa), 5246 250-Daylight film, and 5248, 125-Daylight stock. The camera package consisted of two 535 Arriflex 35mm film cameras with three built-in viable, short zooms lenses, supplemented with Eye-Mo stunt and Steadicam units.

The film’s closing chase scene (a fake headless horseman terrifies Ichabod during a nighttime chase under a blood-red harvest moon) was shot over three days in the woods.

‘Shooting night-for-night was too big a task,’ says the dop. Instead, after exposure and concentration tests, the decision was made to shoot day-for-night, using the sun as a stand-in for the moon. ‘I used a day-for-night [blue] filter with some diffusion. So we ended up with a negative which was blue-saturated,’ Ladouceur explains.

In the timing tests, director Gang and the dop decided to develop the amber spectrum as opposed to the blue.

‘With the timing vector control we started to inverse the color so everything that was blue came out amber and some of the greens came out red. The blue wasn’t there anymore but you still believe it is night. The last guy we had to convince was one of the producers because he wasn’t sure at the beginning,’ says Ladouceur.

For many of the film’s static and often eerie establishing shots used to unveil the drowsy but surreal village, the dop used water-based Crayolas to color directly onto a clear glass filter screwed on to the camera lenses. The limited cgi element is used for the ‘real’ headless horseman.

Strange landscapes

Ladouceur (Pin Pon, le film; Bonanno: A Godfather’s Story) also used smoke and beams of light to thread through the dark New England forest, creating impressionable silhouettes of strange landscapes and people. He’s slated to shoot Bernar Hebert’s feature adaptation of Leonard Cohen’s The Favorite Game.

A former csc winner (for best feature) Ladouceur expects to use 120,000 feet of film stock for the 91-minute movie.

Part of veteran production designer Sarrazin’s (The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne) task was to make the tiny village look inhabited, more welcoming. The work included transplanting a complete autumnal vegetable garden replete with pumpkins on the set. In reference to the pending sale of the Canadiana Village, Sarrazin says, ‘It’ll be very difficult finding something like that elsewhere. It’s a great resource for us [as filmmakers] and for the region. We buy materials and we hire people who live here. They have a lot of period accessories, and even if we don’t shoot here we come here to rent their furniture and props. All the period shoots [done in Quebec] come here to Rawdon.’

Sarrazin’s next project is the Telefiction feature coproduction with France and Belgium, La Petite Fete.

Muse Productions’ next Quebec shoot is the $8-million action feature The Tracker.

Odyssey, a Hallmark & Henson Network, is carried by TCI Cable which has a u.s. subscriber base of nearly 29 million.