Dunk shot Santa

When Bert Dunk got the call to shoot Must Be Santa, billed as the most expensive in-house cbc movie ever, little did he know that fate and troubled labor relations were destined to create a more fantastical opening scene even than the one written into the production’s script.

Only days after the Must Be Santa crew moved onto the Toronto Broadcast Centre’s largest soundstage, with its hundreds of brightly colored, ‘dimmable and adjustable’ fluorescent lights nested beneath ‘raised, sandblasted plexiglass’ floors, the cbc technicians went on strike. The multitude of pink, green, blue and white lights faded to black, the miniature sets and models went under cover, the costly, rented Technocrane went for a rest and Dunk’s Fuji film stock remained mainly unexposed.

But like any good fantasy, all turned out right (if at a higher cost) in the end. As soon as the strike ended, the 30-day shoot was on. Eighteen months later, Dunk is a Gemini nominee in the category of best photography in a dramatic program or series.

Dunk says the production team ‘originally wanted to shoot it in 16mm, but by borrowing a 3-perf gate from d.a.v.e. [a Toronto post/effects house],’ they were able to shoot in 35mm. This was a major breakthrough from Dunk’s point of view because Santa was to be very effects heavy, and optical effects succeed much better on the larger stock. Given that the producers had spent 10 years putting the production together, Dunk’s efforts to shoot the best possible movie were appreciated.

Dunk (At the End of the Day: The Sue Rodriguez Story, Hard Rain), says the space requirements for the movie’s set were so large they took up twice the size of the biggest stage in the building. They had to do all the shots looking in one direction first, then set up all over again to take the shots required from the opposite direction.

Because of the scope of the set, many of the shots took advantage of the imported Technocrane, which Dunk says has ‘a telescoping arm that extends and retracts and has a remote head that is operated from the floor. The panning and tilting are [viewed via] a monitor, rather than by someone looking through the camera viewfinder. But it weighs 3,000 pounds. We had to put it on a five-foot scaffolding.’

Dunk, who says he enjoyed the Santa shoot and the ‘lovely’ cbc facility very much, was also at home with some of the cast, having worked with Santa costar Dabney Coleman on a previous project, My Date With the President’s Daughter.

At press time, Dunk was in l.a. for the first leg of shooting on Megiddo – Omega Code 2. This film, whose effects budget alone is $5 million, stars Michael York, and is scheduled to move to Italy for a month, before heading back to l.a. for a final three weeks of lensing. *

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NFB75Anniversary - Sarah Polley (filmmaker) with her Stories We Tell producer Anita Lee (NFB Ontario executive producer)