113 extras. 11 cast members. 31.6mm of rain. 1 triathlon.
Aside from the usual grind of production, these intimidating statistical numbers, September 13th, 2015 provided THIS LIFE and its cast and crew the most challenging production day of its entire run.
Bagel shop debates, travails into abandoned gunpowder storage buildings, and duking it out in a gut-punch that launched this series in the pilot pale in comparison to the sheer magnitude of preparing, organizing and executing a triathlon.
Triathlon, for those of you who don’t know, is a multi-stage competition involving three distinct athletic disciplines. Swimming, cycling and running are all staged consecutively in what many consider to be the ultimate endurance test. It’s a grueling sport you and I will dream of mastering...in our collective nightmares.
Shooting such a detail-oriented sport posed an initial logistical challenge but it’s truly where the triathlon situates itself within the drama of THIS LIFE that added to the tribulation.
The triathlon helps tie a narrative and emotional bow on so many Lawsons. A bow that Stephanie Janusauskas, the talented young actress who portrays Emma, was acutely aware of saying, “[Emma] was the one who ran the triathlon and other characters had to push themselves to be strong and confront their issues [...] the fact that you see the journey of so many come to the forefront is kinda beautiful.”
Narrative cohesion is one thing, the pragmatic reality of shooting a technical sport is quite another. But Janusauskas had her eye on a more unadorned goal: “[...] I didn’t want to look like a total moron.” And truthfully she never did. In fact, the NDG local’s been running competitively since age 6, when she’d participate in organized 1k’s in and around Montreal. She also trained and was coached on triathlon in order to fully understand the sport’s quirky rules and difficult techniques.
Running a triathlon aside, the all-day blistering rains almost made the day impossible to cobble together.
“It was like shooting underwater,” lamented Paul Fox, director of episodes 8-10 of THIS LIFE.
And he was right. The rain would change on a dime. Going from light and sprinkle one minute, to raining buckets the next.
Protecting the camera lens from water damage, ensuring continuity between shots, and obtaining the focus of everybody on scene became that much harder with every change in wind direction and every curtain of falling rain.
In my short time collaborating with Fox, I never saw a director be so attached to his production binders. The former director of episodes of Rookie Blue and CBC’s Schitt's Creek excelled when it came to organization and preparation for THIS LIFE. Fox and his team expected the bad weather but, nobody thought it would lead to only getting “[...] 1, maybe 2 takes for scenes.”
But the volatile weather also provided an unintended consequence: tone.
The blistering weather forced Emma’s character to combat greater odds, and in the process, overcome a greater obstacle. The rain also did well to mimic the narrative storms that are to come for the Lawsons. And finally, it captured the entire tone of THIS LIFE -- a series that finds light and levity in the darkest of moments.
Janusauskas credits Fox when she told me that “anybody else would’ve cracked under that pressure.” Fox, likewise, couldn’t help but share some praise, “she never [seemed] to lose her cool.”
In the end, both talents helped make THIS LIFE’s day. The drama was captured. The triathlon was swum, biked and ran. And the crew was rainsoaked.
What we’re left with is the crowning moment of the series’ first season. One that may inspire you to strap on the swim suit and jump in the now fecal-injected St. Lawrence river….or maybe not.
When asked to reflect on the day, Fox had but one comment, “I can’t think of anything we could’ve done differently.”
Dip your un-athletic toes in THIS LIFE’s episode archive to catch up on all the drama you’ve missed.
By the way...I’m Max Morin, Story Coordinator and blog master of THIS LIFE. Come back for more behind-the-scenes material.