Behind The Scenes Of Stargate Continuum, Part Two

Working in the Arctic Circle isn’t just tough: it’s almost impossible. Even leaving aside the extraordinary effort it takes to get there – as director Martin Wood puts it, there aren’t any tourist flights up onto the ice – the conditions aren’t exactly the sort you’d encounter in your back yard. Wood and director of photography Peter Woeste, along with the film’s stars and the skeleton crew, faced daily challenges as they worked to make Continuum the stunning adventure it turned out to be.

“It’s magical,” says Woeste, of the environment they found themselves in. “It’s an amazing place where you just feel utterly alone. There is nobody else on the planet, and the horizon is around you forever. You are totally isolated. It is somewhat dangerous – they don’t let you out of the camp unless you are with somebody that has a gun because there are polar bears around – and polar bears are the only animals that actively hunt human beings. They are very smart, so you have to be very careful. So this was the kind of experience you just don’t get anywhere else!”The other major threat of working in the Arctic is, of course, the harsh conditions. Neither human beings nor camera equipment are built to withstand the bitter cold and endless ice! In such temperatures, frostbite can occur very quickly, and so it’s important that every square inch of the body is covered. Though the team were kitted out in full weather gear that pretty much engulfed them entirely, Woeste himself had a slight issue with his face gear.

“The only thing I had a serious problem with is that I wear glasses,” he says. “We were wearing parkas, full head gear, balaclavas, which are both mouth and face covering, and goggles. So there was no exposed skin, because exposed skin will freeze in seconds. But the problem with all of that is if you wear glasses inside those goggles, and you wear a balaclava, they tend to fog up quickly. Not only that, you can’t put your eye to the eyepiece of a camera if you’ve got goggles on. So I spent most of my time without my glasses or goggles on, and with my balaclava down around my neck. And so I ended up with frostbitten cheeks. I couldn’t have anything on my face because I couldn’t have seen anything. It’s quite important to see when you’re a director of photography, to be able to see what you’re shooting!” Woeste laughs. Thankfully, the frostbite wasn’t severe, and the DoP suffered no permanent injuries. “It was a quick recovery, it wasn’t so bad. It was made worse when I had to shoot some helicopter sequences. Here I was actually hanging outside the helicopter, skimming along just above the ice. There’s a shot where you see the forever landscape, and our two characters walking insignificantly in all this landscape. But that was all shot form the outside of a helicopter. It was great!”

Though once they’d made it up on to the ice, the team had to stay there for the duration, the production made sure that they had plenty of help. Apart from the US Air Force, who were responsible for suggesting the trip in the first place and who protected the team from those pesky polar bears while they were there, the shooting crew also had other help.

“We were well prepared, but it was surprising how well we all got through it,” recalls Woeste. “We had a helicopter there for support. It was able to lift what looked like a wooden out-house, so that we could get certain bits of equipment out of the wind – and it was windy at times. We also had small generators, because batteries don’t do so well up there. We had all kinds of backup and all of this equipment at the ready, so we fared fairly well.”

Even when the team returned to Vancouver to continue the rest of the shoot, Woeste still had plenty of ice and snow to deal with! This time, of course, it was controlled by the production – but that made it no less easy to work with, as he explains.

“The Arctic shoot wasn’t the only thing that it was a delight to be involved with,” he says. “The film opens on the freighter, in 1939 in the mid-Atlantic. Even though we were shooting in Vancouver, it was difficult to find a period ship that we could shoot on, So we built all the interior of the ship on a stage. It would have been a normal set, but we decided that it was a ship on the ocean and ships tip back and forth. So we decided that we would tip this entire set – and it was huge, it was two or three stories built on the biggest stage that we have.”

The gimbled ship set was the most ambitious that the Stargate team had ever put together, and they were rightly proud of their achievement. Once the initial scenes were filmed, the set was then frozen to simulate its icy resting place, which is when our heroes Cameron Mitchell, Daniel Jackson and Sam Carter enter the fray. For Woeste, filming these scenes presented one gigantic problem.

“I was about to run a crew in there and start to light it, which meant making some structural additions so we could hang the lights. I was promptly told that no, we couldn’t put lights or any additional structure on it, because it was at its maximum weight and it would cave in if we put extra on it,” he laughs. “Also, they said I couldn’t really put lights on it anyway, because as it’s moving, there was a danger that the lights would fall apart and fall off. And not only that but the electricians told me that the filaments in the lights would break from all the rocking. So we couldn’t light it! I asked if we could get other equipment that stands independently, but no, we couldn’t do that either. We just couldn’t access it, because they also wanted to put frost and snow inside it.”

In the end, Woeste made the brave – and possibly the only –decision he could, to light the scene using only the flashlights carried by the cast. It was another first for the production, and in the end produced a wonderfully claustrophobic atmosphere perfect for the moment.

“There were just no other choices,” he says. “We shot all that in a single day, and it was the only way that we could have done it in that time frame. I would have loved to have gone and put some lights on things to enhance it a little bit, but in the end I’m kind of glad I didn’t. Because in a scene like that, where you have a lot of concerns about it going in, you would probably never have done it if you’d had the choice. But having been forced into it, I think it’s great. I love it. It’s so realistic, and I don’t think the audience is missing anything. I think it worked out very much to the advantage of the film.”

News article courtesy of the Official Stargate Website