SXSW HIT SLASH/BACK: 1ST AD AND LOCATION MANAGER ON MAKING A FILM AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD

DGC Ontario Production Slash/Back recently premiered at South By Southwest to rave reviews. Directed by Director Member Nyla Innuksuk and set and shot on location in Nunavut, Slash/Back is the story of Maika (Tasiana Shirley) and her ragtag friends, who discover an alien invasion in their tiny arctic town of Pangnirtung. Utilizing their makeshift weapons and horror movie knowledge, it’s up to them to save the day – the aliens are about to realize you don’t mess with girls from Pang.

We spoke to 1st Assistant Director Ryan Hyland and Location Manager Gordon Byford about what it was like to embark on this production in the Arctic, the logistical challenges of working at the top of the world, and how the cast and crew worked in references to classic 80s genre films into Slash/Back

How did you first get involved with Slash/Back?

Ryan: Producer Dan Bekerman reached out to me with the script to see if I would be interested. After giving it a read and falling in love with Nyla and Ryan Cavan’s script, I met with Nyla and we talked more about what she wanted to do and the possibilities of what could be done in Pangnirtung.

Gordon: I first learned of and was recommended for the project by Production Manager Marc Dassas, and was hired by Slash/Back‘s Production Manager Jennifer Mesich. It didn’t take long to realize it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to the top of the planet. A special thanks to Producers Daniel Bekerman and Alex Ordanis for having faith in me to handle something so logistically complicated. 

What was your collaboration process like with Director Nyla Innuksuk and the Locations team on the production? How did you work to articulate Nyla’s vision, as a Director who grew up in the region?

Ryan: Nyla had written with Pang in mind so all of the locations were real. Gord Byford did an amazing job integrating himself into the community and securing the locations that Nyla and the team wanted. The community of Pang opened their arms and their homes to us and Gord was a big part of that process.

Gordon: Scouting in Pangnirtung often required an interpreter to communicate with the Elders. For scouting out on the land we hired local hunters and guides with their boats and rifles. Polar bears are no joke! Our tech survey consisted of full survival gear and 5 boats. For filming with a full crew and gear we used 11 boats all scheduled around the 16 to 20-foot tides. 

Pang has a housing shortage, so finding lodging for 70 crew was difficult. We were given permission to take over the public school and high school which came with shower and kitchen facilities. The classrooms were used as accommodations. A planeload of bed frames and mattresses was flown in along with all the equipment and food we needed while filming. Getting everything and everyone there required a minimum of 3 different planes with layovers. I think we rented every available vehicle in town regardless of its mechanical fitness. Our camera truck didn’t have reverse!

Director Nyla Innuksuk has called this film a cross between E.T. and The Goonies — stories about friendship and adventure, but with a fantastical twist.” How did you work references to this particular genre of film into Slash/Back?

Gordon: The credit for this completely goes to our Director Nyla Innuksuk for choosing Pangnirtung as our filming location; a town she frequented as a child. The beauty of the scenery is fantastical no matter where you look. The town itself has the feeling of family and friendship, with the adventure being part of living in the Artic.

Ryan: The nature of the production forced the team to think outside the box in regard to working references into the film. Our Director, Nyla, liked to rehearse with the cast in the locations before shooting and this is when they were able to draw out any references or genre elements. Nyla, Director of Photography Guy Godfrey, and Production Designer Zosia MacKenzie would often sit in on these rehearsals and discuss the scenes and how they could shoot and stage them. Often film, art and media references were discussed to convey the desired feel. The cast were all real teenagers, so media references were often the language of choice.

Tech survey photos courtesy of Gordon Byford. 

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