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Smoke 'em if you got 'em

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Cigarette commercial shot in Whistler to convey images of fresh, clean air, athleticism, action

Seeing three snowmobilers come blasting out of a garage, get some good air and then come to a quick stop in the middle of the road, is not your typical site on Garibaldi Way in Nordic.

Seeing one of those snowmobilers wearing a long black flowing wig and a shiny silver coat seems even stranger.

Seeing them do this repeatedly amid a throng of onlookers is even more surreal.

But this isn't real life. This is a commercial for Salem cigarettes.

Last week this quiet cul-de-sac was abuzz with excitement and a crowd of about 50 technicians, cameramen, actors, stunt doubles and a few curious onlookers.

Huge trucks lined the adjoining street and a roadblock stopped any lost cars form wondering onto the set.

"It's sort of exciting for our quiet little neighbourhood here," said Keith Strycker, who gave up part of his driveway for the commercial shoot. "I've never seen a film or commercial shoot before."

The company responsible for all the action on Garibaldi Way was Free Form, a Vancouver-based film company. They'll be spending about five days making the commercial but it'll never air in Canada. Instead, they are targeting a Malaysian audience.

"It's quite an ambitious storyboard. It involves skating, snowboarding, snowmobiling and sled biking," said Bill, the production manager who preferred not to give his last name.

The crew was planning on spending two days in Whistler before moving on to a location in Manning Park, with a portion being filmed on a lake and another section being filmed from a helicopter.

"You get a lot more coverage," explained Bill.

The site on Garibaldi Way served the dual function of both outdoor and indoor shots.

In order to achieve the precise look for the shot, the company built a pre-fabricated garage in Vancouver, moved it up to Whistler and attached it to the existing house.

They also wrapped two wooden pillars that dominate the front of the house in some sheet metal, adding a more futuristic look to the home. All of this work was done for the single snowmobile shot.

Inside the house, the crew constructed a stainless steel fireplace that reached as high as 25 feet, said Strycker.

"It seems like an awful expense for a one minute slot," he said. "It's almost ludicrous."

Bill estimated that the final price tag will come in around half a million dollars.

This particular shot with the snowmobilers was filmed from more than one angle and took more than half a dozen takes. It will be less than five seconds of the actual commercial.

The entire commercial is expected to take about five days of filming in total.

"Basically the impression (Salem is) trying to give is freshness, the clean air," said Bill. "It's about athleticism and action and people enjoying the great outdoors."

And Whistler is one of the best places to create that look, especially because Salem's colours are grey and white.

Bill preferred not to comment on the irony of the commercial's concept as opposed to the product its selling.

Free Form used local talent to film the shots on the snowboards and snowmobiles. The close up shots involved "real" actors.

This is roughly the sixth time that the company has come to Whistler to film. Each time the company has to get permission from the municipality to be on the road and, if required, to put up a building on the property.

At the end of the filming, everything must be returned to normal – the garage has to be taken down, the metal pillars removed and the fireplace returned to normal.

"When you figure the amount of money that went in it's pretty incredible. So my thinking is, there must be a lot of money in cigarettes," said Strycker.

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