"How do you work this thing?"
Director Ken Hegan is adjusting a remote microphone headset that will keep him in touch with crew on the first day of filming Heart of Whistler. Chosen by a Whistler Film Festival committee as a winning screenplay submission for December’s festival, Heart of Whistler is the story of an uninspired waitress who faces physical and internal challenges as she rushes to deliver a frozen heart to a waiting transplant patient.
"This is the most challenging scene," Hegan said as a production assistant untangled wires. Although he’s directed six short films the crew of 50 is the largest with which he’s ever worked and Hegan admits he’s a little giddy. But the Kamloops native, who learned to skate at age two, has laced up his own skates and is ready to hit the ice and film the climactic mid-game scene.
"I want this film to look as good as Slapshot," Hegan said, "maybe even faster in some ways, and that means we have to move very quickly to get all the moving dolly shots that I imagine in my fevered dream of the perfect hockey climax."
Slapshot was director George Roy Hill’s 1977 phoenix-like film about a failing hockey team that has become a cult classic among Canadian hockey fans.
Hegan and co-writer John Meadows dreamed up Heart of Whistler’s screenplay while attending last year’s Whistler Film Festival.
"I got this idea that every day is a gold medal game, that every day is a possibility to be a champion in your life," Hegan said.
Meadows wrote a first draft but re-wrote it with Hegan, finalizing on the idea of a skater girl waitress cynical about the Olympics who finds her inner Olympian as she races through Whistler to deliver a heart.
"We very shamelessly included as many Olympic references as possible but in a really fun, adventurous way," Hegan said.
Although technically a drama, when actor Wade Fennig as rejuvenated heart patient Jean-Guy Pilon easily leaps Meadow Park boards wearing only skates and a hospital gown the film makes a line shift to comedy.
Fennig, a former professional hockey player who played in the Western Canada Hockey League, is now a Vancouver-based actor. "Just being able to play hockey is really the bonus in this," he said. "You can do that without thinking."
Although Hegan was directing helicopter shots of Whistler Village earlier in the day, in the afternoon arena scene he used a more low-tech approach: two crew members pushed him along the ice as he doubled as camera operator. While providing a memorable behind-the-scenes moment as transformed heart patient Fennig splits two defencemen heading to the net, Hegan forgot he was directly in the path of the defencemen.
"I’m bending over looking down at the camera monitor and going wow this is great, but then realize I can see my coming doom seconds away. Oh now it’s one second away and the skate blades are about to slash my throat," Hegan said. Always the professional he remembered to protect the camera while taking a hit.
"It was almost like I’m in a bar, someone knocks me down but I saved the beer," he said.
Actress Rikki Gagne, 25, is Kate , a skater girl who discovers her own heart in order to deliver a heart. A former skateboarder now Vancouver stuntwoman and actress, her major concern is a different kind of physical encounter.
"The biggest challenge will be my kissing scene, my first onscreen kiss," she said with a nervous giggle. Raised in Campbell River and a Vancouver resident for the past six years, Gagne said the five-minute short film is a chance for her to do some full acting: doing stunts, action scenes and ponying up for the kiss with actor Peter New, who plays the arena’s janitor.
The film also stars Da Vinci’s Inquest actor Fred Keating as the doctor who operates on Pilon. Filming will continue Sept. 9 and 10 in Whistler. Heart of Whistler will premiere at the Whistler Film Festival, Nov. 30-Dec. 3, 2006.