While we were on vacation in the Maritime provinces last week, my daughter and I had the chance to visit the set of the Syfy TV series Haven, which is a loose adaptation of King’s Hard Case Crime novel, The Colorado Kid.
I first met HCC editor/publisher Charles Ardai at the World Horror Convention in New York in 2005. We’ve kept in touch over the years and I occasionally expressed a desire to visit Haven, a show on which he’s a writer and producer. While I was planning this vacation, he was able to put me in touch with the right people.
Of course, it was the one day of our trip where it absolutely poured. I think the total was something like 25-30 mm for the day, which is around an inch. We didn’t let that dampen our spirits, though. We were determined to have a good time, and we did. As it happened, this was the last day of filming before a hiatus that would last until after the July 4th weekend, so everyone was in a good mood. They were finally going to get some sleep.
The first surprise, though, was finding this gift arrangement in our hotel room when we got to Halifax. In addition to all manner of chocolates, nuts, chips and fudge, we found two Haven hats, two T-shirts, two DVDs (containing the Season 3 episode Real Estate that takes place in a haunted house on Halloween, a lengthy making-of, and footage from Comic-Con), two mini graphic novels, two Grey Gull bottle openers and other trinkets. My daughter asked me if I often got treated like this.
We headed out to Chester that morning, about 50 km down Nova Scotia’s south shore, past Peggy’s Cove. The studio is located in the Chester arena, with Studio A in the hockey rink and Studio B in the curling rink. It’s a good arrangement: the arena would otherwise be unused during the summer. After meeting our host, Skana Gee, the unit publicist, we were given a tour of the facilities, meeting many of the behind-the-scenes people along the way, and of the constructed sets, which include the police station, the hospital (both set up contiguously: you can walk down the hall from one room to the next), Audrey’s apartment and Duke’s boat. The attention to detail is amazing. The jail’s rungs look metal, but they aren’t, the walls look concrete (ditto), and everything is dressed to the nines, including wanted posters that often feature crew members accused of nasty crimes. There are all manner of inside jokes, if you look closely enough. My daughter, the English Literature major, was particularly interested in the books used to dress the various sets, especially those in Duke’s boat.
Next, we were handed off to one of the drivers, a guy named Bruce who took us all over Chester, Mahone Bay and Lunenburg to see the locations used for many of the exterior shots. We saw the town hall that doubles for the police department, for example, and little side streets or random buildings that were used in various episodes. Real churches and buildings that were converted into churches. The street the gigantic boulder rolled down in the first season. The beach where the Colorado Kid was found. Many other familiar locations from the show. Bruce was an engaging and entertaining tour guide who is also a musician, so we talked about many of the people he’s worked with and the places he’s gone with his music. We also stopped off to see the Bluenose, which has just undergone an expensive and controversial makeover.
We next visited the Grey Gull, Duke’s bar, which is a full set constructed from an old fishing shack. Exteriors of Audrey’s apartment are also filmed here, but for reverse shots from inside, shot on the sound stage, an enormous photograph duplicates the view seen below. We got to go inside and look everything over. There’s Canadian Tire money pinned to one wall, and surf boards hanging from the ceiling (Eric Balfour, who plays Duke, is an avid surfer).
We then drove by the house used for the haunted house episode (it’s much smaller than it appears to be on the show) and went to the Haven Herald news office, which is another full set absolutely littered with inside jokes. The newspaper pages that are seen in the opening credits are on one wall. In the back room there’s an old style printing press with all the bits and pieces. One set of filing cabinets is labeled with the names of King works, many of them unreleased, like Keyholes or Aftermath, and with dates that are significant to King’s biography.
We had lunch at the studio (next to the hockey changing rooms!), where we were introduced to many of the people who contribute to the show, which has a crew of nearly 100, many of them locals. Everyone was really friendly. Everyone.
We also got to chat for a while with Shawn Piller, the executive producer who was also part of The Dead Zone series on USA a while back. Then we went to the morgue, where the publicist and a cameraman did a long filmed EPK (electronic press kit) interview with me, bits and pieces of which may show up in various social media venues and maybe even on the season 5 DVD. The interview was “crashed” by one of the guest stars, whose identity I’m not allowed to reveal, but whose appearance livened up the banter a great deal!
Then we were driven over to the active set, where scenes from the eighth episode of Season 5 were being filmed in a house. Quarters were cramped: it wasn’t a huge house and an amazing number of people were crammed into it. We sat at the back, behind the director and the director of photography in what’s called “video village,” where we could see the A and B cameras and listen to the dialog on headsets. The real action was taking place at the other side of the house. We could occasionally see the actors through the doorways, but mostly watched the video displays. After five years, the production has turned into a well-oiled machine. The people are familiar with each other and everyone seems to get along well. There’s a lot going on around “the talent”—they are the focus of all attention ultimately, but it’s a kind of controlled chaos. They’re shifted and moved around, made up, rigged with gadgets, measured with tape measures, shown where to stand and then, all of a sudden, it’s “action” and they’re fully on. During rehearsal, they mumble out the dialog without any rhythm or feeling, but when the cameras are rolling, take after take they’re fully present. Sure, the occasional line gets blown or a blocking action is flubbed, but it is amazing to see all of this chaos gel into something magical. There’s no momentum for the actors to build up to a shot. They get stopped and started and have to be where they’re supposed to be emotionally in that moment, even if it’s from a totally different part of the episode than the scene they shot a few minutes earlier. It’s impressive to watch.
During a break when the cameras and lights were being moved so that the same scene could be filmed from the opposite direction, stars Emily Rose and Lucas Bryant came over and spent some time with us. (Balfour, who you may also know from 24 and as Gabe on Six Feet Under, had already returned to California.) Bryant posed with us for a picture, but the set photographer asked for a do-over because he said that it looked like Bryant was holding my daughter hostage. Since this is well into the season, which hasn’t yet debuted, I can’t say a word about what we saw, or about guest stars who haven’t yet been announced, or anything like that, but I’m looking forward to seeing the scenes in their final versions later this fall.
After a couple of hours in video village, listening to the rain carom off the roof of the house, creating a dull roar overhead, we decided to head back into Halifax during a brief easing of the weather. The cast and crew had another couple of hours of work ahead of them before they would get to go home. Here are a few photos from our visit (if you’re reading this on LiveJournal, you’ll probably need to pop over to my website to see these):
The Grey Gull, including Audrey Parker's apartment upstairs
The view from the Grey Gull
There's a new sheriff in town -- at the Haven PD
In the hoosegow - Haven jail
Between takes, with Lucas Bryant, aka Nathan Wuornos
We had a great time in Haven, even though our “trouble” is apparently that we are rainmakers. “Five years we’ve been filming and you picked today to visit,” the supervising producer said. (Rain isn’t all that unusual on the coast of Nova Scotia—one year it rained for many more days than it didn’t during Haven’s production schedule.)