I like a sleep in on Sundays, but when my friend, the wonderfully talented Sandra DaCosta invited me to buckle my swash and set out to sea with a band of cut throat mutant pirates, roguish heroes with cigars and lasers and a bevy of beauties, how could I say no? I mean, I’ve been waiting a long time to play pirate! So with a cry of “Avast you scurvy swine!” I raced for Toronto’s harbour front early, EARLY Sunday morning.
Mustering together at Queen’s Quay, Sandra and I met up with series creator, director, star, writer and all around good guy Mike Donis, who welcomed me aboard and thanked me for wanting to come out and spend the day with them.
How could I not? To spend a day out on the water on a couple of sailboats, playing pirate (and to be honest – I wasn’t playing pirate, I was there to cover the day – but hey, I could pretend!).
Cast and crew had been showing up since about 7:30, Sandra and I rolled into base camp around 8:30. Base camp being Mike’s boat, where he lives year round – awesome right? Make-up and costume prep were well underway, with Mike keeping a weather eye on it, as he went over storyboards, script, and chatted with his
The concept for the short film and the web-series that sprang from it is camp, tongue firmly planted in cheek, and an homage to the serials of the 1930s, impossible situations, beautiful women, and wise cracking hero. Pete Winning and his stalwart crew including Eva (Saffron Cassaday) and Remy (Robert Nolan) plough the oceans of the 2030s after a disastrous war. Working where they can get jobs, making money however they can, they are just trying to scrape by on the seas of this post-apocalyptic world.
One by one, a number of cast members clamber on to the upper deck of Mike’s boat and settle in for the process of make-up, which includes tan-ification, dirt-ification and for a lucky foursome, prosthetics, as they assume the roles of today’s featured baddies, a group of mutants, known collectively in the 2030s, when our high adventure is set, as Uglies. Paul Nicholls ends up with one eye covered beneath a fleshy extrusion that covers the right side of his face, John Kraft ends up with an almost neolithic brow, and looks particularly vicious, Charlotte Herriman ends up with her platinum blonde hair frizzed up around her in an almost Bride of Frankenstein way, with a shell-like growth on her left cheek marring her good looks and finally when everyone else has been tended to, Bobby Bonner who also works on the show’s FX gets prosthetics and bandages covering his face.
Mike watches over all of this as Samantha Aylsworth, who is in charge of costumes and sets, makes everything picture perfect, decorating one boat, with trash and torn bags, the Uglies ship, serving as a reflection of its masters.
Tending to each of the cast members one after another, is Sharon Yoo touching up make-up on Pete’s companion Eva, making sure that everyone is sufficiently tanned and dirty.
Having a spare moment in all the organized chaos, Mike and I briefly chatted about the origins of Pete Winning. The short film was birthed as a short action sequence
that Mike had created for a contest, but he felt it lent itself more appropriately to the web-series that has now sprung up, paying homage to the serials of the 1930s, kind of a cross between The Crimson Pirate and the Flash Gordon films. He says that the positive response to the pilot convinced him that the series, which is a little lighter, more goofy and stylized could have legs.
As make-up on Bobby finishes up, they lay out a spread on the boat’s deck, and everyone gets a bite to eat before getting ready for the shoot.
I find a spare moment to talk with the series co-director, cameraman and cinematographer Jason Leaver,who is shooting the entire series on DSLR and at that point I know it’s going to be a great day, because we end up talking about Jaws.
Sandra, who has agreed to shepherd me around for the day, despite not being required on set, makes sure that I get to meet everyone and then we pile on to the Uglies’ boat. We slip our berth and head out on the water, and I found myself humming the John Williams’ piece “Out To Sea” from Jaws.
Saffron, Robert and Mike run their lines over and over until they are second nature. Mike lays out shots, consulting his storyboards, knowing which shots he needs to get today, and what ones he can pick up as inserts.
We cruise along the coast of the shore before cutting out towards the channel along Ward’s Island, where we are going to meet the Gorwin, the second boat we’re
using today, and is serving as Pete Winnings heroic vessel.
Sandra, Eva, Mike, Robert, Jason, Sharon and I switch vessels, and speed out around the island, the Uglies’ vessel in pursuit.
Finally we find a perfect position, with the right angles, Jason can shoot the Uglies coming at us without any land to be seen. To the viewer, it’ll look like they are out on the open seas, marauders coming to plunder Pete and his crew.
Jason and Mike confer and set up the camera, as the Uglies ship comes barreling towards us out of the afternoon sun, and the open water. They yell, taunt and growl at us as they pass us by.
They repeat this process a couple of times, until Mike and Jason are satisfied they get what they need, and then the Gorwin drops anchor.
The Uglies slip up beside us, and I’m put to work, tying a bumper into place, who knew I had such sailing skills? A couple of lines are tied to the bow and stern allowing the crew to position the ship for the best shot. They wait for clouds and sun to play nice, and give them what they want and then, get ready for the take.
Saffron and Mike take their marks for an over the shoulder two shot as Eva and Pete face off against the Uglies. They draw their lasers and disarm their enemies repeatedly as Jason shoots on two DSLRs at once, getting a medium shot, and sometimes a close-up while the other goes wide. I’m steps away on the deck of the Gorwin, snapping pics, taking notes and smiling at the dialogue.
This series is going to be a romp and just good fun. It’s filled with good-looking people, allowing me to once again feel my attractiveness increase by proximity, great use of items on hand, in this case, access to two boats, two DSLRs, and a cast who wants to play.
Over and over they shoot the scene, getting different angles, trying different deliveries, and getting cutaways of each of the Uglies, who, in this case are trying to rob Pete and his crew of their food.
Mike plays Pete to the hilt, roguish, charming and a little full of himself. Saffron’s Eva is a little more subdued and straight-laced, keeping Pete on target.
As the action sequence finishes again, with a shot of Eva blasting a weapon, Jason and Mike discuss the logistics of what comes next, they need shots of the Uglies leaving, as well as docking with them at the top of the sequence. The Uglies slip away from us, and one shot is scored, and then as the boat comes around again, to sidle up against us, the other shot, is grabbed as well.
Jason decides it’s time to transfer to the other boat and shoot the Gorwin, racing across the water, with Nolan at the helm. Sandra, Sharon, the ship’s owners and I are spirited below, as Jason gets his long shots from the other vessel. Robert is coached by Andy Oakes on turning to port or starboard, increasing and decreasing
When Jason knows he’s gotten all of his shots, he signals that he’s ready to be transferred back.
This entire shoot has taken most of the afternoon, each piece of the scene, reaction shots, practical effects, close-ups, medium shots. All of this to capture a few minutes of story, to give Mike everything he needs in the editing room.
Jason slips back aboard the Gorwin, as the Uglies and the other boat wraps for the day. The water is a little tumultuous as Sandra and I hold onto lines and leap back aboard the Uglies vessel. It’s a cool moment, even if I’m sure I don’t pull it off as
smoothly as I would like.
As we head back to shore, leaving Pete and his stalwart crew behind to shoot reverses and close-ups, Sandra and I have a chat for a podcast, and I think what an awesome day it was.
Mike has assembled a group of people who ‘get’ his idea, and want to share in it. That should translate to the screen and make for a great ride, and I was very fortunate to
get a look at it from the inside.
I’m looking forward to the finished project and it has also opened my eyes, much like Guidestones did, that web-series are definitely a growing form of entertainment and aren’t confined to a person talking into a webcam.
So mate, set your lasers to fun, chart your course for the 2030s, and shiver your timbers…
Pete Winning & The Pirates Season 1 is coming!