CURSING THE WEATHER

Director Russell England talks about the extra dimension during the making of Paranormal Witness Season 3 film, ‘The Curse of Lonergan Farm’ – the weather!

 “The perfect location for Paranormal Witness needs to fulfill a number of criteria.  It needs to look like where the real haunting took place.  Generally we also look for somewhere super scary.  Lastly we need to find a location that will accommodate the crew of around thirty technicians and cast members that are required to work in front of and behind the camera.  We don’t usually work with sets or in studios, as so often the location itself is a main character in the film.

 And so it proved with the location for ‘Lonergan Farm’.

 

The Lonergan farmhouse in Nebraska before it was demolished in 2001.

 

The Curse of Lonergan Farm tells the story of three brothers – Dan, Tim and Steve Dale – who are reunited on their family farm shortly before the death of their mother.  Strange and unsettling event reawaken memories from their childhood.  And a dark family secret is revealed, before events on the farm take a sinister turn. 

 

We had an ambitious story to tell that required quite specific buildings to film in.  Lonergan Farm was a remote mid-nineteenth century Nebraskan farmhouse surrounded by trees and land.  The story also called for an abandoned, broken-down house in the woods which needed to have a spooky storm cellar.  There was also a large timber barn containing a seventy-foot deep well.

Ideally, we were hoping to find all these elements in one place, as moving a film crew between locations can be time-consuming and expensive.

Added to this logistical headache for our location Manager, Morten Dorrell, was the North American winter – which had arrived with a vengeance!

Director Russell England in front of an early suggestion for Lonergan Farm. We soon realized that this location would present serious logistical problems thanks to the heavy snow that fell around Toronto in February of this year. 

 

We found one farm that was the perfect ‘lookalike’ for the Lonergan farmhouse but as we waved goodbye to Morten as he disappeared on his skis to explore the rest of the farm, we realized that the snow was going to pose significant problems for us.  If he needed skis to move around the farm then how on earth were a crew lugging equipment going to manage?  Never mind all the unit vehicles…

In the end we did find our perfect location – in downtown Toronto, so accessible too!  Pioneer Village is part of an historical open-air museum within the city – complete with farmhouses, basements, barns, trees and even wells (although these had been concreted-over).  There was also an abandoned structure in the woods that could double for the house of the story’s ghostly villain – the family boogeyman, evil Uncle Will.

It had been snowing the night before our technical scout.  When we arrived with all the Heads of Department to see the place together for the first time, a foot of fresh snow was sitting on our ‘hero’ farmhouse.  The cold whiteness gave everything an eerie and remote quality.  It was perfect!  The only one not terribly happy about our choice was a raccoon who had hurriedly vacated the premises – judging by his footprints in the snow and the lingering smell he left behind!

A couple of days later we moved in and the Art Department transformed the empty farmhouse into the Dale Boys’ family home.  They were also busy building a rickety porch on the abandoned house in the woods.  And a Well in the barn that would look seventy-feet deep but in fact be safe for the child actors to lower each other down into.

DOP Paul Kirsop and AC1 Andrew Hills filming the well scene.  It actually felt warmer outside!

The camera crew in the forest.

 

But, boy, was it cold!  On the one hand the clouds of breath coming out of the actors’ mouths added real atmosphere to the scenes in the barn.  On the other hand, standing around outside mostly at night, tested the cast and crew to the limit of their survival skills!  As well as the Art Department’s paint and materials that refused to dry in the cold.

 

1st AD Mark MacDonald, Producer Tim Riding and 2nd Camera Operator Juan Montalvo – all dressed-up and waiting for darkness to fall.  That night the temperature dropped to -20˚C with wind chill.

 

And just as we were cursing the snow…  Halfway through our shoot it suddenly got warmer and started to rain.  Overnight, the snow began to melt, lakes of water appeared in between fields of mud, and our equipment and boots began to sink into the ground!

 

The ‘lookalike’ farmhouse in the snow…

 And a couple of days later as the snow started to melt…

 

There is a saying that ‘the camera never lies’.  Well, thanks to the hardworking Cast and Crew, this is not the case.  We avoided the puddles of water and mud that everyone was wading through, a neighboring block of modern-day apartments was carefully framed-out, and we took full advantage of the snow captured on camera early on.  It all lent a wintry twist to an already unsettling paranormal story.”

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