Filming in Northern Canada with Unit Manager Robert Toohey
Rob's first industry break was in 1988 when he was hired to advise on mountain safety for Disney's White Fang. It would be his largest production and he absolutely loved the mayhem; he's since worked on more than 250 productions.
"My first day on [the White Fang] set was bewildering. A unit, over a mile long, parked on the highway. There were 200 extras in Gold Rush wardrobe, mountains of props, five helicopters, half a dozen snowcats, a crew of 100... and all of this on a 40-degree-angle slope on a snow-covered mountain!"
The more than 250 productions Rob has since completed include a few northern features, commercials, photo shoots, survival shows, wildlife documentaries and, lately, a plethora of reality television projects.
Shooting snow and ice productions in Northern Canada and Alaska is Rob's specialty. He was a professional game guide for 12 years and this has served him well with wildlife documentaries featuring wolves, grizzlies, polar bears and caribou.
What can you tell me about your region and the filming infrastructure on offer?
The region I cover defies a size description. It's western North America, northern Alaska and northern Canada. Lately I've been a production service company for incoming TV projects. I hire the crews and produce the show. I'll work at any level on a production, from Location Manager to Producer. I love the work and the adventure, the collaborative aspects of the job and putting the pieces of the puzzle together into a thing of beauty. The challenges of weather, geography and schedule are an added layer of complexity that people outside the business just can't grasp. Like "Why would you come to shoot winter in May?" I thrive on achieving the nearly impossible.
What locations are most commonly used by film and TV crews when they come and film in the area?
Snow is the major appeal; the Yukon pretty much beats anywhere in North America for that. It's a mainstay of my business.
We have easily accessible 'roadside wilderness' and long hours of daylight in the spring summer and fall. And the light in winter is fantastic! With a maximum sun angle of six degrees elevation at winter solstice, there are long shadows that go on all day. Some directors like to shoot in the Yukon in December and January when the light has an incredible quality... it's hard to describe but think salmon pink air with 60 foot long shadows.
What are the rare, more unusual locations in your region that our readers would not necessarily associate with the region?
There are limestone pinnacles that resemble locations in Utah, there is a small desert south of Whitehorse, there are mountains that mimic Antarctica and Colorado and there are large fjord lakes that mimic Norway. The landscape of the Yukon is very varied.
What has been your most difficult location assignment to date and why
Finding 'Holland' in the snow with a Dutch Barn for Heineken was a head scratcher! Making a skating rink on a glacial lake amongst towering icebergs, flying in a polar bear and having it chase Germany's female Olympic speed skater was a bit of a stretch. When they say the bear is 'tame', that's a relative term!
What types of production have you worked on recently?
I'm on the last day for Gold Rush a six-month-long Discovery series. Last year a big Hollywood feature named The Big Year (with Steve Martin and Jack Black) shot here. Lately I do TV - it seems like commercials are becoming less frequent, but UK TV is booming.
Are there any particular tips that you would like to share with our audience about filming in your region?
The Yukon and Northern Canada are easy places to film with the right crews. Don't be afraid of watching show reels of locals and gaining from their years of experience in a sometimes harsh climate. The red tape is almost non-existent in the North. So much depends on who you know, so hire a reputable location person with a track record of successful project management and enjoy his or her relationships with Government.
Which are the best airports to use to film in your region and who flies there? Any tips on customs clearance or film-friendly freight agents?
Whitehorse Yukon is served by Air Canada and Air North. Air Canada links up with the rest of the world and Air North links up with Calgary and Edmonton in Alberta, and Vancouver in British Columbia. Air North is a very popular airline. It's a Yukon company. You can phone the president and tell him you need your camera package and he'll make it happen. We get astounding service from Air North.
What are the most film-crew-friendly hotels in your region and what and where is your favourite wrap party venue?
The Yukon has a big tourism business in the summer months so there are many hotel rooms. From three-star to budget. If you need a five-star hotel you'll be looking at a private home rental with maid service.
There are usually set costs for Public Liability cover for film units and costs for insuring locations. Can you tell us about location insurance and possibly examples of costs in your region?
All Government land is free to film on in the Yukon and most departments want proof of USD2 million liability insurance.
What do you do with your time off and what would you recommend crew and cast do to visit, have fun and relax in your region?
In my time off I go diving in the South Pacific and I recommend everyone do the same! I'm a dive instructor and I'd love to teach you how to dive; you buy the beer of course!
Click here to contact Rob.
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