Armed with a tip, I headed towards the Trans-Canada Highway intersection on Friday evening, wondering what lay ahead of me.
According to my source, a film crew would be working at the junction between 7pm and 3am. She assured me this wasn’t a pre-Thanksgiving joke fuelled by an early glass of wine.
I imagined a cordoned-off area, lots of lights blinking, and someone wearing a baseball cap, a megaphone pressed to his or her mouth, swinging around on a 100ft mobile platform, issuing instructions.
Is that how Spielberg and Scorsese operate? I had no idea. Perhaps they use cameras mounted on unmanned aerial lifts to capture those dramatic, jaw-dropping shots.
As I approached the intersection, I was discouraged by the lack of activity and noise. Where was the crowd of onlookers? Surely, word had spread through social media about what was happening. Where the RCMP officers keeping people back? Where the intimidating, very vocal director?
I pulled into the driveway of a business and parked, intent on a little reconnaissance. It was about 7.30pm and darkness had closed in. All I saw were lines of illuminated vehicles going either way along the Trans-Canada, like two broken necklaces.
I trudged over rough ground to the Bison parking area. In the distance, to my left, was an arc of spray lit up by beams of passing traffic. It came from a machine, which flashed and whirred.
My heart jumped. Maybe this was what I had been looking for.
To my fevered mind, the spray looked ghostly … like a movie scene adapted from a Stephen King book. The machine could have been harbouring extraterrestial beings.
I headed towards it, crossing the Bison park, and stepping into a field.
Suddenly an accented voice came from a parked Bison truck.
“What are you doing? You are on private property.”
Feeling chastened, I introduced myself and the voice immediately lost its steely edge. I began a friendly conversation with a truck driver named Saskia, who marvelled at how fate had arranged a meeting between an Englishman and a Swiss truck driver in Maple Creek.
“We are both aliens,” we agreed.
Saskia was curious and sceptical about my mission. She hadn’t seen anything resembling a movie shoot in the area.
She warned me not to get my hopes up about the “spacecraft”. It was just a farmer spraying fertilizer.
“Maybe something is happening at the cafe across the highway,” I ventured without conviction.
It didn’t look promising.
All we could see were two long vehicles, presumably getting gas. No boom, no shrieking director, no flashing lights.
“I’ll let you know, if I find anything,” I said to Saskia. It was a promise I would keep.
Even from close-up, the 1 & 21 cafe across the highway gave off an air of business as usual.
Disconsolately I approached a young man leaning against a cafe wall. He was wearing ear-plugs and had the meditative mien of someone in deep concentration.
“Excuse me, is something happening inside?” I asked.
“Yes, we are making a movie,” he replied, indicating I should hang back.
A few minutes later, he gave me a throat-slashing gesture, which suggested that it was okay to talk. After I explained my purpose, he went into the cafe to see if anyone wished to speak to me. I was not hopeful. Who would interrupt a movie to speak to a vagabond reporter?
A delightful young lady emerged – Fanny Drew, the co-producer, who gave me the synopsis of the film her company, Colonelle films, was making, and why a scene was being shot at 1 & 21.
She jotted down essential points in my notebook and spoke into my cellphone to spare my fingers from the cold,
Fanny later told me that the cafe had remained open to the public during the shoot.
“We had to deal with truck drivers a lot. But they were all really kind and when we asked them to close their engines for sound for example, they were all really happy to help and curious about what we were doing.”
No wonder I had been fooled. Outside the cafe, and to some extent inside, it really was just like another Friday evening.
Fanny told me that the scenes in Maple Creek would take up about 15 minutes of the 90-minute movie.
Back in the office, everything that had just happened seemed swathed in dream-like vapours. Had I imagined it all? Had I deactivated the reasoning part of my brain by getting too close to a fertilizer-spraying spacecraft?
Perhaps if I knocked my head on my desk three times, reality would take hold.
No need. I listened to the recording on my cellphone.
A little part of Maple Creek would indeed be forever memorialized in a movie. How cool is that?