Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Perseverence- Burning the barn

In life one has experiences that define you. Here is one that defines me. I was lucky enough to be able to Produce Henry and Verlin. It is a wonderful movie about acceptance and takes place in the countryside in 1935. It is about an autistic child, Verlin, and the relationship he has with his mentally retarded uncle, Henry. We shot the film north of Toronto on properties owned by the Government of Ontario and what was to be the Pickering Airport. There were farm house and churches and fields that were sub-rented to people while they waited final site plans and then all would be demolished. The main location where Henry lived was where the director actually lived year round. We rented a nearby 1960s bungalow for our offices and a large house for a cast house which we supplied with a great cook and wonderful wise man. We used a school house to store things and as our screening room so that each evening we could watch rushes. It was perfect. We found one house that was made of bricks and older that would be perfect for the grandparents to live in. There was an old falling down barn behind the house and the script called for a barn burning down and it was perfect. Just perfect.

I went to the Property Manager, two months before we were to go there to open offices and she accommodated all my requests. She made the leases easy and the rates as fair as I could ask for we were not rich. When she came to the "Burn the barn" request she looked up at me and said, "There is no way you will burn a barn down on our properties. No way!" I was shocked by the stridency of her reply. I thought for a couple of seconds and said that I understood she could not give me permission and would she give me her supervisor's number as I wanted to pursue my request. She laughed a bit and said sure and gave it to me.
I called this man the next day and sent him all the information about the film and made the same request, to burn the barn down.

He was more relaxed and not strident at all but said he could not really give me permission. I said I understood and asked if her would give me his supervisor's name. He said he would get back to me.

Two days later a P.R person for the Government called me back and I knew I was going to be dealt with. He said that it was impossible to burn down the barn as it was designated as was the house as historical. He gave me the name of a lawyer who had been assigned to me who would in future deal with me.

I called her and after hearing my story. She said it was impossible as there may be artifacts in the barn that should be saved before anything could even be thought about. She told me there were two Heritage organizations that would have to agree to all this and gave me contacts to each. She said the insurance would have to be dealt with as the Government would want deep coverage. Most importantly the county Fire Department had to respond to the request and be there when we did our barn burning. She was neutral to my plight but open and helpful in leading me toward resolution.

I went through the process with each of the Heritage organizations and they wrote letters to the lawyer regarding my request.
Both letters chastised the Government for not caring for the barn properly since they took over the properties and their inspections could find nothing of value to keep and in fact supported the burning of the building so at least it would not be a hazard to kids who might explore it and get caught in the collapse. The county Fire Department also agreed to attend and protect the main house and those involved.

I put the burning toward the end of the shooting period and now dealt with the difficulty of the insurance. Who would be in charge was a main question as special effects pyro is not for amateurs. By great luck the woman handling the legals was quick to pass things on and we sorted through each detail. We got our final permission the day before we did the burn.

The burn went off without a hitch and the first lady who said never was there representing the Property Management department. She sidled over in the middle of the blaze and shook my hand and said congratulations. It was a fine reward for my perseverance. The lady lawyer became a professor of law and uses my case to demonstrate the road blocks of Government red tape and that if you stick to the work you may get to the resolution you want. Henry and Verlin is a beautiful film to watch and feel and the viewer ends up having two new friends; one autistic and the other mentally retarded. It is a film about acceptance and I am proud to have been a major part of its making.

The next day

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