As I posted last week, during the past weekend I was a part of the filming of a re-enactment of the Steven Truscott case involving the 1959 rape and murder of a young teen girl, Lynne Harper in an area near Clinton, Ontario. 14-year-old Truscott was found guilty and sentenced to death for the crime, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison, and he was released on parole many years later. After his release, it came to light that he was probably convicted on the basis of faulty forensics, and there is a strong suspicion that the crime was committed by a known pedophile who lived at the RCAF radar-training base (where the Truscotts and Harpers also lived).
I learned of the availability of roles for the show at 11pm on Tuesday evening and immediately e-fired off headshots and a copy of my acting resume to the people in NYC who were in charge of casting the re-enactment; filming was set to begin on Friday, and while I have been involved in some hairy, late-minute productions in the past, this seemed awfully late to be sending out a call for actors. It turned out that some of the actors who had been cast live in Toronto and thought the "shoot" would be in that area. When they found out they would have to drive several hours each way, with no provision for overnight accommodations, they backed out (the pay for the actors was a token honorarium).
The next morning, Wednesday, about 11am, I received a call from the person casting the show saying they wanted to cast me as the pathologist (the one who likely committed serious errors and who wrote a letter to the prosecutor saying so, but the letter was not shown to the defence team). I was delighted to be cast in the show.
Then at lunch an hour later with my son, David Ricardo Palmer, I received a telephone call from the casting person, asking if I knew any men age 30-50 who could play a police officer. I said "Sure, I'm having lunch with my son right now. He is in his late 30s, and he has some acting experience."
We snapped a photo of him using my iPhone and sent it off by e-mail, and within a half hour, he, too, was cast in the show. At first, his co-workers refused to believe him when he asked for Friday afternoon off to be in a tv episode of Extreme Forensics. I gather it took quite some talking on his part.
Our plan was that he would come up with his two daughters on Friday at noon, and Ms. Eclectic and I would look after them that afternoon and evening, since I wasn't to be on "the set" until Saturday. Meanwhile, neither he nor I received anything from the production company confirming that we had been cast, telling us when and where to show up, or anything about script, storyboard, or whatever.
More signs of chaos: the casting person called me late Thursday afternoon, desperate because the person they had cast to play Lynne Harper's father had backed out. He, too, had accepted the role not knowing he'd have to drive a couple of hours to be in the show, which really wasn't worth it for the very minor honoraria we expect to receive. Did I know anyone around here who could play the role.
Of course I do, having been involved with local theatre groups for over a decade. I provided the names of several guys who could be stars if they lived in a major media market, and they cast one of them in the role that night. It was great working with him again. And another plus was that the woman cast as his wife was an actress I have loved working with in London often in the past.
Finally, my son e-mailed the show producers on Friday morning, asking for more details. They replied that they had wanted him on the set at 10am that day. Fat chance, since they had said earlier that they wouldn't need him until sometime in the afternoon. Also, they gave him an address, telling him it was in Clinton, where I live. But it turned out the address was for a house in Vanastra, a town a couple of miles south of Clinton, formed from the old RCAF radar-training base that was considered part of Clinton back in the 1950s. Much of the Friday filming took place at that house, which was where the Harper family had lived in 1959.
To save him some time, I drove to the house to meet him and the girls so he wouldn't have to bring them to our house. While I was there waiting for them to arrive, I learned that the young girl cast to play the role of Lynne Harper couldn't do it after all because she wears braces and Lynne Harper didn't wear braces. So they quickly re-cast another young girl to play Lynne Harper but needed some more girls to act as friends for Lynne. So guess what: my two granddaughters were also cast for roles in the show, too!
As is usually the case with these types of filming "shoots", nothing happened on time. By 2pm or so, someone took orders and went to Kate's Station, the quintessential Huron County diner, to pick up lunch. Finally about 6pm or so, they shot a scene with my son in it. There were no scripts for any of the scenes. Before a scene, the directors (a team of two very nice and pleasantly patient people) would just tell people their approximate lines.
After that scene was shot, one of the directors told me they couldn't use me as the pathologist because I don't look at all like the original pathologist in the case (in part because of my beard, in part because I'm bald). I was pretty upset (though I hope I didn't show it much) and wondered out loud why I had been cast for the role in the first place if that was a problem. Upon reflection, I figured the casting was done by someone who thought, "Ah, this guy looks enough like a scientist or pathologist, maybe even a bit like the pathologist on the original CSI. Let's use him." So they said they'd use me as the killer. My face wouldn't show, though, because there is no clear evidence for sure about who the actual killer was; when you see the episode, you might see my feet, legs, hands, and arms, but that's all.
The last scene filmed that evening was of Lynne and a group of her friends (including my son's daughters) at the playground, where she met Steven Truscott and got him to give her a ride to the highway.
The girls and my son were told to arrive at Kate's Station at 10am the following morning. I wouldn't have to be on set until Saturday afternoon. Then about 11:30 Friday night, I received a form-letter-type e-mail from the company congratulating on my being cast as the pathologist. Huh?
So just to be sure, I showed up at 10am on Saturday with my son and granddaughters, where I learned that no, I wouldn't be the pathologist, I'd be the killer. They had located an actor who looked more like the original pathologist. Oh well....
By 10:30am, we all left to go to a bridge where Truscott and Harper had last been seen together. There were lots of shoots of Steven giving Lynne a ride on his bike past the bridge to the highway. And there were hours of film shot with other young people fishing and playing around the river and bridge. One pair was my son's younger daughter, standing on the bridge with a boy about the same age, discussing the fish and turtles in the river:
After that scene was filmed, it was time to shoot the scene of Lynne getting into "a late model white Chevy", probably with the killer, at the highway stop sign near the bridge. For that scene, I was forced, yes absolutely forced, to drive a white '57 Chevy Bel Air:
But of course they won't be showing my face during the show. Instead, if they use anything from those scenes, you'll be more likely to see shots like these:
Unfortunately, the car was a pig that stalled every time the driver slowed down or turned, no matter who was driving it. It was a fun experience, but frustrating, too.
The shoot finally wrapped (i.e. ended) about 8pm that evening with me dragging the poor victim through the woods. She was an amazingly good actress with a great, positive attitude. And her mother was a very wise, careful chaperon.
The four-person crew that was on site was very professional, though somewhat unprepared and disorganized, if that makes sense. They dealt with all contingencies that arose in a calm fashion and were very positive and understanding with all the actors. Also, they had considerable detailed knowledge of the case at their fingertips. But the casting inconsistencies put everyone in awkward positions, unfortunately.
In the end, it was a great experience for my son and granddaughters, and I was happy to be a part of their enjoyment. The girls have informed us that they intend to save their earnings so they can eventually buy netbooks. Well, when they told us that, my son said they could have his earnings, too, and Ms. Eclectic and I said we'd top up to cover the rest.
What an exciting weekend! We've been told that the show might air on The Discovery Channel [Correction: it airs on Investigation Discovery network, which is owned by The Discovery Channel] sometime in March. Of course I'll post the details as we learn them.