The Making of NRS Films’ Dream
Canoe & Kayak goes inside the fertile mind of Dream-weaver Skip Armstrong
By Eugene Buchanan
If you haven’t seen Dream, the latest video sensation from Skip Armstong and NRS Films, prepare to expand your mind. Starring none other than flamboyant kayaker Ben Marr, it’s part kayak vid part Where the Wild Things Are meets Alice in Wonderland, all on the water. With camera work and other help provided by the likes of Erik Boomer, Eric Parker, Matt Baker, Chris Korbulic and Rush Sturges, the short clip traces Marr’s dream-state evolution from rookie to kayak star. Okay, maybe not all of us have a subconscious filled with dancing panda bears and back-flipping Big Foots.
C&K: Pretty whacky plot with the dancing bears and all … who thought this up?
Skip Armstrong: I’d been wanting to do a fun and creative piece for a while, something that was joyful, weird and decidedly different. This is what arrived to me. On the first night of our shoot our production coordinator, Jay Gifford, mentioned that he had a Sasquatch suit. As the words came out of his mouth our entire team got excited. Jay’s suit actually was never found, but fortunately Portland, Oregon, is nearby and you wouldn’t believe what kind of props you can find. We were very close to having big bird, a unicorn and a giant frog in the film, too.
A veritable Animal House. Anything funny happen during the filming? And who is that nailing that back flip in the Sasquatch suit?
Honestly, it was all fun! Eric Parker actually took quite a digger doing that back flip in the Sasquatch suit. He definitely was coughing up blood when he came up (sorry Eric’s Mom—we kept a close eye on him). The party scene was also a lot of fun to film. One time Benny came cruising by all the cameras laughing hysterically because he couldn’t see anything as he was paddling downstream. It was a good time.
How’d Eric swim with that suit on?
Eric had a drysuit on under the Sasquatch fur, but he forgot to zip up his relief zipper. So, it was a pretty cold swim for him.
Any other boaters or passersby see the guys in the suits?
Nobody else saw us out on the river because of the weird hours we filmed. But we made up for it by driving around Portland with the suits on.
Where’d you get them? And did the rental company bum out that you returned them all wet?
Yeah, we rented them. And yes, they were returned a much darker shade of earth color and quite wet. Fortunately, we didn’t incur any extra fees. The ladies were awesome at the store! They loved what we were up to.
How’d you do the lighted boat shots?
We fastened 150 feet of waterproof LED lights to the bottom of the boat with clear shipping tape. I built two circuits that were each powered by lightweight lithium-ion batteries. Benny kept the batteries in a drybag in his boat. All the parts are available on Amazon and are quite affordable. I had to bust out my Boy Scout soldering skills and there was quite a bit of trial and error in the beginning, but we loved how it turned out. We had to re-tape the lights after each night. It’d be cool to figure out how to keep them more permanently attached without creating too much drag on the bottom of the boat.
How about shooting with all those fireworks?
I signed an agreement when I bought the fireworks in Idaho that I wouldn’t ignite them in Idaho. I can honestly say that I honored that agreement. Originally, I had envisioned a fancy detonation system that was wireless and perfectly synchronized between the two sides of the river. In the end, we did it the old-fashioned way. Chris Korbulic and Eric Parker used cigarette lighters and lit them by hand. They then filmed Benny running the drop from the top of the waterfall. If you watch closely you can see Eric behind the firework as Benny goes off the drop in the final piece. Not the prettiest way to detonate fireworks, but certainly effective.
What’s next? Next stop Hollywood?
A six-episode expedition series for NRS is in the works and I’d love to dream up some more creative and silly projects. My personal dream is to one day shoot narrative fiction as a member of the American Society of Cinematographers.