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Running into an old production buddy on the trail

February 1, 2017
By JOE HACKETT - Outdoors Columnist ( , Lake Placid News

While seeking alternatives to my usual jaunts on the Jackrabbit Trail and the various loops around Scarface Mountain, I set my sights on a long loop from the Fish Hatchery in Lake Clear to St. Regis Landing. The trip was intended to incorporate woodland trails, mixed in with old log roads and a bit of pond hopping in between.

Trails in the area appeared to be lightly traveled, most likely because there are no trail markers. Other than a few renegade snowmobilers who pass through on occasion, the interconnecting trail/road network provides a pleasant alternative to the Paul Smith's VIC trails that are located just a few miles to the north.

The ice is now considered safe on most ponds and lakes, and the marshes are firm. Swampy hummocks, which can be found in the marshy areas of most lakes and ponds, offer skiers an opportunity to enjoy a mogul field, without a steep pitch.

The frozen marshes allow skiers and snowshoers to travel over terrain that remains relatively inaccessible during the majority of the year. There's always a lot of activity in the swampy edges where the swamp meets the forest. These areas provide a corridor for mink, martin, otter, beaver and a host of other critters that hunt and are hunted.

While skiing a lonely, old woods road between the Lake Clear Girl Scout Camp and St. Regis lakes I discovered the truth of the old adage: It's a small world. During the trip, I happened to run into a former client, who was actually scouting locations for an upcoming production project.

While production projects have been hosted in the area since the 1980s, the industry has changed radically since those days.

Although photo shoots continue to be conducted outdoors, lighting is no longer as crucial as it once was. The digital age has changed everything. Computer-generated images can easily salvage a botched shot, which wasn't possible prior to the digital age.

It's a whole new era for production projects. It's important to capture a feel of this place where a special natural sunlight filters through the branches of towering white pines. It's a feel that simply can't be replicated elsewhere.

Over the years, I've coordinated a variety of production projects, ranging from catalog shoots to television shows, fashion projects and major motion pictures. Every production project has it's own unique set of challenges, which often include the type you're likely to confront during any outdoor venture.

Possibly the most unique aspects of the Adirondacks, in terms of production projects, are the well-defined seasons. Even though the seasons are individually distinct, evergreens remain the predominant species.

As a result, it is easy to manipulate seasonal identity with the use of appropriate "props." While it is quite easy to prop-out a catalog or magazine cover, I've also been involved in a number of production projects that actually transformed time.

I've been responsible for creating a snow-covered yard in the middle of the summer, with shaved ice from the Zamboni. I've also dropped hand-painted leaves from the rooftop of a Great Camp in the early spring to create an authentic autumn feel. I continue to stash away bags full of leaves, pine needles and cones every year, just in case.

I spent more than two weeks scouting all across the North Country, looking for a soaring, perfectly symmetrical white pine tree that was to be featured in Kevin Costner's production of First Nations.

I also found a location with a huge wall of ice for a movie featuring Batman and Dr. Freeze. Initially, the production company wanted to see the soaring ice-covered cliffs of Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain. However when they asked me, "How do we get our semi-trucks up there?" I knew it simply wasn't going to happen. Eventually, they filmed the scene in a studio, using chilled parafin wax rather than ice.

Similarly, I was bit nervous while scouting for a lone cabin located on a desolate lake where there were no other cabins in sight. The location was to be used for the final production of The Sopranos. The production company required me to sign a binding, non-disclosure contract. They appeared to take the matter very seriously, explaining in character, "You know what I mean!"

Non-disclosure contracts have become standard practice in the industry, especially among the reality shows.

Concerning such matters, I was very impressed with employees of the former Wawbeek Resort on the Upper Saranac where most of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit model shoot occurred.

The staff actually managed to keep a lid on the entire production for nearly a year. It was not an easy task considering the small town atmosphere of the region. I was actually approached by a local newspaper to confirm a scoop they'd received about a potential Sports Illustrated swimsuit shoot in the region. I laughed, and explained, "Yeah, sure they're shooting up here, and they also want us to hold the towels." The story was squashed before it even got out.

Although the 40th anniversary Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue was the largest selling publication on the planet in 2004, I was actually more intrigued with America's First Nations, a Discovery Channel documentary that was filmed on location at Elk Lake in North Hudson.

The producers claimed the high peaks surrounding Elk Lake were the most authentic wild lands they had ever witnessed. All of the actors were members of the Iroquois Nation.

From clothing to tomahawks, the props were museum-quality replicas. It was as if they had stepped back in time to a place where elm bark canoes, dugouts, fur and skin clothing, weapons and primitive shelters were as common as leaves on the nearby trees. The location was the focus of the production.



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