Halfway through filming the Chris Gamble-scripted babysitter-horror film Berkshire County, the crew discovered that their main location, a 12,000 square-foot mansion, filled with a pack of stray cats, was being foreclosed on.
“There’s a scene in the basement,” says Gamble, “and when we first scouted the location it had this big bar in it, so the kids and the babysitter Kylie could hide in there. But the guy who owned the house was selling off all of his assets, so when we went in there [to film], the bar was gone.”
There was no money left to build a replacement – “The production design crew had already worked miracles,” according to Gamble, who says you’ll notice some set dressings repeated between rooms – some salvaged from his mother’s garage just a few hours away from the southern Ontario set.
“I was there as the screenwriter, but also there to do whatever needed to be done,” he says, so when the reality of the foreclosure came to light and the sheriff was on the way, he had to pitch in, dealing with the last-minute loss of a major location – about 60 to 70 percent of the film was set in the mansion – with numerous rewrites.
“It was a night shoot, and I think I had to leave at three or four in the morning. I drove to Toronto airport, dropped my vehicle off and got on a plane and flew back to Yellowknife, and I was at work at 10 a.m.,” he says – working as a GNWT employee.
“The Royal Tenenbaums is always a film that I look back on and think that was a really incredibly original voice and something that got me really excited about filmmaking,” Gamble says.
“Every couple of years a film comes out that gets me reinvigorated for filmmaking. There’s so much talk that everything’s been done before, and then you see something that’s very unique and it inspires you to try and find [a new] voice as well.”
Though his interest lies largely in writing science fiction, Gamble says writing horror scripts like Berkshire County – which won Best Horror Feature at the 2014 Shriekfest horror festival – offers a chance to express a voice that’s out of the ordinary.
“You’re given a little bit of free license to come up with these strange and bizarre things,” he says. “You’ve got the bad guys who are sick and twisted, so you’re challenging yourself to think of what they’re like.”
Of course, he says that can be a strange place to allow your mind to go.
“There will be scenes I write and afterward I read it back and think, ‘People are going to think I’m a weirdo,’” he laughs.
“There are people after screenings who are like, ‘Chris, I really liked your film, but what’s wrong with you?’”
Born and raised in Yellowknife, Gamble headed south for three years, studying screenwriting at Toronto’s Canadian Film Centre.
His entry into the program was based on a speculative science fiction film he and his directing partner Audrey Cummings are still hoping to make, called Perfecting Chaos.
“About six years ago, I handed it off to some producers who optioned it; I did one final draft of it and never wanted to work on it again,” Gamble says.
“They felt we were both fairly inexperienced and suggested we apply to the [CFC] feature film program, her as a director and me as a writer – so, that was our gateway into that.”
Both got into their respective programs and have continued to work together on films, including Berkshire County, which Cummings directed. And though his focus has been screenwriting, in 2004 Gamble did take a seat in the director’s chair to make his quirky mail-fraud film Versus Ivan – which he says, to his knowledge, was the first film shot 100 percent in the Northwest Territories.
“I enjoy being a screenwriter, for sure. It’s definitely my passion. The problem with being a screenwriter is it’s sort of like being an architect: you draft your plans, hand it off to a team of people,” Gamble says.
“With a director, you maintain creative control over things. That’s one aspect I really loved about directing.”
For now, Perfecting Chaos is back at the forefront of his ambitions.
“Last month I revamped it, did a full page-one rewrite… it was actually quite fun and I enjoyed it. I never thought I’d enjoy that script again.”
What’s your earliest memory of Yellowknife?
There used to be a zipline that they had at St. Joe’s. You could hang on to it and go whipping along 20 metres or so, I remember doing that as a little kid. That and the Santa Claus Parade.
What’s your favourite thing about Yellowknife?
I was always surprised with how little I would see friends when I lived in Toronto. In Yellowknife, it’s so much easier to get together with people. That’s something I’ve always loved about here – how easy it is to get together with people and try new things. New people are moving here all the time, so you’re getting introduced to new things. I love that those things are here.
What is your least favourite thing about Yellowknife?
More recently, access to more movies and culture. There’s a ton of culture here but if you’re in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, there are more plays and movies that you can see.
What do you do in the summer?
I play ultimate frisbee, try to get out canoeing, and a lot of biking. I spend a lot of time in the winter on a stationary trainer inside, so I try to get out on the roads as much as I can.
What do you do to get through the winter?
Again, I play ultimate Frisbee, biking indoors, and writing. In the summer, a lot of the time I spend doing renovations on my house, but in the winter I get to actually sit down and work on projects.
What sort of opportunities have you found here in Yellowknife that you might not find in other places?
I find people here, for the most part, are really supportive. It’s not hard to get people excited about something. If you want to start a club, pull together a team, it’s not that hard.
Are you a Yellowknife lifer?
I don’t know. So far I have been. I’ve been away for three years in Toronto but I got pulled back here, so, I think for now I am. This will always be my home and I’ll always be coming back here, but in terms of life, I don’t know.