“Cue the train…”

Setting up for a scene – one of more than two dozen shot during a 13-hour day in my basement.

In 1968, artist Andy Warhol wrote in an exhibition programme, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”. Yesterday, I was fortunate to experience a bit of what that feels like, when my Port Rowan layout was used as a location for a short drama directed by Toronto filmmaker Joy Webster.

Joy reviews her storyboard prior to shooting a scene.

Joy contacted me in April via this blog. She’d found my layout online and wrote (in part):

I’ve been on the hunt for a model railroad setup in a residential home (ideally in a basement) to use as a location for a short film that I am directing this summer … I’d love to get in touch with you and chat about seeing more of your train room and work. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Well, that was pretty much all it took. We arranged a site visit, and she decided almost immediately that the layout worked for her story. What’s more, Joy was very accommodating with a couple of important technical requirements on my part.

  • First, I would be the only person touching the trains or adjusting scenic elements on the layout – I’d be happy to move things about, but of course I know best how to pick them up.
  • Second, we arranged a meeting with her lighting person to find a lighting solution that would not generate any heat because aiming traditional film lights at the layout would quickly melt things. (In the end, the lighting person found some awesome LED lights that look like a fluorescent tube, but run off a self-contained battery pack, are dimmable, colour-tunable – not only through various colour temperatures of “white” such as indoor and daylight, but also through the full RGB spectrum – and controlled via Bluetooth and an app on a smart phone.)
Setting up lights on the fascia to create the look of actors being illuminated by the layout lighting. It was very effective!

Joy and her producer Lucas Ford appreciated the time, effort and money that I’ve invested in my hobby, and they were terrific about making sure I felt comfortable having a film crew of approximately 20 people in the layout room and workshop for the day. For my part, I was thrilled to be able to take part: I studied television in university and while many of the details differ between TV and film, there were enough similarities that I appreciated what was going on (and knew when to shut the heck up), even as it reminded me of what I’m missing as someone who abandoned a career in media and who now works largely by himself.

What’s more, it was an easy decision to welcome this film project in our home. Joy’s work is stunning: Two previous films – Game (2017) and In The Weeds (2015) have garnered multiple film festival awards, and it’s easy to see why. I feel privileged to have worked with her.

Here are some more pictures from the shoot, with permission from Joy to share them:

Joy and one of the actors discuss a scene in my workshop.
Framed by machine tools, an actor delivers her performance on the basement stairs.
Capturing audio for a shoot on the basement stairs, while the makeup department takes a break in the kitchen.
The baggage wagon in the backyard was an ideal staging area for equipment. That’s Lucas checking his phone at left.
Joy and her crew in my workshop, watching on a monitor as a scene unfolds in the layout room next door.
My comfortable workshop chairs were most welcome by the end of the day…
The actors have been released and Joy’s cinematographer is shooting the final scene of the day. “Cue the train…”

Thanks, Joy and Lucas, for inviting me to take part in your project. I loved every minute of it – everyone on set was fantastic, professional, and respectful of my work and our home. I look forward to seeing the film when it’s released!

Published by Trevor

Lifelong model railway enthusiast and amateur shepherd, training a border collie to work sheep. Professional writer and editor, with some podcasting and Internet TV presenting work thrown in for good measure.

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