MARC A. GAMACHE
- How did you get involved in EATERS OF THE DEAD?
- I am known as one of the best location scouts in British Columbia. I
had scouted a feature film, called THE YELLOW DOG, and travelled all over
Vancouver Island. I had also scouted and location managed THE SCARLET
LETTER, which had filmed in the Campbell River region. As I was the person
with the most experience working on the North end of Vancouver Island,
I was asked to join the production. I worked on the show for 32 weeks
and found all of the locations used, except for the Main Village, which
John McTiernan had already chosen.
- Tell me more about location scouting. How does it work exactly?
- Basically, anyone can location scout. John McTiernan went flying up
the coast of the US and on up the British Columbia coast. This is how
he found the area, North of Campbell River, called Elk Bay, that was used
in the film. As a full time scout and location manager, it is my responsibility
to suggest locations for the film company to use. The locations must look
right, but also be obtainable. I negotiate the contracts and the terms
of access. I must also liaise between all affected persons and businesses,
and pay them for any inconvenience the film company and filming may cause.
- From what elements did you work? Did you get the script? Did you meet
- I was given the script to read and met with the production designer,
Wolfe Kroeger. (One of my favorite big budget European films is ENEMY
AT THE GATE - the story of the Nazi siege of Stalingrad. Coincidentally,
he also production designed it!) I also had an excellent knowlege of what
locations were in the area. So, I also suggested locations. I eventually
met John McTiernan, but his ideas were related to me via Wolfe and the
location manager, Rino Pace.
- Did you read the book from Michael Crichton?
- I tried, but it is very dry! Did you know that Crichton based it on
an real expedition by a young Arab into the land of the Vikings? The young
Arab was very educated and documented his 2-3 years voyage. Transcripts
of the original documents are supposed to exist in some of Europe's great
- What did the filmmakers want for EATERS OF THE DEAD? What sort of landscapes
and sceneries did they seek?
- I don't really know. The production designer did alot of research into
what the Viking lands looked like, and what their boats looked like. However,
we were limited by what the West coast of British Columbia looks like.
They wanted mountains in the background, a forested area and a clearing
in which to build the Viking Village. The production design team wanted
the most realistic look and wanted it to be believable. In film, you can
just make up alot of stuff.
- Now, could you elaborate on the exact shooting locations where each
scene was shot?
- Sure. The opening sequence (if I remember correctly) was shot in a studio
in Vancouver. The scene where the Arabs meet the Vikings by a river was
shot on the banks of the Fraser River, near a town called Williams Lake,
BC. You will have to access a map to locate it. The Main Village was located
on a high point of land, in a clear cut, next to Elk Bay. Elk Bay will
only appear on a detailed map of Vancouver Island. It is approximately
60 kms North of Campbell River, on the East side of Vancouver Island.
A clear cut is what we call the land after the forest has been cut down
and the trees harvested. British Columbia is one of the largest producers
of lumber (wood) and wood products (paper) in the world. The area had
been harvested (logged) and the trees removed about 6-8 years before we
had filmed. We used the beach nearby, for the sequence when Antonio finds
out his friend has been killed. All the fighting sequences and horse riding
sequences were also shot in the same clearcut as the Village. The clearcut
area was about 1000 hectares. The boats were not really seaworthy, they
leaked alot. We filmed the boat sequences on the ocean, near Elk Bay.
We also used an old marina near Vancouver for a sequence that was cut
from the film. For the village of the old sorceress, we went into the
forest, North of Vancouver, near a town called Squamish. At the base of
some rather large mountains, we built a village in the woods, next to
some really big rocks that had fallen down from the mountain side. The
village where the Vikings see the first evidence of the Bear People was
in the forest, 10 minutes from the Village set. There was an enormous
amount of work to be done on the set, to build the Great Hall and the
Village, and to clear away all the old tree stumps and logs so that trails
could be built for the horses and riders to do their scenes. The interiors
of the viking camp (tent) were done in a barn we turned into a studio,
near Campbell River. Those sequences had Omar Shariff in them. He also
travelled to Williams Lake. The Williams Lake set was very challenging,
as we could not build roads into the area and had to bring all the set
materials and cast and crew in by helicopter!
- And what about the cave scenes?
- The cave entrance and suspension bridge were built at a provincial park,
10 minutes from the North end of the town of Campbell River. The park
is called Elk
Falls Provincial Park. It was only coincidence that we used "Elk"
Bay, they are not related in any way. At Elk Falls, we built a suspension
bridge accross the falls to a natural rocky ledge. There, we built a false
cave entrance. The cave interior scenes were shot in a very big stage
in the Vancouver area, called the "A-Frame". This stage is 200
meters long and 50 meters wide and 20 meters tall.
The viking boats were also built in Vancouver, at a shipyard. We bought
all the raw Douglas Fir logs (Douglar Fir is a type of tree that grows
in British Columbia and is considered a hard wood) and cut them to the
lengths and widths we needed. 3 boats were built. 1x20 meter boat and
2x30 meter boats. One of the 30 meters boats was put on a very long trailer
and taken to Williams Lake, where a large crane picked it up and lowered
it into the Fraser River. This boat had 3x200 horses power engines in
it. This boat was 3 meters wide. The 2 other boats were 5 meters wide,
but did not have engines in them. They were towed everywhere they went
and for sequences that required them to look like they were moving.
- I read that, at one point, they wanted to shoot 2nd unit photography
in... Northern Russia?!! Does this sound a likely scenario to you?
- Northern Canada looks just like Northern Russia. I never heard of them
going to Russia, however some Hollywood types may have talked about it,
because that's what they do. But we would have been able to find anything
they wanted in Canada, especialy in the Yukon or the North West Territories.
- Here are some photos from the film... Where did they shoot these particular
- The Arab caravan scenes were shot in Williams Lake area. The Vikings
on horseback in snow scene, I do not know, could be California or McT's
ranch in Wyoming. Antonio in the water scene, either Elk Bay area or California.
Antonio jumping his horse scene was shot on the back of the property in
Merville, which is just South of Campbell River. This property had a large
horse ridding barn we used as a stage, in which the Viking tent interiors
with Omar Shariff were shot.
- Did you find (or propose) great locations they finally decided not to
- There were possibly 10 other locations that we looked at, and possibly
150 other locations that I scouted and photographed! If you want to see
the pictures yourself, you can take a holiday to Campbell River, because
all the pictures are in the Film Commission office there. Alot of them
are on the wall in the office.
- You mentioned a beach sequence "when Antonio finds out his friend
has been killed." That doesn't ring any bell to me... Could you
possibly tell me more about it?
- I can not remember exactly what happened on this beach sequence, that
was shot at Elk Bay. I remember that there was a very large log laying
on the beach, in the background, and the boats were there... All I recall
is a fight sequence on a beach and someone dies.
- And what about the old marina cut scene?
- The old marina scene was of the Vikings and Antonio loading their horses
and all their stuff onto the Viking boats. It looked a bit like a medieval
bazaar, near the water. If I remember correctly, it was supposed to look
a little Russian, or Baltic, in appearance. This was the beginning of
Antonio's sea voyage to the Viking lands.
- I have heard about a whale sequence and, also, about a scene where Banderas
kills the plotting son of the old King...
- Yes. The whale sequence was to the sighting of a whale at sea. The whale
comes up to the boat and hits it. I do not remember a plotting son.
- Did you hear anything about the reshoots?
- The reshoots in California, I think, involved scenes shot at Williams
- Can't you tell, when watching the final cut, which scenes are from the
reshoots? (locations you would not recognize, for example...)
- No, I can not tell which are original and which scenes are reshoots.
As a scout, I work ahead of the shooting crew and I am not around when
they actually shoot a scene. Also, they would have matched the sets so
well as to make impossible to tell the difference.
- Weren't some of the shooting locations environmentally sensitive areas?
- All the Vancouver Island and especially the Williams Lake locations
were considered environmentally sensitive! Most forest areas in British
Columbia are near streams and rivers and lakes. If you disturb the soil,
then, when the winter rains come, they wash the soil into the streams
and rivers. British Columbia also has an enormous salmon industry and
the salmon need absolutely clean streams to spawn in. We worked very closely
with the British Columbia and Federal Ministry of the Environment. They
approved all our work, oversaw what we did, and approved and inspected
all the restoration work we did. There were no complaints from them what
- Tell me about the burning the Main Village scene. Fires usually get
on badly with forests, don't they?
- We had a very wet year in Campbell River in 1994. So the ground was
quite saturated with water, which was very good. The special effects crew
had the area networked with water hoses and water pumps. We use the lake
in the Village as our water source for fire fighting. All the fires were
put out and the area monitored to insure there were no underground fires.
- I have heard also about some funeral sequence for the ending of the
movie, but not used in the film, where a Viking ship was lit with flaming
- Yes, there was a scene with a boat set on fire to cremate a body. I
think it was the big long blond haired guy's body [Note: Vladimir Kulich].
It was a smaller boat that was built for that occasion.
- In some early version of the script
I read, the Vikings were supposed to enter the Bear People caves by climbing
down some cliff (using ropes), then swimming through an underwater tunnel.
Do you remember if this scene was still in the script you got during your
location scouting? Do you remember scouting cliffs? I was wondering if
the reason why this scene was abandoned and replaced by the one we all
know (Vikings entering the caves through the suspension bridge) was because
they couldn't get the right location to shoot the cliff sequence...
- Every script starts out as the writers wish list, then the director
and the producers turn the script into what they want to do. Then, reality
rears its ugly head and the cost of doing everything is added up. I was
the one who suggested Elk Falls Provincial Park, because it looked so
dramatic, and the suspension bridge was decided upon at the location scout.
I scouted for caves and cliffs for months and months, and about 5 cave
entrances were looked at by the production designer, but they were too
far away and it would have been too costly to go there and shoot.
- At the very end of the movie, there is the usual credit: "THE
PRODUCERS WISH TO THANK...", and amongst the various canadian
Film Commissions and Ministries, I noticed "the Alkali Lake Band"
and "the Canoe Creek Band"...
- Yes. The areas used in the Williams Lake area are on land owned by these
two native Indian Bands, "The Alkali Lake Band" and "The
Canoe Band". In British Columbia, Native Indian Bands have legal
ownership of some large pieces of land, as this is where they have lived
for the last 15,000 years. The scene shot by the Fraser River was on a
gravel bar, adjacent to the river. This piece of land is as archeologicaly
important as the Pyramids in Egypt! There were indications of very ancient
human occupation evident. It was the most sensitive area we filmed on.
The head of Archeology for the British Columbia Government and the head
of Anthropology at the Univercity of Victoria had to sign off on all our
plans. And, again, everything went perfectly.
- While on this subject, I could not help but notice that you were
- Who gets credit is entirely up to the producers and, on many occasions,
I have not received credit. Yet, Woody Allen, who shoots exclusively in
New York city, has given location scout credit to up to 5 locations scouts
on one film alone! As long as the money is good, I'm there and I don't
- There are several rumors about a professional dispute between producer
Michael Crichton and director John McTiernan on the set of EATERS OF THE
- McT and Crichton did not get along. It is the result of too many chefs
in the kitchen. Each one wants to make the movie distinctly theirs, and
only one vision can prevail.
- What did you think of the final result, the movie itself?
- I think the film failed for me because there was not enough emotional
range and action did not translate well; I can compare it to GLADIATOR,
where the action sequences were very good (however, GLADIATOR was criticized
because there was no emotional range...). There were no good comedy moments
and truly joyous moments. The boats looked fantastic in real life, but
they were poorly used and there was no spectacular scenery shots. I had
hoped for so much and I was honestly disappointed. I am truly glad you
enjoyed the film. That's all that should matter to you and I am happy
for you. It's sometimes hard to enjoy a film whose script you have read
20 times and saw many of the scenes actually filmed. We all want to be
the one who calls the shots and make our owm film. Again, I'm truly glad
you liked it. But you have to remember it was only a movie. It did so
badly at the box-office that I made more money off of the film than Disney!
- By the way, do you still have got your copy of the shooting script?
- No, I did not keep a copy. Over the years, I have collected too much
junk! Today, most scripts are numbered and there is also a way for the
photocopiers to print the crew members name on each page so as to keep
track of each script. The studios do not like the idea of scripts being
sold or traded...
- Do you know why they finally changed the title, from EATERS OF THE DEAD
to THE 13TH WARRIOR?
- The new name sounded better. They market test everything these days.
That means the studios want to be sure what they present to the audience
will be appealing.
- Finally, what was your best challenge on this project?
- My biggest challenge was staying ALIVE!!! Whenever I scout wilderness
locations in the spring, black bears are coming out of their dens. (There
are no grizzly bears on Vancouver Island) This can be a somewhat dangerous
situation, should you startle one by coming up on it quickly without the
bear realizing you are nearby. Bears like to be near water and if the
stream or creek makes alot of noise, the bear will not hear you coming.
For about 5 years in a row, I was off scouting wilderness locations in
the spring. I have seen so many black bears and grizzly bears close by
that I do not know if I am brave or stupid. I scout by myself. I carry
a large spray can of pepper spray (like police use, only designed for
bears), I do not carry a gun. I am always afraid of getting lost either
driving or hiking. There are truly tens of thousands on miles of logging
roads in British Columbia and there are no roads signs!!! Some maps are
very simple and I am constantly going into unfamiliar territory. I almost
slipped on some very slippery rocky flats near Myra Falls once. Both my
feet slid forward about 0.7 meters and stopped. Had I slid forward further,
I would have fallen backwards and the back of my skull would have hit
the rocks first. It could have been days before anyone else came to the
falls. It's a bit bifficult to explain, but personal safety is always
an issue and a major concern for me.
- Anything you would want to add?
- The only thing I can add was that the set was really incredible, and
so were the Viking boats. Everything looked truly fabulous. Maybe that
is why I was so disappointed at the finished product: I had really high
expectations! Another film that went to the North end of Vancouver Island
is playing now in North America, called TRAPPED. It stars Kevin Bacon,
Charlize Theron and Courtney Love. It's a kidnapping film... If you ever
get a chance to travel to Vancouver Island, Joan
Miller, the Campbell River Film Commissioner, could arrange a tour
of the locations we shot. The most lasting impression I have was the incredible
locations I saw. Mostly caves and raveens, carved in limestone and sand
stone. The North end of Vancouver Island has some truly spectacular scenery!
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