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THE BIG YEAR

About The Production
The actors, along with Frankel, note that THE BIG YEAR is not a film solely about birding. But Frankel points out that one thing birding and filmmaking have in common is that they are both quixotic journeys. "While we were making this movie, we definitely felt that we were on a Big Year,” he says. "Birders have a goal in mind, but one could go and look for days and weeks and never spot the species they're looking for. I think we had a similar sensation of knowing the shot we wanted to get, but we were on location where we didn't know if the weather would cooperate, and we didn't know if we'd get what we wanted. THE BIG YEAR illustrates that the journey is the goal, and I think it's the same in life and in making movies.”

The production schedule was grueling, with over 270 scenes and 100 locations on a 55-day shoot. "From the first scout we took, in which the weather was 20 below zero up in the Yukon, to our last day of principal photography at 110 degrees in the Florida Keys, it was quite a ride,” says producer Karen Rosenfelt. Adds David Frankel: "I think we captured the experience of being on the road for a year with these characters.”

One of the most exotic locations was the Yukon, the westernmost and smallest of Canada's three federal territories, which borders Alaska, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories. Production trucks traveling from Vancouver to the Yukon took four days to complete their journey, while the cast and crew flew from Vancouver to Whitehorse on a two and a half hour flight. From there, it was a six-hour bus ride to Dawson City, home of the legendary Klondike Gold Rush in the 1890s.

In THE BIG YEAR, the Yukon stands in for Attu Island, hallowed ground for the birders, located on the Western-most Island in the Aleutian chain. In Yukon's Dawson City – population between 900 and 1800, depending on the time of year – the film's 120-member crew increased its population considerably. The Yukon shoot occurred in June, when the sun sets after 11:30 PM and rises at 3 AM. The sun doesn't set as much as it lurks, and the crew had to adjust to nights that never got dark.

Filming in the Yukon afforded director of photography Lawrence Sher the unique opportunity, during one memorable day, of shooting around the clock for 24 hours straight, never once losing light. "Even with all of its messiness, the lack of control, the sun never setting and weather changes, there's still something magical that happens when you're on location,” says Sher.

THE BIG YEAR features over 100 different sets which, says production designer Brent Thomas, "was kind of a math problem. How do you accomplish all of that in [a production scheduled for] 55 days?” At various times, the art department had as many as 80 people working on five different sets at a given time.

From the Yukon, the crew returned to British Columbia, to Osoyoos in the Okanagan Valley, home of the only desert in Canada. This locale doubled for parts of Arizona and California. The production also filmed in Whistler, Vancouver, Tofino (a small village on the western coast of Vancouver Island), New York City, California's Joshua Tree, and the Florida Everglades and Keys.

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