About The Production
From the moment director Jay Roach began scouting for a location to shoot Hollywood Pictures' "Mystery, Alaska," he had a vision in mind. Inspired by a picture from National Geographic magazine showing a remote, desolate community at the base of a huge mountain in the middle of nowhere, the search for this mythical town was on. The scout took Roach and production designer, Rusty Smith, to Alaska, throughout British Columbia and parts of Alberta; but none of the small towns they saw had the drama of that initial picture. Either the mountains were too soft or marred by ski runs, or the town was too big or too close to a highway.
Then Smith had a profound idea—find the mountain and build the town. Location manager Werner Einer, brought Smith to Canmore, Alberta. The town itself was too developed, but Werner took Smith to a site outside the town, nestled in the Rocky Mountains. Previously the site of an open, strip coal mine, the land had been reclaimed over the past 10 years to form a pristine meadow. The quarry had filled with water to form a lake surrounded on all sides by rugged, snow-covered peaks. Here was the sense of isolation and drama for which Roach had been searching.
"Initially Jay thought I was insane," says Smith, of his idea to build the town in this meadow. "But once I brought Jay here, it sold itself." A series of sketches and a model of the town helped Smith, Roach. and executive producer Dan Kolsrud sell the idea.
Smith and F & D Scene Changes, led by construction coordinator Leyton Morris, began building the town of Mystery, Alaska, 53 buildings in total. Buildings from nearby Canmore that were slated for demolition or moving were bought and moved to the town site.
"Every time anybody applied for a permit in Canmore to destroy something, we d pick it up, forklift it and bring it into town," says Smith. Quonset huts, log cabins and even cedar chalets being sold by a nearby hotel were brought in to complete the town and provide the production with offices on location. Within 10 weeks, the town of Mystery, Alaska had been born: a charming, authentic-looking town with a mix of buildings very similar to those shown in the original National Geographic photo.
"In the photo, the buildings are very eclectic," says Smith. "There are some log houses and some metal buildings. There aren't a lot of raw materials that far north, so the mix of styles made it look like the film could be set in any period.
"It's very important that the town is a character in the film," continues Smith. "We wanted to take the audience somewhere they'd never been. We felt that if this town existed, it would have to be
north of Fairbanks, Alaska, which it can't be because the railroad stops in Fairbanks. We wanted a northern feeling because this isn't just about a hockey game, it's about how this event affects an isolated town.
Building a town in the middle of a wilderness setting provided other challenges. The production worked closely with the Alberta government and the Town of Canmore to ensure that no environmental damage occurred. Canmore has a reputation for being environmentally conscientious and is suspicious of large development projects. With the exception of one cabin that had to be moved 200 yards because it blocked an elk path, the production went smoothly.
Once production was completed, the area was restored and recontoured where needed. Reseeding with native seeds and vegetation means that, even given the short mountain growing seasons, the meadow will be fully restored within two years.
The film site was powered by tapping into Trans Alta Hydro's high voltage line system, and by using buried cables in the<
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