Director Richard Harrah couldn’t believe his good fortune when the forestry service gave him and his crew permission to shoot in the Grand Canyon for his first feature film, “The Canyon.” So Harrah began scouting locations for the film, which follows a pair of newlyweds (Eion Bailey, Yvonne Strahovski) who get lost within the grounds of the national landmark.
Two weeks before cameras were to roll, the service revoked all their permits. Harrah and crew scrambled for a Plan B, eventually settling on shooting mostly in Moab, Utah to capture the film’s naturalistic setting.
“It was so much better, with a better infrastructure [for filmmakers],” says Harrah, a native of Sun Valley, Idaho.
Harrah ended up shooting a few scenes, guerilla style, in the Grand Canyon.
“We opened the van door, jumped out with a giant camera … and started filming,” he says.
The film’s heroes prove just as resourceful, battling against rattlesnakes, wolves and the elements after their honeymoon plans go awry.
“It’s two young people starting their life off and making a stupid mistake,” he says.
The film shoot hit other complications, one which could have proven deadly. Strahovski nearly got blown off a ledge one day, only to be saved by two burly co-workers on the set. And a romantic scene featuring an Ella Fitzgerald song got dumped when the filmmakers couldn’t afford to pay for the rights to use the number.
Harrah shot “The Canyon” on a tight budget, and the film is enjoying a brief theatrical run in select cities before hitting DVD stores on Nov. 17.
The first-time director didn’t let money get in the way of some critical shots which illustrate the beauty and grandeur of the Grand Canyon. Many were taken by a camera operator lifted far above the movie set courtesy of a crane, and Harrah says he had to fight for each of those moments.
Harrah also didn’t skimp on the gore for one nasty sequence involving an impromptu surgery.
“This isn’t a gratuitous slasher film,” he says, adding the audience needs to see exactly what the characters are up against for it to have the proper impact.
The film’s brief theatrical release allowed the film to generate some critical reviews, which Harrah says will hopefully help the eventual DVD sales.
He understands it’s a problem many independent filmmakers face today. It’s rare for their films to be shown in darkened theaters.
“The new paradigm hasn’t formed yet,” he says, alluding to the closing of several independent studios in recent years. “People are trying to find out what the new model is. I’m so lucky we got our foot in the door as it was shutting.”
[ed. note: Christian Toto’s review of “The Canyon” can be read here.]