It was an enormous task to pull off. FlyOver Canada's director Dave Mossop calls the scene in the flight-ride that takes place near the Wheatland Hutterite Colony in Rockyford, Alberta a 'magic moment', one that sums up the vastness, energy and humanity of the Canadian Prairies.
Behind every shot in FlyOver Canada is a series of outstandingly complex challenges. The logistics and timing are astounding for them all. And for a shot like this one, Mossop says, it involved bringing a personal dream into reality - combining many different elements into one single, long take, where the scenes flow organically into each other.
"Big one-takes are exciting to shoot but very challenging," he says.
Here are some of the elements that came together to make this shot a success:
1. The Right Location: Really, it's three locations in one here for this shot—a rugged canyon that opens up above galloping horses and a harvesting combine. FlyOver Canada's location scout scoured the Prairies before narrowing in on a breathtaking canyon in south-central Alberta where cowboys wrangle stampeding horses right next to a farmer's working wheat field.
2. The Right People: Filmmaking is all about people. Mossop says the magic of this shot was that everybody on the team—pilots, camera operators, cowboys and combine drivers—was doing their job brilliantly and in synchronicity. "Everything clicked," he says. And it's that alchemy of people that creates unforgettable memories, and incredible scenes.
3. The Magic Hour: There's little wiggle room when you're after what filmmakers call the 'golden light'—that tiny window in the late afternoon when dusk arrives and the Prairies take on a golden glow. This shot happened in September when the wheat is growing tall, so from an agricultural point of view, the timing also had to be spot-on—the wheat in the wheat field needed to be ready to cut but not yet harvested. Right time of day. Right time of year.
4. The Choreography: Mossop says getting every element in line—the people, the machines, the horses, the helicopter and even a pickup truck that makes its way down the dirt road in the middle of the scene—was an enormous task. "It was a huge deal to bring it all together," he says.
5. The Teamwork: For Mossop, the most memorable part of this shot was the gathering of people and the community it created. "We had a dozen Hutterites in suspenders watching this helicopter with a giant camera," he says. "Then there were the cowboys—who are cut from a different cloth—plus creatives who worked for Disney, producers from Vancouver, the cast, the crew—it was an amazing collection of human beings. I remember there being so much happiness."
6. The Task: From a shallow canyon to wide-open spaces, doing this in one take was very ambitious. Director Mossop said working with horses is always tricky. The horses on this shoot were specially-trained film horses. Add to that helicopters, and all the issues listed above, and you've got the potential for it all to go wrong. Of course, it didn't. Mossop says that really comes down to a combination of the right people doing their jobs well.
The scene viewers see in FlyOver Canada is so full of magic, that they are instantly taken to a warm summer evening on the golden Prairies and able to witness a slice of Canadian life. This is the 'magic' of FlyOver.