The River Knows: The Ghost Under the Bridge

“Det. Henry Day, a city detective and former war veteran, investigates the case of a murder victim, who was killed under mysterious and grisly circumstances – medical experimentation and torture. In the course of his investigation he remembers the similarities between medical experimentation on the murder victim and the medical experiments done on him at the end of the war.”

“The River Knows” is my tv show set in early 1960’s Winnipeg. It’s a supernatural/detective show, Mad Men meets X-Files meets Lost. The main characters are Det. Henry Day, a WWII vet and tracker; and Arnold Manley, a secretive citizen intelligence analyst working for the Special Branch of the R.C.M.P.

Day and Manley dislike each other, and Day only works with Manley because he was ordered to.

Det. Henry Day: Tony Hart
Homeless man: Dennis Scullard
Ghost/Girl: Natalia Ksiazkiewicz

Written/Produced/Directed By: Eric Warwaruk

I started shooting “The River Knows-Ghost” in December 2011 just before Christmas and didn’t properly finish it until the second week of May 2012. With this short in particular I wanted to explore, within the whole “River Knows” mythology, fear and horror. I particularly wanted to explore the effect of sound. I shot using a canon t2i, 30mm f1.4 sigma lens with a videomic: really simple setup. I had a Z96 LED light but it went out halfway through the shoot underneath the bridge, so I just shot at about 400 ISO, as low as I could go and still have some light coming in. I love shooting with the 30mm Sigma f1.4, it really does result in a cleaner image than my F2.8 17-50mm Tamron, as much as I am starting to now really love shooting with wides. I have become much more obsessed with wide shots in terms of establishing location and moving away from close-ups. My big mistakes in my first couple of shorts when I was just starting out was shooting close-ups everything. The effect is like being emotionally carpet-bombed, and nothing gets filtered or makes sense. The problem with shooting wide at that light was, especially with my experience of the t2i, as soon as you go over 800 it gets ugly-noisy. So my 30mm, although it makes the framing of shots more difficult and you can never get that same sense of “openness” with a 30mm (which is really a 50mm on a t2i) as opposed to shooting at 17mm, was still able to get decent framing. I think the trick is to use the narrower framing of a 30mm in your favor, that is, setting a frame-within-a-frame shot: shooting far back enough so you can establish setting, and shoot in a setting that is photogenic enough that the location frames your shot in a more aesthetic way. You can’t get away from that sense of “framing” with a 30mm as opposed to a 17mm frame, but to me, that can work in your favor. Just saying.

It was a pleasure to work with talent like Natalia, who is pretty experienced and could dial up the emotion to just what I needed without any use of lemons or staring-at-lights tricks to induce tears, and it was a pleasure to work with newbie Dennis, who did a bang-up job of the homeless man.



“The River Knows: Asset”

“Agent Arnold Manley tracks down the asset Agent Max Shultz in order to either see if Shultz will be compliant and an asset…or non-compliant and decommissioned.”


Jay Berzuk as Arnold Manley
Keith Randall as Max Shultz

This was an interesting shoot for me; it came mainly from taking a 16mm Bolex workshop. I wanted to do another River Knows spec and had a concept in my mind for it. I wrote a script with both Day and Manley, but on the day of the shoot, the actor playing my Day got lost on the way to the cemetery. Suffice to say, as a filmmaker one of the things I’ve learned is to go with the flow and come up with something else on the spot. Not only actor issues was apparent that day, but also, this shoot was probably the first time I shot with a Bolex since my university days, and I got nighttime shooting stock mistakenly instead of daytime. I got an 8+ ND filter and stopped that bitch down before I set out, barely remembering how to load the film in the camera. When we got to the cemetery (a horrible student film cliche I do realize), the sun was literally sheening off the snow. Shooting with the Bolex, notwithstanding the shooting time, was surprisingly a real pleasure. I set up my DSLR rig with the Bolex and just got into it. The pure mechanics of it, all winding gears, was a surprising pleasure for me; the portability, the ease of use. I basically edited-in-camera, mixing up slo-mo with standard shots, and storyboarded the script in my head. This shoot was in the style I like–pure run ‘n gun. I realize I get impatient with setups and lighting and prefer the “rawness” of on-the-spot shooting. Of course, to me this shoot was pure fun from the get-go; it would be a different story if I wanted to set out to do a more complicated shoot. However, for me, this shoot was more enjoyable than I thought it would be with a Bolex.

Editing with a Steenbeck though? Fuck that! After an hour of scratching up my film and then trying to figure out how to cut, I just set up the projector and shot the raw footage on my DSLR and edited in my final cut. Non-linear editing is one place in the filmmaking process I’m glad is digital.

“The River Knows: How Green Is My Valley”

“The River Knows: The Sound Of My Voice Is Night”

These last two shorts were my first spec shoots for “The River Knows”, working with my two actors just around Winnipeg to start to get a sense of the story I wanted to do. It was both great and a challenge to shoot in the more visually pleasing areas of Winnipeg without dating the story too badly. Aside from the graffitti, and in the case of the river shoot, the man fishing just to the left of the shot (who never got up or left, just kept sitting and fishing literally a dozen feet away as me and my actors spent over two hours on the bank shooting). The interesting thing with “the sound of my voice is night” concept was the distortion of my voice as the unknown, omniscient narrator. The original plan was to have this character deliver orders and commands to Manley through records that he would play; and that the hypnotic commands were like verbal “keys” that both unlocked the hidden filing drawer in Manley’s mind of the kind of agent that he is, and then locked it back up once the commands were sent. This idea I explored further, to varying degrees of emphasis, with “Ghost” and “Asset”.

“The River Knows” is a tv show concept I came up with in 2010 due to my fascination with noir and neo-noir drama, tv police procedurals, 1960’s culture, and my curiosity to see if I could explore supernatural themes in a more real way. It involves the uneasy cooperation between a haunted WWII veteran and Winnipeg police detective — Det. Henry Day — and a mysterious and opaque “citizen crime analyst” Arnold Manley, set in 1962 Winnipeg. In addition to the deep plot possibilities this world offered me, was the interest in exploring the complex relationship between Day and Manley, ranging from awkwardness and uneasiness firmly footed on a foundation of mistrust, which translates into passive-aggressive interplay, to outright hostility and near-violence.

From a story point of view, the story was not hard to write, but the tricky part was ensuring the elements of the story were thoroughly researched and clarified in my mind. The story required the blending of 1960’s culture–buttressed with thorough historical research–along with a clear grounding of what was the exact component of Day and Manley’s relationship that connected them, even through the hostility. What kept them working together when clearly they were two different people?

The other elements that I wanted to explore–which the spec videos show to differing degrees of success–is the conveyance of a mysterious, fearful and dangerous world leavened with moments of comic absurdity. “Twin Peaks” is a classic tv show I return to again and again as a perfect example of this “story tone”. I wanted to write a show, but also convey a certain tone, of a world where moments of pure horror are counterbalanced by moments of comedy. The trick is to understand that both moods are different sides of the same coin: which coin is the inherent meaninglessness of life. I could posit that pure horror and pure comedy are in essence the first irony: the ability to perceive the dangers of life and the world as nonsensical. Our fear co-exists in a paradoxical relationship with our laughter precisely because as soon as the initial emotional shock wears off, we wonder what exactly we are afraid of, or what we find so funny. Once the realization everything is arbitrary and life is meaningless, do we both loosen the shackles of the illusionary ties of life that we believe bind us, and become free. This idea to me is the frankly erroneous conclusion that post-modernists came to when they first started batting around these ideas in university back in the early 60’s-80’s and 90’s, where we can somehow become anything we want, do anything we want, because everything is meaningless. What they didn’t realize is that getting to that place that everything is meaningless is in fact creating a new place of responsibility. Creating meaning is the new power, the new weight, and really the old cross, that the enlightened bear.


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