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Pipe Nation pilot episode nearly complete

Filmmaker working out the final cut’s finishing touches
MVT-Pipe Nation production 1
Shooting a production during the age of COVID-19 has ushered in some new protocols. The cast and crew who were out for the first day of filming at the Sundre Elks Lodge No. 338 on Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020 were required to have their temperatures checked, as well as wear masks and sanitize their hands upon entry. File photo/MVP Staff

SUNDRE — With the final cut of Pipe Nation’s pilot episode all but complete, the finishing touches that remain largely involve music and sound editing.  

“The crucial process of pairing beautiful scenes with dramatic music is underway,” reads a portion of a recent press release, which added the kinds of music featured includes rock, blues, country, electronic dance music, as well as classical. 

Edmonton-based filmmaker and director Raoul Bhatt, who had set his sights on Sundre to portray the fictional oil town Hardwell, said the post-production process that followed several months of shooting in the area has “been quite the journey.” 

The work involved shooting 18 scenes, which ended up requiring 180 takes that were captured in and around Sundre. Some of the sets featured a $300,000 built-for-the-show pipeline, a medical helicopter, and a long list of heavy equipment worth $180 million. The pilot is expected to be complete by February, the press release stated.    

The last shoot was filmed in September, after which the crew began to assemble and edit the multitude of scenes into a chronological timeline that flows. Movies and shows are typically shot in a non-sequential order depending on when certain locations and actors are available. Of course the scenes are all inventoried and organized, but must then be edited into a sensible timeline, he said.  

“We did rough assembly and then modifications and more modifications. I think we have about 13 different cuts we went through,” said Bhatt during a phone interview on Jan. 16, adding he had earlier that morning “watched the final edit that we’re at.” 

Now, the production team is working with musicians from across Canada as well as the U.S. to tap into a variety of talent, he said.  

“We do have some local musicians as well, but we also want to open up channels for people that work in the energy industry in other (areas),” he said.   

“The talent that we have, and the soundtrack that’s going to come out with the show, is going to be phenomenal. I think it’s on par, if not better, than shows that are on Amazon Prime and Netflix. I’m really proud of where we’ve come today.” 

Musicians, much like any artist, “pour their heart into their music,” and there can be anywhere from one to six hours of correspondence involved when considering their submissions. Multiply that by hundreds of submissions, and the process quickly becomes a full-time job, he said.   

“Being artists ourselves, we’re very careful and sensitive to what people are submitting. We’re not a faceless corporate machine. We’re a bunch of local guys that want to tell stories.”  

The songs that best align with the scenes featured in the pilot will be selected, with others to be held in reserve for future episodes, he said.  

Demo tracks can be emailed to music@pipenation.tv

As of the time of the interview, Bhatt said he expected the final cut, complete with soundtrack, to be finished within about a month.  

“We’re currently passing the show onto our VFX department. They’re doing all the special effects. Now that the show is done editing, we can do all that stuff,” he said.   

“We have about three scenes left that need the effects.” 

Those tweaks include colour enhancements as well as minor changes such as digitally altering signage.  

“We take the buildings that have Sundre written on it, and we replace it with Hardwell,” he said.  

“But you’ll recognize the buildings as being your buildings in Sundre.” 

With the pilot approaching completion, he said the effort is now underway to start writing future episodes that explore avenues to push the envelope.   

The creative minds behind the series, which is told through the lens of a single mother working in the male-dominated, oil and energy industry during a time of political uncertainty and economic hardship, welcome story ideas from all of the backgrounds and walks of life involved in the oil patch — whether those who provide ancillary services like electricians, or others like executives in corporate offices to the workers on the field.   

“We love getting input on where we can take these characters and how to develop them in a deeper and compelling manner as the show evolves,” he said.  

“I believe we have a lot of stories to tell.” 

With a run time of 54 minutes, the pilot for a potential 10-episode series so far has two interested distributors, he said.  

“We still have to sign the deal. Really, what they’re waiting for is the finished show.” 

But Bhatt said he is in no major rush, and intends to submit to the streaming giants a full show, plus a trailer as well as a sizzler. Trailers are usually short, roughly two-minute teaser samplers of a show or movie, while sizzlers run longer at about 10 minutes and feature a more comprehensive combination of all the best, most complicated and intricate shots, he said.   

“A typical show would never go to this length. So, I’d rather wait the extra two months and give them everything to show that we have a full team, from pre-production, production and post production, that can execute,” he said, adding they essentially just need more financing.  

The strategic reasoning behind that, he said, is to demonstrate their ability to be a self-sustaining operation that can create the show from scratch right in Alberta without needing any outside crews to come in.  

“So, it’s quite a political game right now. But we’ll overcome it,” he said.  

Provided the stars align, Bhatt anticipates returning to Sundre to continue shooting the rest of the series.  

“Once we get the green light, we’ll be filming for several months.” 

And although the COVID-19 pandemic has created some logistical hurdles, he said they’ve been able to work within the restrictions, in part by setting up a network infrastructure that enables them to upload all of the data and work remotely when reviewing footage.   

“We’ve had to innovate in delivering this post-production process,” he said.  

“It’s pretty advanced to what other big shows are doing,” he said, citing as an example HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones, based on the books by George RR Martin.   

“They were filming in multiple parts of the world at the same time and then delivering to the server,” he said.  

With Pipe Nation’s release looming closer, Bhatt is still brainstorming ideas for a local screening that would adhere to health measures.  

“That’s still a huge consideration. We’re trying to figure out how to do it.”  

One option might be to book a theatre but limit attendance to a smaller crowd size to enable physical distancing, he said.  

“Music and sound is such an important aspect of the show. I feel like if we don’t deliver on that, people are going to miss out,” he said.  

“We still need to control the environment that the show is being watched in.” 

Another possibility would be setting up a temporary drive-in boasting either large speakers or broadcasting directly into people’s vehicles with an FM transmitter, he said.  

“We have to weigh our options,” he said.  

“It’d be really positive thing for the community, and give people something to look forward to.” 

So far, he said the whole experience has been “larger than I ever imagined.” 

But he added support from the community has also been warmer and more widespread than he’d expected as well.  

“I’m just excited, and it fuels me to keep going — pun intended!”