Shooting Dirty Lies, a Tar Sands Duet with John Lefebvre

Filmmaking at a dollar a day means grabbing every opportunity. Burst pipe? Write it into the script. Have to replace the ball-cock shank? Make it a scene between mother and daughter about man jobs paying more. When I found out that my long-time pal, collaborator and second cameraman on Love in the Sixth, Jeremy Gilbert was off to visit his sister on Salt Spring Island for a much deserved vacation—I did a little victory dance—that boy wasn’t going to relax, no, nope, no sir. I’d been trying to figure out how to do a duet with John Lefebvre without leaving stinky old TO, or dragging him away from all that west coast beauty. As usual the universe, and my awesome friends, provided. This is Jeremy’s story about his really excellent adventure with John Lefebvre.
by Second Camera-man Jeremy Gilbert:

The day wasn’t shaping up to be a good one when the time arrived for John Lefebvre to pick me up to shoot his part of the “Dirty Lies” video for Jude’s film. It was raining, fog was rolling in, and I had to be the sound guy, director and script reader, as well as cameraman. I was the entire crew!
But John arrived right on time at eight AM at my sister’s place at Long Harbour on Saltspring Island, gung-ho and itching to perform for the camera. It was the first time I had met him, though both my sister and brother-in-law had met him before, this being a place where everyone knows everyone. And even if you were a resident here and had not have met him before, he was famous for his work as an environmentalist with David Suzuki and for the Stonehenge-like stone circle he had off a main road here that was the talk of the island.

Knowing I’d be in Saltspring Island to see my relatives, Jude had quickly written and recorded the song “Dirty Lies,” in collaboration with Asher Ettinger and John, John sending his musical portions in files to Asher in Toronto. But collaborating musically is easier than collaborating visually, so I was there to shoot that part of the production, as far as I know, the only non-Toronto portion of the film.

Nothing about John is small-scale. Once I saw his bed-and-breakfast complex with the stone circles – at a physical scale akin to the real Stonehenge – and his home nestled in the rustic beauty of the Island, I knew we’d have no trouble making this visually appealing.


But the rain….  We started by shooting a dialogue sequence for the Skype interview John was to have with Jude’s character. It was indoor, easy, peasy. I fumbled with the portable mic Rob McGee had lent me, and had him by a window showing the spectacular view of the harbour – only to see fog roll in and make anything further than his yard an omniscient white haze… no matter, we soldiered on, I shot tight.

Then, it was time to shoot him performing the song. He suggested the courtyard outside  which had the advantage for him of being being sheltered from the rain as he stood under an archway – but I had to rely on an umbrella to keep me dry as I set the camera up on a tripod outside. He was still a bit rusty with the lyrics as we played back the song on his laptop which had to be hidden and covered so as not to get wet. But he soon had mastered the song. We sure played it enough that day!

The time came to change locations to the “Stonehenge” vista of this aptly named Stonehouse complex. But the rain didn’t let up. This time, I had the umbrella, but John was in the rain, he made no complaints, he just worried that his wet coat might darken and be inconsistent with other shots. But, visually, it was perfect, with the fog pulled back so the faint outline of trees were visible in the distance, the huge stone pillars making this seem more like the real Stonehenge with every passing minute, John like a rain-soaked long-haired druid with his full-length hand-made brown leather coat. Except that the pillar John was by looked distinctly phallic – a nice visual joke, in the wider shots…


The rain let up and the fog receded, so I was able to get enough covering shots to make sure we had everything we needed, then we drove off to the second location, after John showed me the spectacular rooms at his b and b, the garage with his vintage car and truck and motorcycle, and his recording studio set-up.

On the far side of the island, his custom-built Arts-and-Crafts inspired home, something between a longhouse and a provincial lodge with far better art, became the setting for a bunch more set-ups. A waterfall flowing into the little harbour there formed a backdrop as he sang to the song, sitting on a mossy bench which would have been at home in an Elvish town in Lord of the Rings. Another location was the shore where the exposed stone had been eroded in bizarre ways, looking like an H. R. Giger-designed moonscape, the stone pock-marked with holes like Swiss cheese.

And, as if to balance the natural and the man-made, directly across the channel on the mainland of Vancouver Island was the local saw mill, spewing smoke into the sky.


It was 4:30 by the time we called it quits, and the light soon faded. I was exhausted, but John seemed game to keep going – and there were easily a half-dozen locations at his home which would have worked… but the music video was only two and half minutes long, a fact I had etched into my mind after some 40 or so plays of the song today. We easily had enough footage for a 10-minute song, if only there was an epic guitar solo somewhere…

We shook hands as he dropped me off, and he handed me a bottle of fine wine as we bade adieu back at my sister’s place – and I hoped the magical scenery I had seen today would resonate in the video for the film… and underline visually the tongue-in-cheek song’s message about conserving what we inherited for our children.

Jeremy Gilbert


John Lefebvre is a seriously cool person, and one of my daughter’s heroes, because he funds this award winning website DESMOGBLOG
There’s a book about John Lefebvre written by Bill Reynolds, click here to read all about it: Life Real Loud

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