Welcome to bear country: North Dakota native Hlebechuk hosts ‘Bears’ movie crews at Alaska camp
Getting to see a bear up close and personal in the wild is something few people have experienced. But those who visit Fairfield native Clint Hlebechuk's Hallo Bay Bear Camp will have the experience of a lifetime. Unfortunately, not everyone can t...
Getting to see a bear up close and personal in the wild is something few people have experienced.
But those who visit Fairfield native Clint Hlebechuk’s Hallo Bay Bear Camp will have the experience of a lifetime. Unfortunately, not everyone can travel to Alaska and experience the wilderness near Katmai National Park.
Clint and his wife, Simyra Taback-Hlebechuk, along with the rest of the staff at Hallo Bay, hosted Disneynature film crews for the past two summers as they filmed “Bears,” which will be released Friday.
“It’s a good story. It’s not sensationalized,” Clint said. “It’s just a true story.”
The camp has hosted TV and film crews previously, but this was the first major motion picture based there.
“It was a total different change from a television documentary,” Clint said. “I had to get a whole new set of terms here.”
The crews were experienced in nature filming, letting things happen rather than trying to make them happen.
“It was a really nice film crew to work with,” Simyra said. “They were really patient and understanding out in the field. They didn’t push any of the wildlife.”
The film follows a mama bear and her two cubs, and the crew had to wait two weeks for the trio to wake up to begin filming, Clint said.
TV crews usually have a short amount of time - a week or two - to get all their shots, Simyra said.
“They have a vision of what they think their documentary is going to be about, but it can’t be 100 percent what they’ve envisioned because you really don’t know what you’re going to be able to film,” Simyra said. “There’s no guarantee that the bears are going to be doing whatever activity.”
The film crews had much more time.
“The longer they’re there, the more relaxed the film crew is,” Simyra said. “Because these guys were here for 3½ months for both summers, they were much more relaxed. They didn’t feel rushed. They didn’t feel pressure to get that perfect shot.”
But even time can’t bring perfection, Simyra said.
“It doesn’t matter how long they’re there. You can’t predict 100 percent what you’re going to get on film. You don’t know what’s going to happen the next day,” Simyra said. “That’s why it’s so thrilling for us as guides out there. We never get bored. Every day is so different.”
Crews were at a remote camp and the base camp, Clint said. The base camp has all the modern amenities while the remote one is very primitive. Batteries had to be charged at the base camp and flown back and forth, as did the crews when they needed a hot shower.
“You got to know these people intimately,” Clint said of the film crew. “You develop a bond that is just unbelievable.”
The relationship was mutually beneficial.
“I learned a lot too,” Simyra said. “I learned a lot about filming and time-lapse photography.”
She added: “I taught them as much as I could about bears and bear behavior and bear body language. Not only that, but the other wildlife - the wolves, and the fox and the eagles. Every day I took them for a plant walk, and I would teach them six new plants or six new flowers every day.”
Even though they hosted the Disney crews, they won’t get to see the full film until the same weekend as its release. But there are a few moments Simyra recognizes from the trailer.
“It’s pretty cool because, standing behind them for all that time, and then you finally get to see it on film, you remember every moment, which is pretty neat,” Simyra said. “But to see their perspective of it - because when you’re seeing it, when you’re standing there behind them, you’re seeing in a huge panoramic view, and when they’re filming, you don’t know if they’ve zoomed in really tight on the subject or if they’ve got a lot of landscape in the background.”
But what they’re most excited to see is everyone else’s reaction, Simyra said.
“We’ve already lived through it, because we were there when they were filming,” Simyra said. “But to see it put together, the way they edited it together, and just to see the excitement of the crowds - especially the kids. This movie is for kids, and it’s going to be pretty cool to see their reaction.”