After a mind-blowing party with some of Canada’s most beautiful women, we awoke without the slightest hint of a hangover (surprisingly!) and spent the day catching up on some online work from the comfort and warmth of our hotel apartment.
That evening we were taken to dinner by the Creative Director of Tigress Productions, Graham Booth, who personally directed several of the episodes of Austin’s first series. Walking the few blocks to the Italian restaurant required multiple pairs of thick socks, boots, four layers of clothing, big winter coats, a scarf, gloves, and warm hats, not to mention constant concentration to avoid slipping on the ice that lined the streets. Graham seemed totally unaffected by the cold and his eyes shone with good humour as he declared that we would get used to the weather, despite Austin’s devout insistence to the contrary. Graham was immediately likeable, a keenly intelligent and soft-spoken Englishman with an admirable degree of knowledge about filmmaking and the television business. After a wonderful dinner spent discussing the series, we stopped at the street beside our hotel to watch a Hollywood film being shot. There were actors in FBI SWAT uniforms carrying guns and running all over the place at the call to action. We watched until our fingers, noses and ears were once again numb from the cold before saying goodnight to Graham and retiring to our hotel. Later that night, after we had gone to bed, the film crew blew up a couple of police cars for their next scene and set the street alight. This set off our hotel’s fire alarms and ensured that no one got much sleep that night.
The next morning, Austin, Graham and I went with Sarah, the Producer of Austin’s new series, to a sound studio in which Austin was to record the voice over for his hyena episode that had been shot in Ethiopia several months before. Sarah was responsible for introducing Austin’s first series to Canada, her home country, and for bringing about the production of the new series. She had a vibrant personality and highly professional outlook, and was quick to point out the various features of Toronto as we were driven to the studio. She had the kind of beautifully smooth complexion common to people who have been raised in cold, cloudy climates and her dark lustrous hair was cut at shoulder length.
On arriving at the studio, Sarah handed each of us a copy of the commentary script to be recorded. Austin sat in a sound-proof room in which he would read each line multiple times until it sounded perfect. We could see him as we sat in the adjoining room containing the sound recording equipment, which shared a window with Austin’s room. When Graham pushed a button on our side of the glass, we were able to communicate with Austin as he sat under multiple microphones with headphones over his ears on the other side. These headphones received the cues provided by the sound technicians in our room that told him when to read the lines. Over approximately six hours, Graham selected the lines of the narration he was happy with as Austin repeated them, and two sound technicians placed the final selection of each line over the appropriate film footage that appeared on a large screen, until Austin’s voice over narration fitted in the spaces of time in which he did not speak in the film footage. It was a long and detailed process that allowed me to see the sections of the film that were receiving commentary. The title sequence was heart stopping and the rest of the footage was both fantastic and hair-raising as I watched Austin being surrounded by hyenas in the dead of night. It had me on the edge of my seat even though I could see my man sitting safely in the room opposite.
That night we were both very tired and Austin needed a break, so we ordered a room service dinner at the hotel and then received our schedule for promotions the next day. Austin was given a list of snakes to choose from that would be brought in by Josh from Reptilia, a nearby reptile park, for Austin to handle as part of the publicity appearances. He chose a seven-foot female reticulated python, a large eastern diamondback rattlesnake, a four-metre, eleven-year-old male Burmese python and a Taiwanese rat snake. An alligator and an iguana were thrown in for good measure.
We were picked up by a driver at 7.45am the next day and taken to CTV Studios. Josh met us there with the reptiles and so did Jodi from Discovery Channel, who was to help us during the day. Jodi, Josh and I watched from a green room while Austin took Rose, the reticulated python, onto the set of ‘Canada AM,’ for his first live television appearance of the day. The host of the program appeared somewhat concerned about the presence of the snake and Austin did a wonderful job of juggling the python, the host and the interview as well as the constant awareness that live television demands. Unfortunately, any pre-planned questions the host may have had went out the window the moment he saw Rose, and it was mostly she that was discussed, rather than Austin’s new series. Rose was very happy wrapped around Austin, and she didn’t seem the slightest bit concerned about her busy surroundings.
At 9am, Austin and I were taken to another set within CTV Studios to shoot the on-air promotions for Austin’s new series. The team were extremely thoughtful and had filled one corner of Studio 6 with fruit, pastries, juices and bottled water for us. They were constantly making us cups of tea and coffee and we were not allowed to lift a finger. A nearby green room had been reserved for Austin and me to which we could retreat if we felt we needed a break. Austin handled Rose for the filming of many of the promos and I carried her around the set between takes. She was beautiful, very strong and constantly active, flickering her long pink forked tongue in every direction. The Producer, Cheryl, pulled up a chair for me and I sat amongst the cameramen watching as Austin was taped saying his lines to advertise the airing of the new series in a number of different countries. I then watched as Cheryl conducted a lengthy on-camera interview with Austin to be used for promotion. Austin’s answers were thought-provoking and exciting, and the film crew and assistants were hanging on his every word. After a few hours, Austin’s shoot wrapped and Jodi took us to lunch with Anne Marie, the Discovery Channel executive, and I saw snow falling for the first time in my life!
By 2.15pm we were on the set of ‘Daily Planet,’ the Discovery Channel’s science show. I remained on set among a scattering of extension cords and camera equipment, and Josh gave me the two metre male Taiwanese rat snake to hold. He was beautifully marked in solid black and white stripes, with a broad strip of yellow all the way down his back. The rat snake fell asleep in my arms and while Austin and the presenters discussed the interview to come, I gently roused the snake to introduce it to Jodi. She was initially somewhat unsure, but was soon stroking the rat snake’s back and admiring its beautiful colours. To our right, Austin and the presenters of ‘Daily Planet’ took their positions. The cameras began to roll, and Austin brought out the rattlesnake and showed him to the presenters, who were jumping away at first but soon relaxed and enjoyed the experience. Austin used Rose and the four-metre Burmese python in the same segment, and all hands were required to keep the giant snake’s coils from rolling off the table!
At 3pm Austin was interviewed on film for the Discovery Channel’s Canadian website, which took some time but Austin was very patient and once again gave very interesting answers. Jodi then drove us to MTV Studios and Austin caught up on some sleep in our green room while I cuddled the rat snake on the couch beside him. At 5.30pm, the film crew from ‘MTV Live’ came into our room to shoot a few ‘coming up next’ segments of Austin with the rat snake that would air before Austin’s live television appearance in front of a studio audience. By 6pm, we were on the set of ‘MTV Live,’ where Austin handled the rattlesnake and Rose to the frequent applause of the audience. Austin helped the female presenter to handle Rose, but the ophidiophobic male presenter climbed into the audience and remained there throughout the entire segment! I stood quietly out of frame beside the studio audience fielding questions from an anxious crew member and assuring him that the presence of a rattlesnake in his workplace was nothing to worry about. Forty-five minutes later, with all promotions satisfactorily completed, Jodi presented us with gifts of shirts, caps, a lovely executive diary and pens from Discovery Channel and Animal Planet and then she drove us back to our hotel. We ordered another room service dinner, climbed into bed, and watched the ‘Daily Planet’ and MTV appearances as they aired. Both were good publicity for the new series.
The next day, we were provided with another driver and Lincoln town car in which to visit Niagara Falls. The driver was at our disposal and Cineflix gave us a cash budget for the day, so we braved the icy weather for pictures in the snow, and tasted Canadian ice wine at a nearby restaurant for our nine-month anniversary since meeting. Made from grapes harvested from the vineyards at night when they were frozen, the dessert wine almost had the consistency of syrup. It was very sweet and deep gold in colour.
Austin and I then met up with our driver again who took us to the Falls. The fast moving, roaring grey water was lined with sheets of ice, and what we could see of the Falls through the mist was magnificent. The water fell from an incredible height and crashed into the river below. Standing on our side of the Falls and looking across the river, we were actually staring at the state of New York on the American side! Local police were on the lookout for barrel riders, thrill seekers who try to go down Niagara Falls in a barrel. Eleven people had died attempting this, and so the police were patrolling the area around the Falls constantly to prevent further attempts. I felt that anyone who thought going down Niagara Falls in a barrel in the middle of winter was a good idea should be allowed to do it, thus removing their stupidity from the gene pool!
The following day it snowed again as Mia, the Personal Assistant, drove us to a doctor for Austin to attend a medical exam for the Cineflix insurers. Mia then drove us to a shopping centre where we were able to stock up on various things and that night we flew seven hours to London.
London was also freezing with snow predicted that day, but lining the streets were some of the most beautiful old stone buildings I had ever seen, and the area outside the city was green and tranquil. Our hotel in London had a second television built into the bathroom wall, apparently so we could watch TV while showering. We spent a lot of time wandering around Piccadilly until the sleet drove us inside again. Some of the drivers in London were nothing short of dangerous and police and ambulance sirens were a constant annoyance. We spent only twenty-four hours in London before boarding another plane for the ten-hour flight back to South Africa so we could begin the last leg of the journey home.
To be continued in Chapter 29, when rain falls in the Namib Desert and transforms our world…