Two weeks before principal photography began, preparation for participation in the Indian Guides program required the actors to go through intensive training to learn archery, tomahawk throwing, canoeing and rain dancing.
“One of the challenges we faced when we started this movie was how we were going to get the large cast, four fathers and four sons proficient in dancing, canoeing, archery and tomahawk throwing with a limited amount of time,” says producer Marty Katz. “We continued the rehearsals virtually every Saturday and several times a week in the evening.”
“Its been a lot of work and long hours, but every aspect of working on this film has been interesting to me,” says Jonathan Taylor Thomas. “It’s like summer camp. Tomahawk throwing was my favorite.”
Shot in and around the picturesque Canadian city of Vancouver, filming “Man of the House” took cast and crew to a number of the area’s more beautiful spots including Capilano River Regional Park, Seymour Demonstration Forest, and the historic Gastown Area.
“I made the choice to shoot in Vancouver, because the movie was so naturally suited to the Pacific Northwest,” says director James Orr.
A majority of the film was shot on actual sites with the exception of the loft interior where Sandy and Ben live, the evening campfire scenes, the courtroom and Bronski’s recreation room which were built at the Bridge Studios in Burnaby.
“The most interesting design aspect of this film was Sandy Archer’s living space,” remarks production designer Lawrence G. Pauli. “Originally it was written as a two story house, but as James and I chatted about it, it seemed to naturally evolve into a working loft. So the approach was not to do a designer loft but a living space that would serve as a place where Sandy could also do her art.”
“Farrah’s character is an assemblage artist. She utilizes used materials and objects and turns them into pieces of art,” says Pauli. “So we reinforced that characteristic throughout the loft with all the different styles of cupboards and open storage areas where she keeps all the pieces she finds for her art.”
In real life Farrah is an artist and she can work in pastel and charcoal as well as sculpting. “We are using a pastel drawing in the lawyer’s office that Farrah did specially for us,” says Pauli.
Central to the movie is an eight-by-eight-foot wall assemblage called “Hero Piece” which Sandy and her son Ben have been working on for years in the loft. This piece was created by artists Georges Gamache and Micheline La Rose in addition to the pieces they created for Sandy’s art show which was shot at the Diane Farris Gallery.
“I have a passion for art,” says Fawcett, “so it’s nice to play a character who is eclectic and tilted in her approach to art.”
The biggest challenge for practical locations was finding the right roof-top garden location. “The roof-top needed to be large enough to accommodate the contingent of actors, crew and equipment. But I didn’t want it to look like a roof-top garden that belongs in House & Garden.” says Pauli. “It was designed as a wonderful, funky, functional roof-top space for outdoor living where Farrah’s character could rest and play with her son and do her art.”
The perfect location was found in the historic Gastown area overlooking the city and the Burrard Inlet. “Conceptually, I wanted to see water wherever we could,” adds Pauli.
Chevy Chase and Jonathan Taylor Thomas were also called upon to share several of their scenes with 100,000 honey bees, provided by Dr. Norman E. Gary (“Fried Green Tomatoes”). Shot in the Capilano River Regional Park, the scene called for Chevy and Jonathan to use their precision tomahawk throwing to break a branch with a large beehive in it. “We are using ordinary honey bees that have been removed from their hives and transported to the set in cages,” says props master Bill Thumm.
“Though the bees are somewhat disoriented and confused, they are not as defensive as they normally would be at their hive location and they are not inclined to sting,” adds bee wrangler and consultant Dr. Norman E. Gary. “They are under the influence of powerful synthetic queen bee odors called pheromones.
Generally, on set they will cluster on or near the objects or materials that are treated with droplets of pheromones, like the beehive on the branch that Jonathan has to carry or the suits of the bad guys who are swarmed by the bees,” says Dr. Gary.
Cast and crew had to take precautions so that the bees did not crawl into any openings in their clothing or get stuck in their hair. Everyone was asked to wear hats and secure their trouser cuffs to the top of their boots or legs with tape, bicycle clips, rubber bands or anything they could find to close the opening and prevent entry. The same applied to any other opening such as the sleeves and the neck areas. “Bees on the ground floor, especially those too young to fly, tend to crawl upward onto objects. Also, there is the slight risk that they will become entangled in people’s hair, become excited, and sting because they are trapped,” adds Dr. Gary.
“I didn’t get stung,” says Jonathan Taylor Thomas, “but, I did get a bee in my ear. It was really amazing working with them and nobody got hurt.”
“Because bees are attracted to yellow or colors near the yellow spectrum, such as orange, we had to make sure none of the wardrobe would be attractive to the bees,” adds costume designer Tom Bronson.
“There’s a reality base and emotional truth in ‘Man of the House’,” concludes director/screenwriter James Orr. “There’s a lot of fun too. From the very beginning we saw it as the story of two men — one happens to be 12 years old, and the other is an adult — who are fighting over territory. They go through a process of sizing each other up, and seeing what the other is made of. They lock horns and test each other. Ultimately they become friends.”
Orr completed filming his comedy “Man of the House” in Vancouver, on August 19, 1994.
Read more in the promotional material from the Man of the House Press Kit: