CMRU and the Movies

by Mardi Keltner

It all started with ropes and pulleys.
In the spring of 1992 Jim Larison, of PNW Films, wandered into a local outdoor store to look at pulleys for his upcoming National Geographic film and started talking to the store owner Hollis Fergeson. Hollis was a longtime friend and ex-member of CMRU, and when he heard Jim was interested in filming pulley systems in action he recommended that Jim contact CMRU. We were thrilled at the opportunity to "be in the movies" and later that spring the film crew attended our annual rock practice and filmed us running our standard raising and lowering system. We had a great time, and so did Jim and Elaine Larison of PNW Films, and their two sons John and Ted.

The following year PNW films was making a film about the 911 system and decided to end the film with a dramatic high mountain rescue sequence. Wow, now this was really going to be fun! The whole unit eagerly got involved and soon we were up on Mt. Hood. What an education for us all! The film crew learned how difficult it is to turn 20 enthusiastic mountain rescuers into actors, and we learned what a difference there is between filming and SAR. At times it degenerated into a comedy of errors, with the litter bearers knocking over the cameraman, rescuers leaving big footprints across the "pristine slope" before it was filmed, and various pieces of hardware taking the "long slide". After five long, hard, and incredibly fun days on the mountain the Larisons had the shots they needed, and we were again the stars in a glorious 4 minutes of National Geographic film.
Here's part of the article Maryanne Reiter (our resident comedian) wrote about it for our newsletter:

Flash! CMRU achieves stardom!

On March 5-7 and 12-14 CMRU participated in the filming of an educational film on the 911 system for National Geographic. On Friday, March 5th, movie committee members and Jim and Elaine Larison from PNW films scouted Mt. Hood for a suitable location. The Illumination Saddle area was selected. On Friday evening Government Camp was lined with limousines as the rest of the cast arrived.
Saturday morning the scenes of the hasty team approaching the saddle were filmed. Saturday afternoon brought more setting up and filming. Clint Eastwood, played by the tough and handsome Gene "Go ahead. Make my belay" Griswold, was filmed performing a breath-taking rappel down a steep, icy slope. Steve Martin, played by Scott Linn, and Dan Ackroyd, played by Dan Debrito, gave us comic relief as 'those wild and crazy hasty team guys'. Late in the day we hurried to the bivy scene to try to capture the aura of glowing tents against the fading rays of the day.
Sunday brought more filming and more filming. In the morning, scenes from a parking lot were shot. Hollis, played by the inimitable Hollis, did a convincing job as 'the victim's friend'. John Wayne and Patrick Stewart (a.k.a. Jean-Luc Picard) played by Jim Swinyard and Bob "Captain Bob, Star-Unit Corvallis" Freund, respectively, were impeccable as 'the strong guys in charge'. Sigourny Weaver, played by the attractive Anne Greenwood lent dramatic intensity to the briefing scene and Katherine Hepburn, played by the fabulous Susan Leach, was spellbinding as the dedicated 'base communications' woman.
Late Sunday morning we headed back up to Illumination Saddle to film the raising and lowering system and caring for the victim. Meryl Streep, played by the stunning Mardi Keltner, looked ravishing in her off-the-shoulder Gortex gown as she portrayed the fearless litter attendant going over the edge. John Hurt (a good name for the injured climber), played by Doug McGuire, provided an incredibly realistic performance as 'the victim'. His gasping breath was so convincing that Elaine was truly alarmed (he later developed pneumonia). By late in the afternoon the cast was beginning to weary from lack of rest and food. I know this reviewer was dangerously approaching "Empty" from lack of sleep and low blood sugar when she attempted to perform the Team 2 transfer.
The following weekend was more relaxed. The cast again headed up to Illumination Saddle where 'the fall' and Team 2 transfer were reshot. Susan Saradon (a.k.a. Thelma), played by Maryanne "That's no way to talk to a lady, you *?!#*" Reiter, displayed calm determination as Team 2 leader in the belayed lower. Jack Nickelson and Kevin Costner, played by Jim Ruef and Lance Forsythe, gave strong performances as 'the litter team'. The weather had changed from the previous weekend, so we needed a little radio traffic to explain the change. In that pivotal dialogue Arnold Swartzenegger, played by the silent and hulking Jon Sears, delivered his memorable line "Hasta la vista, Team 1". Later, the bivy scene was reshot, this time though, there was a white-out instead of a beautiful sunset, which pleased Jim since he wanted to get some 'real mountain weather'. Team 1 members were filmed waiting anxiously for the litter team at the bivy scene. Robert DeNiro, played by the versatile Mike McCann, was riveting as 'the guy waiting for the litter'. The Whisperlight stove, donated by MSR, will certainly be an Oscar nominee for its convincing portrayal of 'the stove'. On Sunday, Hollis was reported to have given a seamless performance as the victim's friend dialing 911. The critical roles of our dedicated camera assistant, Ken Parton, played by the dashing Ken Parton, and the sound-assistant, Bob Browning, played by the stalwart Bob Browning, must also be acknowledged.

This reviewer believes that the film will be the box-office hit of the season, but let's hear what other people are saying...

"I laughed, I cried, I gave it two ice-axes up."

"This is a four-carabiner performance."

"I want to be a victim just so I can be saved by that powerful, fearless, and attractive rescue unit from Corvallis."

Ah yes, that was the high point of CMRU stardom, but it didn't end there. Since then, various CMRU members have participated in four more of the Larisons' films. These included one for which Doug McGuire acted as pack mule, hauling gear into a site where hibernating bears were filmed. Bob Freund and Mardi Keltner provided technical rigging for a cliff scene in "What's the Earth Made Of?". Gene Grizwold (that lucky dog) traveled from England to Hawaii to Tahiti as camera assistant during the filming of "Latitude and Longitude". And Mardi Keltner got to track owls, run sound equipment, and hide behind the camera man when the bull elk charged by, while "Signs of Nature" was filmed in Yellowstone National Park.

As a member of CMRU you never know what you're going to get into next...

Photos by Ken Parton and Mardi Keltner