Kirk Jarrett, of Kirk Jarrett Productions (right), at Justamere Farms just southeast of Lloydminster on a rainy day in October with the Fox family of Justamere Farms with some of their farm hands, and two of the cattle used in the Snowpiercer pilot. TAYLOR WEAVER LLS PHOTO
It’s an exciting time for the local cattle industry, as Justamere Farms recently returned from Langley, B.C. (also known as Hollywood North), as some of their show cattle were featured in the new “Snowpiercer” pilot project.
Similar to the 2013 fantasy-thriller motion picture, the TV pilot will be set after the world becomes a frozen wasteland, and what’s left of humanity circles the globe in a giant train.
Kirk Jarrett, of Kirk Jarrett Productions (KJP), grew up on the Ponderosa Ranch north of Maidstone, Sask., and has been involved in the movie-making industry since he transitioned out of cattle ranching in 1988.
When KJP was awarded the Animal Coordinator contract for Snowpiercer, local producers Justamere Farms and their Black Angus and Polled Hereford were top of mind for Jarrett, as he has known Jon Fox of Justamere since childhood.
“How it all came to be was I met with Jon at the Toronto Royal (Agricultural Winter Fair) last November, and him and I haven’t crossed paths since we were young,” said Jarrett. “Him and I had a conversation and I just brought it up and said ‘hypothetically, if there was ever an opportunity in my line of work to provide livestock for film where I required show cattle, would you be interested?’”
Jon’s reply came quite quickly, as he didn’t think there would ever be such an opportunity, “so I said ‘oh yeah, sure,’” with a laugh.
“Then he phones me and I thought ‘oh boy here we go,’ but it’s been a really cool experience and it’s been really good to get back working with Kirk.
“We were really good buddies back when we were kids, and I never really thought my line of work would bring me and the family into the movie-making business.”
In the Justamere Farms world, which continues to run strong with the efforts of Jon, his wife Shelly, and their family, they don’t just deal with cattle people, and he explained that in the cattle business, there are more businessmen than most people realize.
“So I’ve got to meet a lot of really neat people, but to actually say ‘do I think we’d ever take cattle to a feature film or TV pilot project, no, I really didn’t.’”
Just like any other project Jarrett has worked on over the years, with the number of connections he has, he knew he could have sourced animals from just about anywhere in Canada, and as he put it, “pieced it all together,” but he explained he prefers to work with one person on projects to keep everything more streamlined.
“Especially on a project like this, having multiple personalities and animals from different sources, it can pollute what you’re trying to do, so when I thought about it for about one minute, I thought this was the perfect opportunity for me to fulfil a handshake from the Toronto Royal with Justamere, and it was a no-brainer for me, because this is their world,” he said.
From there Jarrett gave Jon his “wish list,” which consisted of the need for cattle that had been exposed to an audience, and in this case the audience was the show ring, but more specifically, he needed cattle at a certain size and shape that also came in under his 1,300 pound weight restriction for on-set safety reasons.
As Jarrett described, using cattle from the Lloydminster area was somewhat of an integral opportunity because of the long family history on both the Fox and Jarrett side, especially since Jarrett’s sister Christina and her two children Michael and Jennifer have carried on the Ponderosa name, and he thought bringing local animals into his world of movie making was a good way to pay it forward, and give back to how he grew up and the people he grew up with.
“I thought this was a beautiful give back, to give back to the local community, and give back to Jon and his associates here that he works with, I know them all,” he said. “All of my siblings competed with the Fox family, whether it was in 4-H, at the Canadian Western Agribition or the National down in the States, so it was super important for me to bring my roots to life.”
Looking at the time frame as to when the animals could be ready to work on a film set, Jarrett puts a lot on the line when endorsing animals, because he is guaranteeing film studios and insurance companies the animals will be trained, and that safety comes first.
“For me, it was a deal breaker if the animals were not show cattle, because these animals weren’t animals you would herd, they all had to be individually led on set,” he said.
“After the first day of on-camera work I said to Jon and Shelly ‘Justamere delivered,’ and that’s one of those things I pride myself on, because if I say it’s going to be safe, it’s going to be safe.”
Jarrett also attributes a great deal of the work done in Langley to the Fox family’s business partner Ken Ayre, of Still Meadow Farms, but also to Jon and Shelly’s son, Jon Jr., as he stayed in Langley under Jarrett’s guidance to ensure all cattle maintained weight, trained them on how to lead, when to run, and groomed them so their hair was always looking good.
In Ayre’s word, “If you have cattle straight off the ranch it would be more like a rodeo in here.”
With the pilot in the editing process not much can be revealed, leaving a lot to the imagination, but Jarrett was able to reveal Justamere’s animals made some real ground-breaking work on set.
“People should get excited about this project because from a filmmaker’s perspective, what we did with this project has never been done,” he said. “What we safely did and what we were able to pull off, which was sanctioned by the American Humane Association film unit, has never been done in the history of film making.”
Jarrett explained how the studio was under the impression that what they wanted to accomplish would all have to be done using computer-generated imagery (CGI), and although CGI played a role in the production, Jarrett wanted to try using real animals in real time, which was something most thought couldn’t be done.
The pilot is set to release in 2018 and Jarrett is excited to share stories from the set to explain how he and his crew were able to pull off these historic feats, so keep your eyes peeled for the Snowpiercer pilot in the coming months.