Like an early hard oiler searching for a big gusher, Sarnia’s Aaron Huggett hopes his next historical film production will bring good fortune.
For Huggett, good fortune means producing a 45-minute film that’s picked up by a respected distributor or, at the very least, generates enough cash to pay for his next film project.
Filming has commenced on his third in a series of short films featuring historical events in Southwestern Ontario. First came Red Ryan in 2016, then last year’s Black Donnellys, and now Black Gold, the story of the birth of Canada’s oil industry.
With each new production, Huggett earns more accolades and secures more financial support.
In late August, he’ll travel with some of the crew members from Black Donnellys to pick up the hardware for Best Picture at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival. It’s the latest in a string of 13 awards for Black Donnellys, which also won Best Picture at the Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival.
Black Donnellys has transcended Red Ryan’s six awards and generated enough revenue to enable Huggett’s Electric Motion Pictures (EMP) company to produce Black Gold without crowd funding or investing personally.
“I think we have two things going for us,” he said. “First is our production values with such a small budget.” He won’t say what it costs to produce a 45-minute film, only that it is “somewhere between five and six figures.”
“Second, we are retelling history and keeping it gritty. This is the way it happened; it’s not sanitized,” Huggett said.
For all the praise, Huggett’s films have not yet attracted a big-time distributor like Netflix or CBC. He keeps them at 45 minutes so they’ll fit into a one-hour TV time slot.
But Huggett remains optimistic. He’s got treatments for 16 short films, enough to sell as a series.
The crew and actors are on the set of Black Gold in Oil Springs all this week. They’re also shooting at the historic oil fields owned by the Fairbank family, the Oil Museum of Canada, Fanshawe Village, Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Petrolia Discovery.
About half the cast and most of crew are local. All are volunteers, although several are emerging professional actors working toward guild membership.
Characters range from J.H. Fairbank, who invented the jerker rod system, to Crazy Hugh Nixon Shaw, one of many fortune seekers who came to Sarnia-Lambton looking for oil.
Legendary hooker Bootjack Mary and abolitionist Josiah Henson also figure in the story.
Huggett, who works in Chemical Valley by day, anticipates Sarnia audiences will be enthusiastic about Black Gold because the city’s history is so entrenched in the petrochemical industry.
“Imperial Oil is the oldest refinery in Canada, and a significant portion of Sarnia’s population still works in the industry, yet there’s little awareness of the story of black gold outside of Sarnia-Lambton,” he said.
“It really needs to be told.”
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