DELTA, B. C. - The long, narrow road that leads to a vacant industrial site along the shore of the Fraser River makes an ideal setting for the paranormal TV thriller Supernatural, especially after nig...
DELTA, B. C. – The long, narrow road that leads to a vacant industrial site along the shore of the Fraser River makes an ideal setting for the paranormal TV thriller Supernatural, especially after night falls. It’s only a temporary location for the American drama/horror TV series, launched in September 2005 with production based out of Burnaby. The constant relocation of dressing rooms, hair and make-up trailers, washrooms, catering, technical equipment and other creative facilities, offers a steady assignment for one truck driver.
Steve Woods hauls Northern Special Effect’s 10-tonne trailer from site to site, with an immaculate and well-polished 1994 Peterbilt. The Teamster member also leases out his own company’s pick-up, for smaller deliveries.
Business is booming for Woods, even while most of the trucking industry is experiencing a downturn.
“There’s a lot of work now in Vancouver,” says Woods. “There’s about 16 shows starting up in the next couple of months, and everybody that has anything to do with the film industry is going to be working.”
Trucking for the film industry may seem like a plum – if not cushy – professional driving job, but Woods emphasizes that the ‘biz’ is not for everybody. Certainly the distances are short, the pay is good, and the job usually comes with two meals a day, not to mention the potential for overtime pay. However, this seasoned trucker indicates that the film industry would not appeal to the independent driver who enjoys solitary adventures exploring North America’s open road.
“A lot of guys that are serious about trucking, they’re not too interested,” says Woods, who estimates he only logs about 5,600 kms a year with the Peterbilt. He admits to his own misgivings over the 25 years he has been driving sporadically for an industry that offers occasionally-unchallenging assignments.
“It’s one of the reasons that I left the business. I would keep coming came back to films, but I still had some trucking left in my blood.”
Originally from Victoria, Woods got his start in the freight business in the early 1970s and later hauled oil rig equipment along the Alaska Highway. He moved to Fort St. John in 1976, before relocating back to Vancouver Island in 1981. He then drove for the construction and road building industry near Courtenay, just before the recession of 1983-84. That’s when work for this trucker dried up.
Woods received a fortuitous call from a friend who asked him if his union dues were paid up: if so, he’d be a candidate to drive for the emerging film industry. It was a surprising opportunity that Woods was completely naive about at that time. “I had no idea there was a film business in Vancouver,” he admits.
The opportunity was the beginning of a lengthy driving gig with the film industry, despite unpredictable employment periods between 1984 and 1986, before the film business grew in 1987. That’s when Cannell Films located to Vancouver with its Wiseguy TV series, a two-season run that offered Woods a brief period of stability. However, a career in the film industry rarely offers long-term employment, especially a TV series that breaks for an annual hiatus, with network renewal always in question.
As a result of frequent layoffs, Woods often supplemented his income by returning to the oil patch. He also sought out opportunities to make extra income on the set. He soon discovered the lucrative business of leasing equipment for film production.
“I bought an old Kenworth and put a new Manitex crane on it and built an aerial platform, used to do exterior lighting at night,” he says of a plan that was well-received, but limited by a scheduling glitch. “What I realized was that on a TV series, they try to do three days of daytime shooting, either in the studio or outside, and then Thursday or Friday they would shoot nights.”
That meant demand was up on Thursday and Friday night, but down throughout the rest of the five-day work week, which caused a financial challenge and forced Woods back to the oil patch in 1993.
“I’d go up there and I’d haul pipe to drilling rigs and come back here and work on shows as a driver, driving whatever they wanted. I just parked the crane. For a while there, I had somebody else driving it part-time. I’d work full-time on shows, driving the dressing room, or the honey wagons (toilets) or the tractor-trailers. Whatever they wanted me to do.”
In the spring of 1997,Woods was back working for the film industry once again, but it wasn’t the erratic assignments that he found unsettling this time. It was the dreary weather of the Lower Mainland. He yearned for the sunny skies prevalent in the north, and he returned once again to Fort St. John. He took on seasonal work for six years, until he’d had enough of that area’s extreme weather. “I think I froze my fingers one too many times,” he recalls.
At that time, he called down to Vancouver for work and was offered a job driving for a feature film that was situated at a picturesque ranch near Kamloops. Unfinished Life (2003) starred Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman and Jennifer Lopez.
“It was the best show I’ve ever worked on as far as the quality of the equipment, the production people, great cast and a great location out on this beautiful old farm. So, I got the lure of the film industry again,” he recalls.
Once in awhile, Woods has enjoyed long distance travel with the film industry, including driving throughout B. C.,Alberta, the Yukon and even the Alaska Panhandle.
But, as the years rolled by, Woods once again realized he wasn’t entirely satisfied with the erratic nature of the film industry. He moved to Penticton, with the intention of selling real estate shortly before the bubble burst on B. C.’s lucrative housing market. After that short career transformation, he is back with the film industry, but remains philosophical about his fate.
He considers himself to be extremely fortunate to be employed in trucking during an economic slowdown where other driving jobs have dwindled.