Talent On Tap – Mark Miller and Kelvin Redvers Launch High Arctic Haulers

How much do you really know about Canada? Are you aware that there are thriving communities so far up north that supplies only arrive once per year? You might ask yourself why and how they do it. Is it incomprehensible, is it for insomnia or is it for love of community and family? Although I’m a self-confessed sun worshipper, I also grew up in the north, as a young teen and I loved it. If you’ve heard the term, ‘small town hospitality’ then you’ve scratched the surface of what these small communities possess. 


High Arctic Haulers is a factual series that follows and tracks the dangerous journey of the Sealift as it makes its annual journey to resupply the North.  Five crews on five cargo ships pursue retreating ice through a brief window in the summer. It’s a fight against time as the arctic ice recedes and waterways open to allow the ships to reach the world’s most isolated communities with thousands of tonnes of supplies. In order to supply communities with construction materials to new vehicles, modular housing to a year’s supply of food, each cargo ship is self-sufficient and comes complete with tugs, barges, cranes and loaders for land delivery.


I had the great pleasure of speaking with two of the producers of this much anticipated show that shines an enormously positive light on the communities, the people and the humungous heart at the center of each location. Having watched 2 episodes, I was immediately inspired by the comradery and unity amongst everyone. Patience is a virtue and being humble is in the DNA of each resident. Mark Miller is a renowned and award winning producer known for Highway Thru Hell and Heavy Rescue: 401. He’s applied his recipe for success to bring these northern communities into your homes in the hopes it can expel the myths and reveal the truths. Kelvin Redvers is a graduate of Simon Fraser’s Film Production and received his first broadcasting credit for his short doc, The Making of a Haida Totem Pole. Shortly after graduation he began working at CTV’s First Story, an Indigenous current affairs doc series based in British Columbia.  


HNM “What are some of the first steps in getting the green light to produce a show like this?”

Mark “We went up and shot a demo. Kelvin Redvers, who’s from the north had started working in the development department and had come in as an intern and had told us about it. I’d never heard of it before so we sent him up north with a cameraman to see if there’s anything there and he came back with an amazing tape. Because Kelvin’s from the north he spoke the language and understood the context of the area, so people immediately trusted him. From there we wrote up a 1 sheet and a proposal to shop around to networks. CBC really liked it and thought it was a great way to show the north off to Canadians and eventually bought it.”


HNM “I read that you grew up in the North West Territories. Was that the inspiration for creating High Arctic Haulers?”

Kelvin “Yes absolutely. I’m Dene from N.W.T. and it’s not often I get to see people like myself on television. I’ve always known the north to be a unique and exciting place with so many stories of inspiration and entrepreneurs. There haven’t been a lot of positive stories in the media and many times when people hear about the north, it’s usually through news articles about social problems and negative issues. It’s not often you get to see young Indigenous teens sharing homes of the future or building exciting projects. The ships that make the deliveries are so captivating and it’s quite a challenge for them to do their job in such a short amount of time. It really does have a huge impact in the north, so it truly had all the ingredients for a great show.”     


HNM “I know that you’ve been producing for quite awhile now. What is it about producing a factual docu-series that keeps you doing it?”

Mark “I’ve been producing for 30 years now and I founded the company, Great Pacific Media 10 years ago. Thanks for not calling it a reality show because I think on those shows the producer controls the situation and creates a reality. We believe that we produce factual shows that are authentic and real. We’re not making the ships late; we’re not putting ice in front of the ships and not creating the authentic natural drama. For me, I find it super challenging to create a TV show like that. I often tell people that it’s like making a TV show without a net. In a factual series, if you make that commitment to authenticity you can’t create drama because it wouldn’t be real. If you look at our other shows like Highway Thru Hell or Heavy Rescue: 401, its all the same formula. Be real, be authentic and be with authentic people with aspirations and you’ll have a formula for a great show.”


HNM “How did you go about getting permission with the owners of the two cargo ships?

Kelvin “The top priority was always safety because it is a dangerous job and there are cranes and heavy machinery. We had initially reached out with our idea with what we would be focusing on and made it clear that we wanted to celebrate the hard work that they do. Over time we built a relationship and the cameraman and I had travelled up north to meet with a couple ships and crew on the beach. We then communicated to them our desires and what we wanted to achieve. There was mutual respect from the beginning and they realized we would stay out of the way when capturing footage. Once we’d established relations, we were able to sit down with the captains and crew for more formal talks.”

HNM “Does it get easier to find the heart of the story, the more you produce shows like this?”

Mark “I think that every year you story tell, you get better and better. You become better at sensing story and what works. Our company uses somewhat of an alga-rhythm to help us sort footage. We use a lot of metadata to help us sort the footage in the editing process and help us identify the best material. It really helps us to zero in on strong stories but it’s still very much about seeing it, hearing it, smelling it and the ability to taste a good story.”


HNM “How long does it take to shoot 1 episode?”

Kelvin “The production was pretty intense. At one point we had approx. 25-crew members spread across different communities. Roughly, I’d say we spent about 10 days in each community.” 


HNM “Once the cargo is offloaded are they returning empty?”

Mark “It comes back virtually empty; they haul a lot of recycling out of the north because they don’t really have landfills or recycling programs. They’ll haul a lot of metal and plastics/recyclable bottles out of the north. They’ll do that once a year so they’re not completely empty.”


HNM “How did you and Mark Miller end up working together?”

Kelvin “After university I had gotten a job at CTV on a show called First Story, which was an Indigenous news doc. At that time Mark had been doing a lot of work with Daily Planet, a CTV/Discovery Planet project. He had known a lot of the same people I had worked with and we eventually met. Once I had left CTV, I had made a couple smaller projects and a short film. It was then that I had the idea of the ships delivering goods in the far north using ships, boats and tugs. I knew it would be a captivating story so I hounded him until we met. I was brought in and pitched the idea to some of the Great Pacific Media folks and they became a fan of the idea. I came onto the development and worked on the idea with 4 others on the look, the places we would visit and the stories we would look for, which took about a year. I then took a trip up there with a camera operator, Todd Kretik and we made a sizzle reel.”     


HNM “Are there other supply ships doing this on the west coast?”

Mark “There are ships supplying Alaska that are out of Alaska. The ships on the west are going up the Mackenzie River, which empties out at Tuktoyaktuk. The supplies tend to go from Yellowknife and up the Mackenzie River, so they’re more river barges than ships.”


HNM “Was it easy to determine where to find the stories once you became familiar with the townspeople?”

Kelvin “We had a really great team and once production started rolling within the communities we started reaching out to various contacts. Through development we’d already formed some good relationships with some of the most important organizations. One of the key ones were the Arctic Cooperatives Limited. In nearly all the communities up north there is a co-op, where they are managed and owned within the community but operated by an organization called Arctic Co-ops. They get their supplies from the ships and were one of the first places we connected with. We had also reached out to government to learn about infrastructure and about a school that had burned down. The students had been waiting for supplies to arrive for the construction of a new school. We also had a team making phone calls to mayors and other residents in the community for more info about upcoming events. Through my non-profit I’d put together a workshop with my sister for mental health in the community of Naujaat and while there I had met some teenagers and I had discovered a couple stories about what was coming in for the sealift in the coming summer.”     

HNM “Have you been on the ships?”

Mark “I haven’t actually been on the ship, I’ve been running the home team. I’ve been to the Arctic before, making a number of doc’s but I’m getting too old to live on a cold ship though. Call me soft (laughter).”


HNM “What is the biggest reward in creating this show?”

Kelvin “As a northerner, I’m excited that so many other northerners are happy with how the show is presenting the north. For example, the shows Facebook page asked a question while an episode was airing; who’s watching from the high arctic? There were over 100 comments from various folks stating the communities they were watching from. Even my own family that has never been up there are so surprised after watching and say that they never knew that existed. Every time I hear that, it’s rewarding. When I watch it and see the excitement on the faces of people getting their deliveries, to share that feeling is endlessly rewarding.”  


HNM “I really have a new appreciation for city life and found it very humbling to see how much the people up north don’t take anything for granted. Have you heard much feedback about the show?”

Mark “People are saying a lot of the same things. They’re learning something about the north they previously didn’t know anything about, especially a place that doesn’t get much attention. When I first started the series, I wanted to tell a positive story about the north that most Canadians have only known negative stories about. The stories about tragedy, suicide and drug abuse are only a small part of those communities. The vast majority of what’s happening there is really positive. The other part I wanted to focus on is how much the communities are thriving.”


HNM “I find this show awe inspiring. What inspires you?”

Kelvin “I really love seeing people working together to make their communities better. As an Indigenous northerner I love to see other young Indigenous northerners excited and motivated. On the first episode, there is a group of high school teenagers building kayaks and getting supplies from the Sealift in order to keep the tradition alive or the young boy building a dogsled. Those ones mean the most to me and those stories are happening all over the upper north but most Canadians never get to see it. It’s so tremendously positive to see those people working so hard to make their communities better and to be able to showcase it.”      


HNM “As a producer of a show like this, does it require a lot of micromanaging?”

Mark “Have you been talking to my wife (laughter)? Honestly, you probably couldn’t micromanage this show because there was no way to talk to the crews. One of the big problems in the north is accessibility to strong communications. Cell phones are virtually non-existence up there, so getting messages to people is dependent on Wi-Fi, which was patchy at best. Quite often we’d only talk to people once a day or once every two days. The ships are in the middle of the ocean where there is no cell coverage, so it was tough. We had a great crew that also work on Highway Thru Hell and are great at working independently in harsh environments. I’ve been working with this team for 10 years, so everyone knows their job, which is why these shows look very similar.” 


HNM “Speaking of camera crew, how many people would be on the ship?”                   

Mark “On the ships we could only put one camera but in town we would have a 3-4 person crew. There’d be a producer/director, soundman, assistant and camera operator.”


HNM “How do the rest of the crew get up there?”

Mark “We’d fly them up, but sometimes the ship would get delayed for a week, so we’d end up flying them back to Ottawa, which was really frustrating. We were only doing that for a summer but for the residents up there they have to live with that all the time. Lot’s of people have family in the neighbouring town but it’s very difficult to connect; you might as well be on another planet. It’s all about patience and being adaptable/dealing with what you have but yet people love it because there’s such a sense of community and comradery unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Seeing that sense of community made me realize that much of us in the cities and the rest of Canada has lost that. That’s what I hope for people to come away with. You might ask why people would want to live up there where it’s dark all winter and cold but there’s a warmth there unlike many of our communities here, where we’re all too busy to care about what each other is doing.”

HNM “Will you be continuing to follow the people you’ve already established stories on?”

Mark “We won’t be following the septic tank subject anymore but we will be following the guy with the store. You’ll see him showing up over and over again throughout the series because he’s the furthest away and has the most on the line.”


HNM “It must be an intense responsibility to run a show like this. What do you do to unwind?”

Mark “I love airplanes, so I got my pilots license and love to fly. I find it really relaxing because nobody can phone me when I’m up there. It’s my passion. It’s twenty to thirty minutes of complete calm and just thinking. I’ve been doing it a few years.”          


High Arctic Haulers is a game changer. I truly hope it promotes more tourism and people can gain a new appreciation for northern communities that live in isolation. When you don’t have convenience at your fingertips, the world will still turn. Who knew it?


High Arctic Haulers airs on CBC TV on Sunday nights at 8:00 pm and streams new episodes on CBC Gem

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