Next up on the Behind the Lens feature of F3T, we had the pleasure to sit down with Jay Siemens from Thrive Visuals to discuss their film Common Thread. Common thread follows angler, mother, and grandmother Mary Pettigrew as she demonstrates her life for all things Pike. Alongside her family, Mary’s trips to Northern Saskatchewan have woven together a web of memories that will not be forgotten. As the next generation of family pick up the fly rod, the common thread amongst them continues to grow stronger. Follow along with the tear-jerking, heart-pounding story that serves to invigorate and inspires future anglers for years to come.
Flylords: How did you get your inspirations for this film?
Jay: Before I made the switch into being a full-time cinematographer I spent my summers guiding at Wollaston Lake Lodge in northern Saskatchewan. This is where I had the chance to meet (and guide) Mary, Barry, and a number of their family members. From the first day I spent with them, I could tell they were a pretty special bunch of people. Fast forward 4 years later, owner of Wollaston Lake Lodge, Mike Lembke, approached me about creating an entry for the Fly Fishing Film Tour. Once the dialogue started with Mike I knew it was time to start doing some research into what could make this a worthy film. While I knew flashy slow-motion topwater eats and grip and grins of 40+ inch pike was important, I knew a good story would trump all of that. Quickly my mind was drawn back to the Pettigrew/Austin family I had guided for many years previous. They were more than just past guests of mine, they were friends and a family that had fly-fishing deeply woven into their lives. This was a story that begged to be shared.
Flylords: What was your goal in telling Mary’s story?
Jay: The goal was to share how fly fishing had become a “common thread” throughout Mary and Barry’s family. From the Southern United States to Northern Canada, fly fishing was something that bonded all generations together in their family and something they could all experience together. Not only does she set an incredible example for women in fly-fishing, but her story and her life is a good one to know.
Flylords: What was it like working so closely with Mary?
Jay: Without a doubt, Mary is one of my favorite people on this earth. I call her my “Wollaston grandma” and she gladly accepts the title. As a filmmaker having subjects that trust you is a key component to a successful film and a painless filming process. I’m not sure Mary and the family knew exactly what they were in for when she agreed to be a part of this project, but they were all an absolute pleasure to work with.
Flylords: Any super-special experiences while filming you care to share?
Jay: There was one specific moment during the shoot where it finally felt like things were coming together. We had Mary’s brother Barry in the boat, teaching his granddaughter Ela how to fly-fish. First spot of the day and Ela spots, casts, and sets the hook on a MONSTER Pike. After a lengthy battle, our guide lifted the 46 inch Northern Pike into the boat. I’m not going to lie I was holding back tears as I’m sure Barry was as well. It was a very special moment and I feel very grateful I happened to be in the boat at that moment with a camera in my hands.
Flylords: What was the most challenging part of filming this piece?
Jay: As a filmmaker/director your role changes project by project. As much as I had a vision of what I wanted this film to be, I knew there were times where I just had to sit back and let the situation unfold. As well, I was filming their vacation. Wollaston Lake Lodge is their family’s happy place and I know how intrusive cameras can be sometimes. Throughout the production, I was very mindful of making sure they were still enjoying their trip and I wasn’t putting them on edge.
Flylords: What kind of camera setup were you using?
Jay: The majority of this film was shot with the Sony FS5. It’s such a nice compact camera that is perfect for this sort of ‘run and gun’ documentary-style work. One of the best parts of this camera is the slow-motion. I’m a slow-mo addict and this camera can crank out 240 frames per second, which allows for those Northern Pike eats that seem to freeze in time. For glass used in this film the majority of the time, we were using Sigma ART and Canon EF lenses attached with a Metabones Speedbooster. The aerials were shot on the DJI Mavic 2, such a great compact drone that is ideal for throwing in the backpack and hopping on a floatplane.
Flylords: If you could give a piece of advice to young filmmakers looking to tell a story such as this one?
Jay: Story is EVERYTHING. While I’m a gear nut myself, I keep getting reminded that the story is more important than any drone shot, color grade, or soundtrack… the story is key! If you have a good enough story people will listen, it doesn’t matter if it’s filmed with an iphone8 or a Red Camera.
Flylords: You were a guide at Wollaston lodge before you filmed this piece, how was it revisiting the area no longer as a guide, but as a filmmaker?
Jay: Wollaston Lake Lodge is one of my favorite places on this earth. Being able to come back to the lodge is a highlight of my summer no matter what role I’m in. I still have many friends that I stay in contact with year-round from my “Wollaston Family” so it feels like I’ve never missed a beat. It absolutely made the story easier to tell when I had spent so many days on the water making memories as a fishing guide there.
Flylords: Being a guide in a pikey area, what do you think is so special about targeting these fish?
Jay: There is nothing like rolling into a crystal clear bay in northern Canada, not knowing if it has been weeks or months since someone had last fished it. As you move into the back of the bay you see these “logs” sunning themselves. Once you land a cast anywhere remotely close to these dark shadows in the shallows you’ll see why they are favorited by so many anglers. It’s tough to explain the moment when a charged up Pike turns to your fly, opens it’s mouth and inhales your bunny leech. Sight fishing for aggressive Northern Pike is one of the best experiences in freshwater angling and if you haven’t added it to your bucket list I highly recommend it.
Flylords: What do you hope audiences take away from this film?
Jay: I want to show people it is never to late to learn something new. The fact that Mary could pick up a fly rod at age 60 and become such an accomplished angler is truly a testament to that.
Thank you Jay Siemens for your time and for discussing this incredible project with us. Make sure to go follow Thrive Visuals on Youtube, and check out their website for more incredible storytelling!
Also, follow along with the film tour @flyfishingfilmtour to see where they will be next!
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