It didn’t pay much, the hours were long and it only lasted one summer nearly 40 years ago
The summer of 1979 is forever etched in my mind—that’s when I had the best job I’ve ever held. Never mind that I got paid only $150 a week for six days and 60 hours of work. When you’re 21 and always ready for an adventure, what could better than being on the ocean waters every day while working with a film crew from New York.
That summer, I was hired by an independent film producer who was making a feature movie on the islands of East Penobscot Bay. For a couple of months, I was in charge of a 22-foot power boat with a 150-horsepower engine, ferrying the cast, crew and equipment out to the islands for each day of filming. When I wasn’t running the boat, I worked with the film crew helping with lighting, sound and visuals, or lugging around heavy cases full of equipment.
The movie, “Summer Island,” was low-low-low-budget (which explains my low pay). The cast had two actresses and two actors, none of whom you’ve ever heard off, although one of them (his name escapes me) had a role in the 1958 Paul Newman film “The Left Handed Gun.” The small crew consisted of the director, the producer, a cameraman, an assistant cameraman, and a couple of others who worked on lighting and sound. They were all from New York.
I was considered a local, as were a young man named Warren who did whatever was needed (I guess you’d call him a gofer) and a young woman named Molly who was in charge of a sailboat that appeared in the film.
The crew and cast stayed at an old oceanside inn, and each day we loaded up the boat with the crew and equipment so I could zip them out to whichever island we were shooting at that particular day. After unloading them along the rocky shore, I would speed back to the mainland dock to make a second trip with the cast.
Once everybody was safely delivered on the island, I anchored the boat, dove into the frigid ocean water and swam to shore to help with the filming. When the filming was done for the day, I swam back to the boat to take everybody back to the mainland.
I had my share of mishaps, of course, being 21 and a bit reckless. One day, the boat dragged anchor and floated away without my noticing. Luckily, a big-hearted lobsterman found it adrift and towed it back. “Lose something?” the grizzled fisherman called out to me with a big grin as he towed the boat to the island.
Another day, one of the actresses fell off the boat into the ocean as I pulled up to a pier in Stonington. And yet another time, the steering cable snapped while I was alone on the boat, causing it to spin around in circles out of my control.
Sometimes we filmed on the mainland, where I did whatever I was told. In one memorable scene, one of the actors had to wrestle a sheep to the ground. For a nighttime scene with a fire on a beach, the tide came in faster than expected and doused the campfire, putting an abrupt end to that day’s filming.
I’ve had a lot of great jobs through the years at newspapers and magazines. But nothing is as memorable as the summer of ’79, when as a wide-eyed young man I got paid to be the captain of a boat, in the sun, on the water, while working on a movie.
Decades later, I’m lucky to be able to relive those memories over and over. Every summer, I boat the same waters and use the same dock as I did 39 years ago when working on the film. I sometimes pass by the same islands where we filmed. I sometimes see the pier where the actress fell into the ocean, and I often go to the beach where the not-so-memorable campfire scene that was cut short by a rising tide.
I never saw the finished version of “Summer Island,” but I’m pretty sure I’m listed in the credits. I was told it premiered at a theater in Ellsworth, but I wasn’t around to see it. And I have I have no idea where else it might have shown.
The only place I’ve found “Summer Island” on the internet is on the Maine Film Office website, where it’s listed among the many other movies that have been made in Maine through the years. But unlike most of the other films, the website doesn’t list the director, producer or cast members of “Summer Island.” It merely says “independent feature film.”
“Summer Island” never made it big and is long forgotten in the movie world. But it’s not forgotten by me.
Clarke Canfield is a longtime journalist, writer and editor who likes to be active. He is the communications director at Southern Maine Community College.