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A life in film: Special effects

Bill Mills with Jack Nicholson. - Submitted
Bill Mills with Jack Nicholson.
— image credit: Submitted

Hanging out with Jack Nicholson and Sean Penn isn’t a bad way to end a work day, neither is meeting Al Pacino or Antonio Banderas and Omar Sharif on the set of 13th Warrior. Working on the X Files, X Men and The Pledge are no small feats either.

If you think of any film or television series filmed in British Columbia over the past 22 years, it’s likely Bill Mills was involved in some way.

Mills is a special effects coordinator in the film industry and he lives in Sooke. His journey onto some of the most interesting film sets in B.C. came about quite accidentally. He was called in to help repair a special effects trailer on the The X Files set and everything else progressed from there. That was in 1992. He worked on that series for five years until the production was moved to California.

Mills is sort of a Jack-of-all-trades. He’s worked at numerous jobs spanning a wide variety of occupations — from owning and running a karaoke bar in Victoria to being a traffic controller. All of these led him to Dave Gauthier, whom he considers the best special effects coordinator in the business.

“You have to know what you’re doing in all fields,” said Mills. “I was a good suit for the job.”

Mills just wrapped up work on Gracepoint which was filmed in Victoria between January and May of this year. Gracepoint is a 10-part mini series fashioned after the British series Broadchurch. Mills said it’s been called an “emotional thriller.”

“Gracepoint was a very demanding show but because of the great pool of veteran expertise, they pulled it off in style,” said Mills.

Being in the film industry is not easy. The days are extremely long and demanding. It does come with its perks, like great pay and a chance to meet some of the stars. Mills said working on The X Files and X Men were definitely highlights of his career so far.

“Working closely with Jack Nicholson and Sean Penn was  great,” he said. Other  “stars” maybe not so much.

What Mills does is blow up stuff, create smoke, fire and explosions. He has hauled 100-pound bomb mortars up the side of mountains and he has made it snow or rain on command. He waters down city streets for night time shoots, and he helps create the atmospheres so sought after by the photographers and directors. Special effects means dealing with anything that is moving.

“I used Mainroad Contracting water trucks to wet down the roads at night to double the lighting, so the director has a lot more eye candy,” he said.

He created a 12-foot bonfire on Island View Beach fueled by propane for Gracepoint. If it involves pyrotechnics, then Mills is the guy they call. Sometimes he is called in to do the impossible. He said he often wonders how he can pull those off, but he does.

“It has to work perfectly and safely for the actors and stunt men. They are oners, there’s no testing involved.”

Mills is nothing but complimentary about the film industry and the film crews in British Columbia.

“They’re the best crews in the world,” he said. “With the current change in the tax credits the forecast is for a much better future in film here. It’s a real close community.”

For now Mills is relaxing after the arduous months of filming, but he can’t sit still for long and is seeking something to fill in the gaps. He’d like some work closer to home as he is a bit tired of the travel.  So, he’s looking for something where he can utilize his numerous talents.

He would like to direct one day but he said, “No matter how small or big the challenges are for 100 success, this is a dream job.”

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