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Words can’t describe it.” No need to try, if it’s anything like the giant whirlpool or Davy Jones’ amphibian face.

Fire and Music … and Something Incurable Long before the leviathans, Byrkit studied the arts at NAU, “a great fertile ground for creative exploration and meeting life- long friends.” While always interested in multiple disciplines, he found a reassuring commonality in his favorite instructors, a creed of precision and passion. Byrkit’s talent for illustration was nourished by teacher Dave Christiana, “who still inspires me with his commitment to excellence. He used to say, ‘Put some fire in it.’ Put yourself in your art, the real stuff, make it burn with truth, love, pain, whatever it takes to make it special.”

From NAU choir director Dr. Jo-Michael Scheibe, Byrkit learned about the transformative power of true focus.

“Year after year, he would take a group of fairly aver- age singers sprinkled with five or six great voices, and get a sound out of them that would transcend the music,” he says, “becoming something you had never heard before. Bigger, snootier choirs would marvel. I remember, in my early 20s, finally paying attention to what he was actually doing as a leader. His insistence on perfection is legendary.”

And then there was Dr. Clifford White, the consummate theatrical trouper. “I didn’t actually have a class with him,” says Byrkit, “but he directed me in some big shows. I can never thank him enough for those opportunities to learn and be part of the spectacles he was creating. His love of theatre was infectious and is still with me. Like a strange rash.”

Or an addiction. Whether your creative impulses tend to the spectacu- lar (swordfights on the bounding main) or intimate (Keira Knightley in tears), Byrkit cautions fledgling artists about the practical necessity of obsession.

“This industry … is a life-consuming endeavor,” he says. “This is no halfway. You have to love it. You have to love it so much you would do it for free, even if someone were tempting you with a nice cushy corporate office job. You must do what you love all the time, and put some fire in it.”

Byrkit is now writing and directing, “finishing some ambi- tious short films, selling spec scripts and developing a slew of possible future projects.” He couldn’t give us details about his latest venture with Verbinski & Co., except to say that it’s a new idea for a movie. “This time we’re working with just a tiny team of artists right out of Gore’s office, to avoid the studio executives for a while.”

And how would this Master of Design conceptualize his own biopic? “I doubt I could ever storyboard my life because it would require too many different styles to convey the chang- ing tone of the plot,” he says. “Also, it would be too absurd for American audiences. It might have to be a foreign film. I would cast a life-size puppet of myself to play me, operated by six highly trained union puppeteers with one assistant to get coffee and fax stuff.”

Gofors, on your mark, get set, go.

No Small Parts, Only Small Businesses

Sometimes Hollywood happens quickly. For NAU alumna Courtney Giauque, ’97 B.A., her work as manager of small Flagstaff businesses,

Ceiba Adventures and HS Support, led to a fas- cinating supporting role in Sean Penn’s recent, acclaimed directorial effort, Into the Wild. Un- der the umbrella of Adventure Sport Services, Giauque (pronounced“juke”) found herself hired by her bosses, river experts Brian Dierker and Scott Davis, to help outfit and supervise the film crew—providing boats for filming and staff for the support boats; working through the logistics; and other duties as necessary, including the occasional directorial cameo.

Courtney Giauque, ’97 B.A.

Magicking the film crew to four different

locations, Giauque’s job was basically“allowing them to get the shots they wanted.”She worked directly with Penn, the assistant directors and cameramen.“OK, Courtney,”they would tell her,“we want this guy to come down here, and we want these boats to move up here, and then your safety guy will grab everyone … and then we’ll film it again.” She would then relay the instructions to her crew by walkie-talkie. She found her new colleagues extremely professional.“They paid us a lot of respect, looking for our opinions on different locations, and especially consulting on the natural aspects like,‘When is the sunlight going to be over in that area?’”

Would she do it again? “Definitely,” says Giauque,“although it’s a full-time lifestyle; both in production and preproduction we worked minimum 12-hour days, seven days a week. [Making the movie] was a great experience, but then it was also nice to step back into our Flagstaff lives.”She certainly had her share of“wow”moments:“During one river trip we were shooting in this little place called Silver Grotto.They were filming [star] Emile Hirsch walking down, about ankle-deep in the water; we were looking out onto an expanse of rock and it was just beautiful. And there I was, huddled down, quiet, underneath the camera, with the AD and Sean Penn. I thought,‘I can’t believe I’m here with these two guys, making this movie.’” Film: Into the Wild (2007) Locations: From Diamond Creek along the Colorado down to Lake Mead; Lake Powell (where screen classic Planet of the Apes was also shot). Beyond the Cutting Room: Shots that made it into the finished movie include an extended sequence with Emile Hirsch in the rapids, and one frame from the Lake Powell footage of a crewmember waterskiing. Her Hollywood Alter Ego:“I guess I would have Courteney Cox Arquette play me in a movie. Ever since she was Alex P. Keaton’s girlfriend on Family Ties I’ve been told we look alike.”[Editor’s Note: We can see it.] Sean? Just Call Him “Bob”: Director Penn believed in leading by example, refusing to let the actors do anything he couldn’t do himself. “When it was time to capture Emile Hirsch in a kayak, Sean jumped into the boat to do it first. We were in this strange little eddy, and as soon as his weight went into the kayak, the current caught him and flipped him upside down. It happened at least twice, and everyone was shout- ing,“Oh my gosh, Sean Penn’s in the water, get him!” It was tense, but funny—and impressive to work with the kind of boss who is right there in the thick of things.”

naualumni.com I Spring 2008

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