Written by Kim Lunman
posted on October 13, 2011 22:56
Six blindfolded men and women board a boat in the middle of the St. Lawrence River and are taken to a century-old castle on Dark Island and tied up to chairs and told to escape.
The latest plot of a Hollywood blockbuster thriller? Close. Reality television has come to the Thousand Islands. And the new pilot for a show called The Great Escape is promising to shine an international spotlight on Singer Castle when it airs next spring.
Bertram Van Munster, co-creator and executive producer of “The Amazing Race,” teamed up with Academy Award-winning director and producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer to create an “Amazing Race" meets “Prison Break” competition series for TNT and shot the pilot episode Sept. 14 on Dark Island. The project is also funded by Fox, Imagine TV, and Profiles Television. Van Munster, owner of Profiles Television, is best known for creating The Amazing Race and taking it around the world 17 times.
For the pilot episode of the Great Escape, three teams of two people, who had been blindfolded the entire way to Dark Island, were led to the castle's clock tower and tied up in the same room. The first step for these teams, all starting at the same time, was to get themselves untied and blindfold-free and to be the first to escape the castle for a $50,000 reward.
"They had to start to figure out the building, figure out how the passageways worked," said Singer Castle's general manager Thomas Weldon, president of Dark Island Tours. "Imagine TV and Profiles Television built obstacles. They put doors where there were no doors and walls where there were no walls."
Lighting equipment, delivered from Boston, had to brought in on a 10-tonne truck by barge. "They lit up Singer Castle and Dark Island not like a Christmas tree but like a Christmas forest," said Weldon.
Filming took place September 14 and September 15 but the preparation involved months of work. "A good 100 people were working on the island - 50 to 60 from the entertainment industry and a good 40 people that they hired locally," said Weldon, adding the production spent about $100,000 in the region."
The production even did repairs to the 28-room castle and tourist attraction, which was originally built in 1904 by Singer Sewing Machine Company president Frederick Bourne of New York City as a hunting and fishing lodge. The New York Times dubbed his summer retreat "The Castle of Mysteries." The castle's secret passageways have long been a source of speculation but historians say Bourne was simply having some fun along with his architect by spoofing a castle near Oxford England described in the book Woodstock by Sir Walter Scott.
The program's producers chose Singer Castle for the filming of the pilot for the Great Escape because of its secret passageways. "We're ecstatic," said Weldon of the prime time publicity. "They've shot all over the world and they loved the Thousand Islands." The show is expected to air in the next three to six months said Weldon, who has been sworn to secrecy on the outcome of the Great Escape's pilot episode.
The program even resulted in some repairs on the castle located in Chippewa Bay New York. "They fixed all our passageways. They painted every passageway, they fixed doorways," said Weldon. "We did not have a real dungeon," he said. "Now we have a real dungeon."
He credited Schermerhorn Harbor and Uncle Sam Boat Tours with making the production a success. "Those companies were constantly used to shuttle people back and forth, feed people." Some locals were even used as test contestants to map out the course before the real contestants were brought to the area.
A $1.7 million helicopter that had been used to film Super Bowl championships and the World Series was brought to the island for the 5½-hour shooting.
An estimated 22,000 people visit Singer Castle, which is open from May to October, annually. The castle was opened as a tourism attraction when it was purchased by Dark Island Tours in 2002.
By Kim Lunman, email@example.com
Kim Lunman is the owner and publisher of Island Life Magazine (http://www.islandlifemag.ca) based in Brockville, Ontario. Kim's Island Life magazine, was distributed in May in local newspapers in eastern Ontario and northern New York. A special Islander Edition is on sale in local book stores in both the United States and Canada. As always, we continue to look forward to her monthly contributions.
Editor’s note: For more on Singer Castle written by Kim Lumnan please see: Private Islands are Vladi's World; The Castle of Secrets; Queen of the Castle on Dark Island; and King of the Castle on Dark Island. In addition both Kim and I thank Ian Coristine for sharing his remarkable photographs taken during the “Great Escape’s” shoot.