The Stars of Pine Lake Con’t

Costume party on Pine Lake

A digital yearbook keeps one family warm in winter months. Photo by Joe Virball.

By Sarah Ryeland

(Originally published December, 2010)

You’ve seen it a million times in the media. Stars being followed around by the paparazzi, hounded by adoring fans and blinded by flashbulbs. We don’t really feel sorry for them – they know what they signed up for and they’re usually happy to see the pictures when they come out. Besides, if they didn’t spend their time in high-profile locations, they wouldn’t be in this position, right?

We don’t usually think of Muskoka being a place where celebrities worry about cameras in their faces, but for certain cottagers near Gravenhurst, it’s part of daily life.

The Pines is a point of land on Pine Lake. With four main buildings and a few smaller structures, the Kinnear family has enjoyed the piece of land for over 85 years. The family spends as much time at the cottage as possible, but in winter months they stay in the city, waiting for the thaw to begin so that cottage season can start once more.

For the past few years, David MacQuarrie – husband of Catherine Kinnear – has been making video yearbooks for his family. All summer long, he takes pictures and videos of unsuspecting family members and puts them all together to create a year-in-review DVD. The film records summer life at the cottage and is given out to family at Christmas as a way to enjoy the cottage in the off-season.

For MacQuarrie, creating the DVD is a way to let the family enjoy the cottage without physically being there.

“He shows the movie at our family’s Christmas get-together,” says MacQuarrie’s sister-in-law, Sybil Virball. “We wait until after dinner to watch it and we all really look forward to it.”

The movies are always a hit. With an annual theme and funny add-ins by MacQuarrie, the photos and videos inevitably get a big laugh.

“The whole thing started when I stumbled upon a silent film version of Dante’s Inferno,” says MacQuarrie. “The film was basically just scenes of the various circles of hell and while it was obviously an expensive movie to make, the premise and old acting styles looked ridiculous. I thought it would look even more absurd cut with pictures of our families and friends vacationing at the cottage. And it did.”

With themes of old Hollywood, drive-in theatre commercials and more, the videos are always a hoot. This year, the theme will be G8 – but don’t tell the family yet – the theme is always kept secret until the big reveal at Christmas.

“The G8 was a natural theme to use since the summit was held in Muskoka,” says MacQuarrie. “But really, I find if the film is short enough, say 20 minutes, you can get away with just about any slender thread of a theme and sew it all together.”

And just like in Hollywood, no matter how glamorous, put-together, or charming these stars try to be, the best photos are the ones when they’re in their sweats, taking a big bite of food, unkempt or unshaven. Those are the ones people want to see.

“He carries the camera around constantly,” says Virball. “When you’re in your pyjamas, your hair isn’t brushed and you feel like a wreck, he’s right there in your face, taking pictures, click click click. It can drive you crazy, but the result is incredibly entertaining.”

“At first, people just wanted me to get out of their faces,” MacQuarrie says. “But they seem to like the finished product well enough so now they, um, endure.”

MacQuarrie is committed to getting the best pictures possible. Along with asking family and friends to send him copies of their favourite shots, he’s always coming up with ingenious ways to record from different angles and sneak up on unsuspecting cottagers.

One year he even bought a remote controlled truck to attach a camera to, hoping to get some interesting angles. But the camera made the toy too top-heavy, so the truck was turned over to the kids.

It’s hard work for MacQuarrie, but the payoff is great. The family looks forward to the video yearbooks every year, and even love to watch them again and again, reminiscing about summers gone by and the warmer weather that won’t be around for another few months.

“It reminds you in the winter of how beautiful the lake is,” says Virball. “And how green everything is. It’s also fun to see the kids growing up.”

For some, it’s even a chance to experience the cottage without being able to get there.

Virball’s mother Bernice Kinnear is 88 years old and hasn’t been able to get to the cottage for a few years now. It’s hard on the great-grandmother because she loves the Pines so much, having grown up just down the road and meeting her husband at a cottage across the bay. But through the pictures and videos on the yearly DVD, she gets a chance to see just what her family was up to last summer.

“She loves to see what went on,” says Virball. “She feels a bit sad that she wasn’t there, but she really enjoys it.”

What makes the yearbooks so great is the time and energy MacQuarrie puts into the productions. Each year he gets more ambitious with graphics and animation, to the delight of his family and friends.

As for a favourite edition, he says that the best one is always last year’s, because he learns more about the software he’s using.

“This year, I had the opportunity to use After Effects a little for some special effects,” he says. “So there will be more explosions, monsters and meteor impacts than usual.”

And you can just imagine how excited that will make the five youngest children. Calvin, Jackson, Kieran, Elizabeth and Aaron not only get to share in the laughs with their older family members, but they get some pretty great documentation of their childhood summers at the cottage, too.

But what makes the yearly video so entertaining isn’t just the work of a photographer and DVD-maker. The Kinnear family is a lively bunch, throwing fun-filled parties and events, like the yearly costume party. Sometimes there’s a theme – last year’s was heroes and villains – but often its just show up with some food and drink and have a blast.

MacQuarrie relies on photo-ops like that to make the magic of his film, but it’s also his clever editing skills that make it shine. He does it all for the reaction from his family, who never disappoint.

“It’s always overwhelmingly positive,” he says. “Who doesn’t like to see pictures of themselves and their children? And it’s a reminder of what a really great time we have when we’re together.”

So as the family gets used to their celebrity status (at the Pines, if nowhere else), MacQuarrie works on his cinematic technique and photographic skills. As for the stars of the show, perhaps they don’t mind the spotlight too much.

“My family loves to look at pictures of themselves,” laughs Virball. “They like to pretend they’re famous.”

For now, MacQuarrie will continue on his quest for the perfect shot and try to make the 2010 edition as entertaining as possible.

“I still can’t really predict what the specific reaction will be,” he says. “Effects that I think are preposterously hokey can get huge laughs and applause. And moments I think are heartbreaking pieces of cinematic genius just get a big yawn. Fortunately, you can’t go too wrong with a 20-minute film where all your friends and relatives are the stars. And I can always remind people ‘if it’s not as good as you’d hoped, remember how much you paid for admission’.”

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