From Main Street to The Killing Fields and back
How a former Grand Bend entrepreneur made his way into the movies and became an Internet star
By Casey Lessard
Sarnia native and Kitchener resident Robert Stirrett opened a hot dog and hamburger stand for his brothers in the 1970s. Today, Stirrett is a Flickr sensation, posting photographs that consist of two images fused and therefore called a PhotoFusion, which is his Flickr name.
Back in the early 70s, I ran the Ponderosa off Ipperwash. I ran a riding stable for a couple of summers, and then I rented for my brothers (thinking they’d want to do it) a hot dog and hamburger stand on Main Street Grand Bend. There was lots of business, but my brothers didn’t want to run it unless it was the weekend, so we kept it shut during the week. To make any money, you had to wait around for the bar crowd from across the street to let out.
In 1979, I was running a shoe store in Petrolia and I came into some money ($3500). I had always wanted to travel, so my brothers took over the store.
I was with a group that takes about two months to go from London to Katmandu. You get in the back of an army truck and you go all through Europe and Turkey. Then you go into Iran. I got out of Iran three days before the hostage crisis in 1979.
We went into Pakistan and went up to Srinagar in Kashmir. I wound up in New Delhi and they had a sign at the camp where we were staying looking for extras. I was a day late, but I went to the hotel to see what it was all about. They said, “You’re Canadian, can you work for three months?” and I said, Sure. Because I was Canadian I didn’t need a visa.
I was hired to be a stand-in for David Niven for The Sea Wolves with Roger Moore and Gregory Peck. A stand-in stays with the actor at all times and when the actor goes to wardrobe and makeup, you have to be their height and same skin tone, so you become the actor when the director sets the lighting and the camera.
It became more than stand-in work. Three days later, they had difficulty finding extras to play German and British soldiers. They had a big dance scene in New Delhi before they flew us to Goa. I said, Why don’t you use the people from the embassy? So they sent me to all the different embassies and wound up getting all the people to work for free. They hired me and I became an assistant to the director – without the title. I did all the hiring of all the extras throughout the movie. They paid me well and I had a blast.
Goa was Portuguese for 400 years. They had hired all these Sunday school teachers to play hookers and they told them they were playing party girls. They were Indian, but Portuguese Catholic. None of the local girls would do it because they’d be tainted for life for playing a prostitute in a brothel. They all quit and we needed them for this big scene. I went to an all-nude beach and found the girls with the darkest tans to do it.
I was in Sri Lanka when I had a chance to go down to film Indiana Jones; Steven Spielberg came up to recruit people for Temple of Doom. But I wanted to go to Nepal first and then to Thailand. I wound up in Bangkok and I knew The Killing Fields was going to be filmed. The director, Roland Joffe, had just won the Oscar for Chariots of Fire. I immediately got hired because I had experience. It was probably the most intense of all the movies I worked on. I was in a scene with Craig T. Nelson (who was the star of the TV series Coach). That’s my big scene.
I started doing Toronto skyline pictures in 1998, and I always look for a good beach. Grand Bend’s got a perfect beach for it because it has the beach house. Some of my best pictures are out of Grand Bend.
I know what I’m looking for. You have to match shadows, but it’s a really simple process. Now with computers, it’s amazing what you can do with them.
I invented a comb that you put in your wallet and to go along with the comb, I thought there should be a mirror. I wanted pictures on the back of the mirror for advertising, and Toronto has four million people, so I thought they would sell if I had a nice picture of the skyline. I went over to Toronto island, and found it difficult to get the swans to match the sky, so I started slicing with a razor blade across the harbour and put another bottom in.
I’m having fun with these pictures and am getting a great response. I haven’t had a day under 1,000 hits for about two months now. You get comments from around the world and I’ve been able to resurrect a whole pile of my old pictures.
To see more of Robert Stirrett’s work, visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/BlairStirrett