“This winter, sparks will fly when a pile of wood meets its destiny.”
That’s the trailer for the Netflix special Fireplace For Your Home, one of the many virtual viewing options during the winter months for those who don’t have a fireplace of their own.
George Ford, the creator behind that virtual fireplace, lives in Washington state, and says he learned how to build what he considers the perfect fire while growing up in the Pacific Northwest.
“It’s got to be bright and cheery and it’s got to have some crackle,” he said. “It’s got to have a little smoke. It’s got to have that quality spirit if that’s what you’re looking for, and it just has to be perfect.”
It took him hundreds of tries but eventually, he said, he cracked it.
Ford spoke with CBC Radio’s Margaret Gallagher about how he came to be part of such a beloved holiday tradition for so many.
On The Coast9:37George Ford is the creator of “Fireplace For Your Home” on Netflix.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you come to make Fireplace For Your Home?
I grew up in the northwest. My mother is Canadian, from Abbotsford. I grew up in a really cold area where we really relied on the fireplace to stay warm — that was the first line of defence from the cold and so I learned how to build a fire really well.
When you talk about Christmas, that special holiday feeling that everyone gets, it’s all about friends, loved ones, lights, the tree and, of course, the fireplace. With the addition of these really nice big TVs that are in homes, about 14 years ago I set off to make the perfect fireplace so everyone can have that fulfilling feeling of a fireplace in their house.
Are you a filmmaker who happens to make really good fires, or are you a really good fire-maker who happened to make a film?
I think I’m a really good fire-maker. The film work I had to learn as I went. I had to learn all about shutter speeds. I found that you just can’t take a camera and go film a great fire because the different colours that a fireplace puts out plays tricks on the camera lenses.
Were you familiar with the other versions of recorded fireplace fires before you made yours?
There was this one from a public access TV back in the 50s or 60s, I think it was … [the] WPIX Yule Log … That did inspire me.
So one day, on the napkin, I’m writing down, “what is the perfect fire?” I didn’t realize then that it was going to be such an undertaking. So it took about 200 tries … It was probably well over 200 because you want a fire that burns bright and nice, and crackles. And that all depends on the type of wood you use and the bark you use and how the bark will burn and, you know, the crackles from cedar kindling.
What’s the perfect wood for building the perfect yuletide fire?
I prefer — and this is the gosh honest truth — Canadian fir. If you look on Netflix at that classic crackling fireplace, that is fir from Canada.
How did it end up on Netflix and the other streaming sites?
I was pitching this ambient idea of all of these people have these huge TVs and they’re just sitting in their house. I’m saying, “hey, you could put ocean waves or you could put, whatever, outdoor scenes, and you can have a fireplace.” I got laughed at. It was pretty heartbreaking because people would just hang up, and all these film places, no one wanted to touch the product. But if you keep trying, keep knocking on the door, I guess they see the process and they say, “oh, you know, this might be something.” That’s what happened with Netflix.
I love to watch and wait for the hand to come and make an adjustment. Do you have an adjustment in your fireplace?
I don’t! There are no hands. There are no pokers. I had to make that thing, and that’s the specialty. It starts from the beginning and it burns all the way through to the end. I had to make the logs kind of roll in on themselves … I had to make all of the stuff just look so natural, and it was so hard.
These shows have become so popular over the years. Why do you think people love them?
I think it’s this primal need for the safety of fire in a fireplace. For millions of years we’ve cooked on the fire. We used it for safety. We’ve used it for light at night. It’s all about the fireplace.