Thursday, April 9, 2015

Peter Dashkewytch: A Conversation

For the last month or two I've been trying to get a hold of as many MacGyver cast and crew members as I could, partly because I'm excited to learn more about my most favorite episodes (which I'm in the midst of counting down), and partly because the countdown is slowly coming to an end.  I've reached out to several members of the MacGyver crew who may not be household names to MacGyver fans, but that doesn't make their role or their memories any less relevant.  I recently talked to Peter Dashkewytch, a First Assistant Director for 32 episodes ranging from seasons 3 to 6.  He was very friendly and willing to take time to answer my questions for which I am thankful!

NS: How did you get started on MacGyver?

PD: MacGyver was my first opportunity to be a First Assistant Director on a major network show and I believe the year was 1987. I was working on a Feature Film "Shoot to Kill" with Sidney Poitier at the time and the MacGyver Producers, Mike Greenburg and Bob Fredericks contacted me asking if I would be interested in upgrading to 1st AD and interviewing with the rest of the Production team. I met Richard Dean Anderson and Steve Downing shortly after and was hired to be one of the alternating 1st Assistant Directors on MacGyver. I am a graduate of the University of British Columbia majoring in Film & Television studies.

NS: What precisely did you do as the 1st Assistant Director?

PD: In very simple terms the 1st AD is responsible for scheduling a show and then keeping that show on schedule. Within that scope I am responsible for identifying all the script elements required for filming whether it is a Swiss Army Knife or camera crane and making sure those elements are present on the day of shooting. All safety concerns on set are channeled through the 1st AD and he or she is the safety coordinator on set during filming. The 1st AD is also given the task of directing much of the background performers while the Director concentrates on the main cast.

NS: What are some of your fondest memories from "MacGyver?"

PD: Many of my memories were times that occurred off set. Most of the crew and cast were around the same age give or take 10 years and we both worked and played hard. At lunchtime we would forget about our food and stage floor hockey games in one of the unused stages. We formed an ice hockey team captained by Richard Dean Anderson (of course) that played against other shows' teams or teams formed from local radio and TV Stations. We also had company golf tournaments which helped form a camaraderie and sense of family which I am sure showed in front of the camera and helped make the show very successful.

NS: Who were your favorite cast and crew members?

PD: Oh God there were so many and to single out anyone would be kind of unfair to all the others. If you insist - it always started from the top and Producers Henry Winkler, John Rich, Steve Downing, Mike Greenburg and Bob Fredericks led by example and created a very healthy and positive environment to work in. With Richard Dean Anderson and Dana Elcar leading the cast it made for a very pleasant time on set. Bruce McGill, Michael Des Barres, Teri Hatcher, Cuba Gooding Jr. complemented them beautifully. I learned so much from our stable of Directors – Bill Gereghty, Micheal Vejar, Charlie Corell, Cliff Bole and Michael Caffey. Two crew members I was close to was props master Pat O’Brien and our RDA double Dan Shea. I was always struck by the caliber of special guest stars and among my favorites were Dick Butkus, Rich Little, George Takei and Abe Vigoda.

NS: What do you remember about Michael Des Barres?

PD: Michael Des Barres was a gifted actor and all round nice guy. It showed how good of an actor he was when his character was basically the opposite of him in real life.

NS: You were involved in a few episodes in my top 11 and I'm curious to know what, if anything, you remember about them.

  • Ghost Ship
    • PD: I don’t remember much from that episode except for the old decrepit boat we had moored to shoot in.   
  • The Widowmaker
    • PD: I recall that was a logistical challenge since we shot that episode on a real rock cliff in Squamish (45 to 60 minutes from Vancouver) and recreated that rock cliff on one of our local mountains for all the close up work. 
  • Log Jam
    • PD: Is that the one where MacGyver is riding on the back of a transport truck carrying logs? I remember that sequence because of the danger involved trying to film RDA's close ups while seeing the background move behind him.
  • Strictly Business
    • PD: Don't remember. I should rewatch these episodes and I bet a flood of memories would come back to me.

What was your favorite episode?

PD: I don't have one.  They were all great. 

NS: What are you currently working on today?

PD: I have just finished 3 projects which I am proud of : "Olympus" - a new series for Syfy, "When Calls the Heart" - a very successful series in its second year for the Hallmark Channel and "The Devil’s Harvest" - an Independent Feature film that was filmed in London and the Ukraine.


  1. Another great interview.....from a guy whose named always jumped out at me because the surname is so unusual. I always wondered what some of the job duties consisted of among those in the end credits so it's good to find out what the First Assistant Director did. The most striking part of the interview was that these crew members were working 15+ hour days and still had the energy to forfeit lunch and play ice hockey. I'd be curious to know what other shows' crews they competed against.

    1. Yeah it's amazing how much energy they had, especially RDA who was already working 18-20 hour days. I wonder what he did for energy and nutrition - I imagine they had great food for him on set but still.

      I thought it was interesting how he described the 1st asst. directors as alternating, which answered my question as to why he only did certain episodes per season. And imagine being in charge of safety on set - that's a big job and I imagine would be pretty stressful.

    2. That bit about being in charge of safety caught me too. And, meant that the good relationship with the stunt guy was a bonus, since that's part of their job too.

    3. Interesting background to the role - I didn't know what a First Asst Director did either - I love the idea of them all playing hockey at lunchtime!

  2. Another good interview, Nick. It is interesting how teamwork off the screen contributed to camaraderie on the screen.