There’s good reason why Vancouver is honoured with such a glamourous pseudonym. After all, it has been a filmmaking centre for almost a century.
In 1910, the Edison Manufacturing Company shot two films – the Cowpuncher’s Glove and The Ship’s Husband. The rest, as they say, is history. Today, the province of British Columbia hosts more than half of Canada’s total foreign production slate and is North America’s third largest film production centre behind Los Angeles and New York. But what makes this such an attractive place to shoot? There’s the short 3-hour plane ride from LA and of course the tax breaks… but it’s the myriad of amazing location options that keep Hollywood coming back for more. And it’s this continual support from the heavy-hitters south of the border that has helped nurture Vancouver’s own industry. Bridge Studios in the metropolitan Vancouver township of Burnaby not only has one of the biggest special effects stages on the continent but has also been responsible for such TV shows and feature films as Black Christmas and the award-winning hit, Juno. Vancouver is also home to the world-acclaimed Vancouver International Film Festival and the Vancouver Film and Television Forum. But we digress. The key is still location, location, location. And you might be surprised just how many productions call this their home. Your next trip to Vancouver you might find yourself walking through some of your favourite movies…
Most people are familiar with Vancouver’s flagship shows such as 21-Jump Street, The X-Files, Smallville and Supernatural, but not many people realize that they’re taking a behind-the-scenes tour as soon as they step off the plane. Vancouver International Airport (YVR) has served as the set for movies such as Final Destination, The Cleaner, Firewall, The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer as well as the hit TV show, The L Word.
BC Place is the 60 thousand-seater stadium on the downtown shores of False Creek. This unmistakable white domed structure has played host to regional and international sport events as well as trade shows and super-concerts. But unknown to most, it has also factored in favourite films such as Paycheck, Butterfly on a Wheel, Two for the Money and The Fantastic Four. Mere blocks away is Vancouver’s Chinatown – the second largest of its kind in North America behind San Francisco. And with the colourful shops, open-air markets and attractions such as the Han Dynasty Bell in Shanghai Alley and the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden, it’s easy to see why this would be a favourite with location scouts. You might recognize this unique corner of the city in films such as Killer Instinct, X-Men: The Last Stand, Rumble in the Bronx and Unforgettable.
Vancouver’s Anglo Olde Towne has seen its fair share of action, too. The character buildings and cobbled streets of Gastown have attracted more than just tourists cameras over the years. See if you recognize anything familiar in Catwoman, I, Robot, Legends of the Fall, Romeo Must Die and the immortal kids’ classic, The NeverEnding Story. Vancouver’s new neighbourhoods have seen their fair share of the spotlight, too. The uber-trendy condo and brewpub neighbourhood of Yaletown has featured in such films as 88 Minutes, Good Luck Chuck, Rumble in the Bronx and the TV series Stargate SG-1. Spending a cultured day at the Vancouver Art Gallery? So did the cast and crew of The Core, The Deal, Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed and Night at the Museum.
Most summer trips to Vancouver include a visit to the Pacific National Exhibition – a city institution that started in 1910 as a provincial industrial showcase and has grown into one of the biggest entertainment venues on the continent. Internationally-acclaimed, award winning live shows have originated here such as Cirque Pop, City Rhythm and Bring on the Night but so have many motion pictures – Rocky IV, Cats & Dogs, Final Destination 3, Riding the Bullet, Fear and Best in Show…
Even the local seat of learning has made room for the occasional director’s chair. The vast and beautiful campus of the University of British Columbia (UBC) has provided settings for feature films such as X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Antitrust and The Exorcism of Emily Rose as well as the TV shows The 4400, Bionic Woman, Stargate Atlantis, Battlestar Galactica and Deadzone.
Film production in British Columbia is not relegated to Metropolitan Vancouver. The capital city of Victoria on Vancouver Island has seen its share of production time as well. Craigdarroch Castle, once home to the Turn of the Century coal tycoon family, the Dunsmuirs, has undergone many metamorphoses including war hospital, music conservatory, museum and more recently home to the March sisters in the motion picture, Little Women. Maybe you’re not into the period-pieces. Sucker for those mid-eighties action films? You’ll probably recognize the one-block stretch of downtown Victoria’s Fan Tan Alley that was shot and then looped to create the deceptively long motorbike chase with Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn in Bird on a Wire. More into the horror genre? Any visitor to Victoria who has walked through the popular Bastion Square might feel a prickle of familiar uneasiness. This could be because Bastion Square briefly became the Parisian corner on which the main character in Final Destination meets his inevitable end.
Other areas in the province have become immortalized through the silver screen. The barren, windswept hills of Williams Lake in the Cariboo Chilcotin became a fourteenth century Asian battleground for Antonio Bandera and cast in The Thirteenth Warrior. Just north of Vancouver in the picturesque town of Lions Bay, Jennifer Garner earned her superhero stripes as Elektra. Historic Barkerville became seedy, small town Mexico for Robert Rodriguez hit, Desperado. Kamloops doubled as an American military prison camp in Germany in the acclaimed film, Cadence. And Steve Martin immortalized Nelson in the unforgettable hit, Roxanne.
But the best part about Hollywood North isn’t the movies that have been shot here in the past – it’s the one that are being shot here right now. At any given point in Vancouver, Victoria or anywhere in the province, you might stumble upon a line of huge white trailers, a closed street, a flurry of activity, a famous face and a fast growing crowd of curious spectators. Nothing compares to the excitement of a behind-the-scenes perspective as the magic of Hollywood unfolds right here, up north.
Welcome to BC. Lights, camera…