Vancouver’s Fifth Gift to the World: Hollywood North

Image courtesy of Charlie Brown

For the next seven days, the Metroblogging sites around the globe will be unveiling seven gifts their cities can share with the world – one gift a day for seven days. Metroblogging Vancouver’s Fifth Gift is Hollywood North.

New York City’s first gift to the world (or seventh, depending on the direction you count) may have been that it’s been the home of so many great movie scenes, but like the old saying, “Behind every good studio, there’s a great backlot,” (or was that “Behind every good man there’s a. . . .” — nevermind — it’s close enough), for all those times when New York was too busy, or Los Angeles was too expensive, or Chicago was too windy, or London or Paris too far away, there’s Vancouver, ready to take up the slack.

Vancouver’s fifth gift to the world is its thriving, albeit undercover, television and movie industry.

“Oh yeah,” you say, “I heard some movies are filmed there every once in a while.” A few, maybe, but if you do a location search on the Internet Movie Database you might be surprised:

New York: 8216 films and television shows
Los Angeles: 8056
Vancouver: 1872

Not too shabby, especially considering that Vancouver’s the new kid on the block, with only a couple of decades of filmmaking under its belt, and we’re rapidly catching up.

Partly because of the economic environment, and partly the temperate climate, and no small part due to the combination of dense urban areas, rural farms, mountains, oceans, rivers, forests, and an array of different neighbourhoods which mirror people’s perceptions of what cities look like all over the globe, chances are at least half of the television dramas you watch regularly and probably a third of the summer blockbusters you saw last year call Vancouver their secret home.

A character in Douglas Coupland’s Girlfriend in a Coma explains it this way:

They film everything here because Vancouver’s unique: You can morph it into any North American city or green space with little effort and even less expense, but at the same time the city has its own distinct feel. See that motel over there? That was ‘Pittsburgh’ in a Movie of the Week.

And true enough, when you’re wandering around the streets of Vancouver and its surrounding areas, you’re bound to run into:
The courthouse steps from half the movies made since 1985 (otherwise known as the Vancouver Art Gallery)
The X-Files FBI Headquarters (Simon Fraser University campus)
The Sixth Day’s human cloning facility (the downtown public library)
Insomnia‘s shoreline (Indian Arm)
The Pink Panther‘s theatre (Orpheum theatre)
And from no film in particular (but dozens in general) the mountain tram thing (Grouse Mountain Skyride tram), the forests (Seymour Demonstration Forest, Stanley Park, or Mundy Park), the office buildings (there’s a stretch of Pender and Hastings streets which have played Manhattan and Chicago streets in more shows than anyone can count).
And don’t forget Riverview Hospital, the premiere location for creepy prison and asylum scenes in just about everything.

We’re The L Word‘s LA.
We’re the Seattle of “Dead Like Me” and Dark Angel and Millennium, too.
We were Party of Five‘s San Francisco.
We’re the Smallville of Smallville, and Metropolis, too, for that matter.
If MacGyver blew something up with a toothpick, it happened here (at least for the last half of the series, anyway).
We were Rumble in the Bronx‘s New York (if you see any mountains, just ignore them), and the Fantastic Four‘s new York, too, and the X-Men‘s as well, at least in the later movies.
And remember 21 Jump Street‘s New Yorkish Los Angelesque mystery city? That was us, too (perhaps where this whole trend began, come to think of it).

Sure, they’re not always the most artistic (cinematic disaster director Uwe Boll films almost exclusively here for example), the most high-budget (reduced costs are part of the reason the studio even exists), or the most memorable movies and shows (The Froome Room? What the hell was that?), but you can’t deny that your TV or movie screen would be a lot more empty without us.

And maybe one day you’ll finally get to see a movie filmed here where Vancouver actually plays itself (sure there was one . . . no, two). But in the mean time, don’t let the photoshopped Statue of Liberty or Washington Monument fool you — most of the action you’re watching may actually all be taking place north of the border.

Image courtesy of Charlie Brown

2 Comments so far

  1. Rebecca (unregistered) on November 30th, 2006 @ 2:04 pm

    Nice, I like the Coupland quote :p and love the Mutant Affairs pic!

  2. Matt (unregistered) on November 30th, 2006 @ 6:42 pm

    I’ve actually worked in the Bureau of Mutant Affairs building (known to my coworkers as the “Concrete Waffle”). It had a brief appearance in I Robot, as well. I assume giant waffles must look like the future to people.

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