Cue the bears, cue the aliens … Roll ‘em!
Hollywood’s ravening hunger for location-location-location brings the film industry to our backyard.
By Oona Woods
As TV engulfs us, as its cables worm their way into every home and satellites spin around the world bouncing more image bites into our brains, the market need for mimetic moments and videotopia increases.
This means that L.A.’s film factory has panned its collective cameras north, zooming in on Vancouver and featuring a close-up on the developing skills and silver screen services available here.
With "Hollywood North" only two hours south there’s bound to be some celluloid seepage up Highway 99 to Whistler. In fact, B.C. film commissioner Peter Mitchell points out that the Sea to Sky Highway is in the top 20 of film locations in North America. That puts the windy twisty road right up there with cultural icons like Times Square and the Arizona desert.
The hope is, by those who are in the know, that this area will embrace the opportunity to access the fun-filled film future, but keep it fresh and clearly Canadian.
There are plenty of movie-moves afoot in the Corridor, including the World Ski and Snowboard festival’s cultural component, the Moving Pictures Canadian Film Festival, set to screen in April. This will give un-urbanites the chance to see Canadian films that normally only show in city art houses.
The Sea to Sky Film Committee is about to unveil how it will encourage friendly film-making in the area. There is also talk of semi-local film-maker of extreme ski adventures Greg Stump setting up a studio in the vicinity of these mountain vistas.
There is lots happening on both big and little screens and plenty of different kinds of film-making in this area. Two feature films on average are made in the Sea to Sky Corridor each year. The area also attracts the shiny happy commercial people flouncing around to flaunt their products against the scenery. Jeep, Airwalk, Panasonic, and Honda have all received permits from the city planning department in Squamish, and from the Parks and Recs department in Whistler.
Of course the ski and snowboard talent and terrain are immortalized on film and video constantly. Viewers will never tire of seeing heroes go higher.
With the advance of the film industry in B.C., the Corridor will only become more popular. At the moment it is already the second largest growth area outside of the Lower Mainland. Alaska, Free Willy 3, Firestorm, the X-Files and the Poltergeist TV series, Intersection, and The Dog Hermit are some of the filmed presentations produced in this area.
Mountain scenery, forest wilderness and panoramic views primarily induce people to engage with nature first hand (or face first), but they also provide a stunning set for filmmakers.
A production crew for an NBC drama called Mountain of Fear recently set up shop on the local slopes. The film is based in the Himalayan mountain range. As assistant co-ordinator Michael Rosser explains, Whistler had the right look and measurements.
"The proximity to Vancouver is important. Many different elements were needed in terms of types of terrain. The ski-lifts offer access to those kinds of terrain."
Rossner said the shoot went well in Whistler, but that it was awkward filming in a resort town.
"Everyone loved it here, but it was a problem working in a town dedicated 95 per cent of the time to another activity. Whistler is not designed for filming: it is a one-horse town, economically speaking."
Rossner says that if they came back to Whistler they would prefer to do so at another time of year. However, it was snow they were after for the scenes and there was plenty of that.
"It is enormously difficult to film in snow. Transport is the worst problem. You have to use snow cats and snowmobiles to deposit yourself where you need to be.
"Footprints are also difficult. That’s a problem with beaches, too. You do the best you can. There’s always going to be footprints. We shoot around them or cover them up, or put something over them."
Whistler will be showing off it’s snowy peaks and backcountry when the film airs during the May sweeps on NBC.
The Sea to Sky Film Committee is well aware of this area’s potential in accommodating film crews. Jane MacCarthy has recently taken on the role of co-chair on the committee and says that there will be an overspill effect from increased filming in Vancouver.
"The area is growing when you look at numbers. Vancouver is growing. In order to accommodate all the film-making the film commissioner says we need to encourage people to go outside the Lower Mainland, it’s basically down to how much we want to do with the opportunity."
After a period of rest following the departure of Robert Fine and the closure of the Sea to Sky Economic Development Commission, the film committee is back in action and ready to release it’s revised mandate shortly.
"The film crews will still come. We want to be able to help the area become more film-friendly. We also want to make sure we look after the needs of the community. The committee will be able to mitigate the impact of any negative situations. We want everyone to go away with a positive experience and we will be constantly looking to the community for input."
MacCarthy says part of their job will be to promote all locations and aspects of the Corridor.
"The X-Files have filmed at Britannia Mines a couple times. It is not just the highway or the mountains that are popular. I don’t think the production companies realize that there are also a lot of talented people here as well as the scenery."
Our local talent includes Pemberton based Scott Flavell, who is currently working with safety rigging on the film Seven Days in Tibet, starring Brad Pitt.
Kay’s On-Site Catering has managed to convince some production companies to leave their cumbersome propane stoves behind and let a local business feed the masses.
There are also a number of guides and back-country experts in the area that will be invaluable to film crews. MacCarthy says there are loads of opportunities for all kinds of businesses and individuals to benefit from the focus of the lens. Exterior locations are not the only appeal for the big screen.
"There is a huge amount of potential here. We will zero in on it one step at a time. Locations are going to be the main attraction, but we will promote people and other areas. If you look at any movie there are so many different shots. More could be done up here from the back alleys to someone’s home. We already have a very good reputation within the filming community."
MacCarthy says positive aspects to appearing on the film-scene range farther than just remuneration, even though the money is good.
"People can take pride in seeing their area on screen."
The popularity of films like last year’s Alaska, bear testament to how much feeling the community has for it’s friends and features.
The next stage in the process of film-making here is to encourage Canadians to tell their own stories, says Shirley Vercruysse, tour producer for the Moving Pictures Canadian Film Festival.
"Vancouver is a busy busy place making movies for a lot of other people. We do so much service work we’ve become really skilled. Now we need to become producers of our own stuff."
The festival is bringing with it a number of acclaimed Canadian films as well as a number of short features.
"The festival always ends up generating an interest in film-making. We have some films that have had a lot of exposure like Cronenburg’s Crash, but we also show short films. People can look at them and think ‘I may not be the next David Cronenburg, but I can try that.’ It can motivate people to get interested."