Moviemaker Magazine
Summer 2005


Hollywood North by Northwest
Drama in the drizzle: Vancouver, B.C., has nurtured Boris Karloff, Star Trek's Scotty, Pam Anderson and the continent's third-largest film production center.

 

 

 

 


Under the cloud cover and umbrellas, Vancouver shines. The wattage isn't quite supernova-strength, but British Columbia's epicenter has a fine and frisky film industry, plus a lifestyle unparalleled in North America.

This shining city beside the sea inspired Boris Karloff, then a longshoreman and stagehand, and a teenaged Atom Egoyan. The indie auteur grew up in “Hollywood North by Northwest,” gestating the genius that created 1997's masterpiece The Sweet Hereafter.

Not all Vancouver's contributions have been stellar, however: take Pamela Anderson's pneumatic profile and dayglo tan, and James Doohan's bad brogue as Chief Engineer Scotty in Star Trek, not to mention Michael J. Fox's entire catalogue.

Errol Flynn swashbuckled to an early grave – suffering a fatal heart attack on a 70-foot-yacht with a 17-year-old paramour – amid sordid headlines in 1959. Howard Hughes hermited in the Westin Bayshore penthouse; a paparazzo nearly died hang-gliding into the hotel's side. The tycoon didn't wash or shave during his six-month visit in 1972. He finally fled to Nicaragua, escaping Canadian income tax – or perhaps his own miasma.

Ah, such drama amid the drizzle! David Duchovny once whined that it rained “400 inches a day” in Vancouver. The X-Files sought drier ground after five seasons. Yet the supernatural-spook show highlighted B.C.'s film renaissance: in 1978, the industry spent just US$12 million. Now it pours more than one billion into the local economy each year (with a knock-on effect of $3.3b).

Home to heavyweights studios like Lions Gate and Vancouver Film, the city is the third-largest production center in North America, behind Los Angeles and New York. Mainframe Productions has one of the continent's largest animation labs, while nearby Bridge Studios crafts world-class special effects. The province's 50 shooting stages and crews can handle 40 projects simultaneously. Tax breaks, softer union laws and favorable exchange rates make Vancouver popular, along with its intoxicating natural beauty.

A fresh 2005 film tax incentive brought a deluge of investment: $350m by February alone, according to John Les, Minister of Small Business and Economic Development. “Since our announcement, six feature films and five television projects have confirmed British Columbia as their first location choice, creating significant job opportunities for BC's 30,000 film and television employees,” he said.

The area's industry traces back to 1913 and echoed the Hollywood boom in the 30s, hosting “quota quickies,” movies dashed off to sate the studio system's maw. Louis B. Mayer even drafted real Mounties to sing and gallop in formation for the 1936 MGM extravaganza Rosemarie, the city's first sound feature.

The Littlest Hobo was Vancouver's inaugural series (1963-5), a heroic-dog show much syndicated and sequelled. Smallville, Stargate SG-1, Dark Angel and Da Vinci's Inquest now coast in the wake of the mothership, The X-Files.

While bustling and busy, it doesn't exactly churn out blockbusters. Obviously, bragging rights are in short supply when the hit list includes The X-Men (Bryan Singer), The Santa Clause 2 (Michael Lembeck) and The Sixth Day (Roger Spottiswoode), an Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle that cast the Coliseum-esque central library as a cloning factory. Howlers like Catwoman (Pitof), Air Bud (Charles Martin Smith) and Josie and the Pussycats (Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan) are typical. B-movie on a good day, BC's industry typically veers towards straight-to-DVD duds.

More thoughtful efforts include Michael Caton-Jones' This Boy's Life, a redneck, coming-of-age epic, and Scott Hicks' Snow Falling on Cedars, an exquisite portrait of Japanese-American internment and the Pacific Northwest during WWII. Other highlights are The Accused (Jonathan Kaplan), We're No Angels (Neil Jordan) and Bird on a Wire (John Badham). Recent projects range from Antarctica (Frank Marshall) to Catch & Release, starring Jennifer Garner (Suzannah Grant).

Critical acclaim means naught. Blockbusters aren't the issue, eh? For filmmakers, Vancouver's charms – aside from its malleable landscape – are affability, affordability and, well, the luxurious lifestyle: that Northwest trailmix of hedonism and healthy outdoor pursuits. No other urban area in North America, quite possibly the world, has struck such an elegant balance between nature, culture and counterculture. And soon everyone will know, when Western Canada's largest city hosts the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Vancouver is both gorgeous and giddy. Fat goblets of cherry blossoms shadow the streets in spring. Underneath each tree are scattered leaves, stenciled into the concrete. Hip Baby Boutique, the Three Dog Bakery (treats for the city-chic canine) and the Rubber Rainbow Condom Company jostle among vegetarian buffets, tattoo parlors and Cuban cigar shops. Pedestrians swarm everywhere. The only blight is a flock of mimes outside the Art Gallery, where a teenage drug dealer – clearly not getting much action and thus irritable – works the crowd.

Not only does Stanley Park sprawl over 1,000 acres smack downtown, but Vancouverites have an urban ski slope. The brisk Seabus deposits snowhounds at Lonsdale Quay on the North Shore. From there, a shuttle tootles up Grouse Mountain and, bam, there they are, downhill in a major metropolis – all by public transport. And North America's most famous nude enclave, the bohemian Wreck Beach, is also accessible by bus and footpath on the opposite side of Burrard Inlet.

Steep mountains bookend the city, great gorged and green slabs fading into snow and cloud. The Fraser River broadens into a delta, where herons fish in the world's mightiest salmon river. Totem poles mimic the lean tree trunks. And the skyscrapers echo the First Peoples' emblems – those symbolic stacks of Northwest critters: bear, salmon, orca, eagle.

Yaletown's slender cylinders are the colors of mist and beach glass, pale moss and glacial rock. Jade and robin-egg blue, they tower beside False Creek like test tubes abandoned in a rainforest, scrimshawed by algae. Supremely modern, they melt into the landscape and somehow enhance it. No finer architecture could mark the final frontier between British Columbia's crags and the Pacific Rim.

Hong Kong property tycoon Li Ka-shing built this shining swathe. He transformed the '86 Expo site into an urban-planning icon. Green space threads through the complex. Boutiques, cafes and chic artsy companies bubble in converted warehouses below.

“There isn't another city in North America where you can find the range of geography and architecture in Vancouver and the environs,” points out Production Manager Warren Carr, a local resident whose credits include I-Spy, Do-Right and Happy Gilmore.

Others have gone farther in praise of Vancouver. The writer A. M. Stephen once evoked “the sound of waves breaking on the shore of the future.”

Indeed. If all cities could ape BC's best, the forecast would be bright, brollies or no.



 

 

 



"David Duchovny once
whined that it rained
'400 inches a day' in
Vancouver. The X-Files
sought drier ground
after five seasons.
"









"For filmmakers,
Vancouver's charms –
aside from its malleable
landscape – are affability,
affordability and, well, the
luxurious lifestyle: that
Northwest trailmix of
hedonism and healthy
outdoor pursuits."

"No other urban area
in North America,
quite possibly the world,
has struck such an
elegant balance between
nature, culture an
counterculture. And soon
everyone will know,
when Western Canada's
largest city hosts\ the
2010 Winter Olympics."

 

 

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