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BIG READ: HELLCATS Wrap First Season at The Centre

Published March 24, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

I do try to photograph at least part of each TV series filming in Vancouver but some are more difficult than others. The CW’s Smallville, whose cast and crew celebrated ten seasons here at a big wrap party at the Vancouver Club last Saturday, filmed on permanent private sets and rarely went on location in their final season. And the incredibly fit young stars of the CW’s Hellcats, who instantly topped the local paparazzi list of saleable celebrity shots in their first season, attract a pack of paps and autograph hounds to each location shoot, as well as their daily workouts.

At its core, Hellcats is the story of friendship between pre-law-student-turned-cheerleader -for-scholarship-money Marti, played by Aly Milchalka, and her roommate and fellow cheerleader the very-religious-and-sheltered Savannah, played by Ashley Tisdale, at the fictional Lancer University in Memphis, Tennessee. Throw in dance numbers in skimpy cheerleader uniforms and lots of hook-ups among the main characters and you get a demographic hit. CW executives gave an early full season order, announcing they were “thrilled that [it] paid off for us.”

But critical reaction to the series is a mixed bag with some calling it “soft porn” and others pronouncing it “not trashy enough”. The only consensus: that the series has restored Ashley Tisdale to something approaching the same level of stardom she experienced with High School Musical, with photos of her coming and going from her daily workout out a fitness club near the Shangri-la Hotel appearing almost daily in celebrity blogs. She had to hire a security assistant to accompany her in public.

After filming its pilot here in Vancouver last April, Hellcats returned to shoot the series from mid-summer to late winter, favouring locations at several local campuses, including BCIT, Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia. I first caught up with them filming an exterior scene on the UBC campus at the end of November with cameras forced to shoot with snow on the ground. It proved to be a rare occasion when Hellcats didn’t have much of a problem with crowd control since no one wanted to linger during the cold snap. Pity the poor extras dressed for a Memphis fall.

I did visit several other Hellcats location shoots throughout the season, including a three-day shoot inside the Vancouver Rowing Club in mid-January, with a police car parked outside on Stanley Park Drive to reserve a spot for cast-dropoffs, but never stuck around if there wasn’t an exterior scene. In mid-February, I did catch a quick scene in Gastown of Aly Milchalka chasing her real-life sister AJ Milchalka (playing her half-sister) out of a record store up the street to the Blarney Stone pub, but with only a month left of filming that seemed to be it for me and Hellcats.

Word of a Hellcats wrap party at the V Lounge in Yaletown on Saturday, March 12th, presented a pap opportunity with the young cast reportedly partying until 4 a.m. Flynet agency photos of a sober Ashley Tisdale tottering in thigh-high Christian Louboutin boots and fellow Hellcat Heather Hemmons wrapping her legs around co-star Matt Barr sold around the world.

The following Sunday, cast and crew slept off whatever damage they’d inflicted on themselves with the raging wrap party. Apparently, they still had the season finale to complete with a three-day shoot at The Centre last week. I happened upon it on the first day of filming and photographed some exterior scenes of Aly Milchalka and Ashley Tisdale, dressed in their cheerleader uniforms, unloading the car and going into the theatre for the Nationals. Although I didn’t frequent Hellcats location shoots, I knew that seeing the stars in their cheerleading uniforms is rare. So even though I had hoped to capture one of the impressivly choreographed Hellcats dance routines, for which they sometimes only have a day to learn the routine, this will do.

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