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BIG READ: Hip Hop Fairytale RAGS Goes Downtown

Published June 30, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

Hip hop fairy tale Rags looked more like a feature movie than a TV movie, with its dozens of prop New York taxi cabs cruising our downtown streets during its month of filming here. The Nickelodeon musical stars 17-year-old Keke Palmer, who also produces (backed by Mariah-Carey-husband and TeenNick chairman Nick Cannon), in a reverse-gender Cinderella story set in New York with teenage Max Schneider as her Cinder-fella, Charlie Prince. Is this Nickelodeon’s answer to the Disney smash High School Musical?

It could be, with the help of grownup Nickelodeon star Drake Bell of the popular Drake & Josh series in the cast: Bell (see the signature bangs below) is the current Nick heartthrob to Cinder-fella Max Schneider’s heartthrob-in-waiting. You might have spotted the actor Bell here last summer filming the upcoming live-action A Fairly Odd Movie: Grow up, Timmy Turner! Or you might have seen the just-turned-25-year-old musician Bell doing the rounds of New York morning shows this week, promoting his new 4-track EP — A Reminder — whose preview single Terrific recently topped the iTunes chart. I had no idea of Bell’s star power among the junior set until I uploaded this photo of him and Max Schneider (with his ukulele on his back) filming a Rags scene in Oceanic Plaza downtown.

During each take of the scene between Drake Bell and Max Schneider, a pink-coloured bus drove past plastered with the image of Keke Palmer (True Jackson, Akeelah and the Bee) as her international pop star character Kadee Worth, the daughter-of-a-music-mogul (played by the Old Spice guy Isaiah Mustafa) and rich kid to Max Schneider’s orphan-with-a-mean-stepfather-and-mean-stepbrothers poor kid. I missed Palmer’s in-person scenes that afternoon and never did see her filming Rags, although local agency photographers did manage to capture her coming out of one set dressed in a blue dressing gown (to cover her gold lame dress) and hot pink slippers.

How did Rags come to be? Apparently Nick Cannon wanted to do a modern musical take on a classic story like The Wiz did with Wizard of Oz so he pitched the Cinderella story of two musicians, one a pop star who wants to sing her own songs and the other an aspiring singer who can’t catch a break, falling in love and finding everything they’re looking for in each other. Rags began filming in mid-May, with the refurbished Vogue Theatre on Granville Street being the first big shoot I found them at on May 19/20th. I snapped a few photos (later stolen along with my camera) but it proved to be an almost all interior shoot with only a few exterior scenes of extras lined up outside. The following week, Rags filmed the young couple outside a fake store on Front Street in New Westminster, with Max Schneider seen dancing with his hip hop crew.

Rags then returned downtown for a shoot inside the Boss night club at Davie and Richards (where Keke Palmer was spotted leaving in the blue dressing gown) and inside Finch’s coffee shop at Homer and West Pender. I watched them filming in Finch’s after the Friday night rush hour and spotted the yellow prop NY cabs driving by in normal traffic to give the set a New York feel.

At month’s end, Rags set up in Oceanic Plaza on West Pender for big scenes with the young couple and co-star Drake Bell. Office workers on lunch passed by a firetruck with a New York decal parked on Burrard, along with dozens of NY cabs parked nearby to drive past each take of the scenes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a production use as many prop taxis as Rags did.

Still, Rags ended up being a minor attraction downtown that day (as Drake Bell tweeted to his fans) after real police were called to the Burrard and West Georgia intersection a few blocks away for an hours-long standoff with a sword-wielding lunatic, eventually taking him down with rubber bullets. That evening Rags moved down to the West Hastings block below Oceanic Plaza with more cabs, prop traffic, street dressing and dozens of extras to film a scene of Max Schneider as Charlie riding his skateboard along the sidewalk.

I did lose track of Rags in the first two weeks of June during the mania of Stanley Cup Final games when Isaiah Mustafa gained extra fame as a Canucks t-shirt-wearing uber fan, but caught up with them post-riot cleanup out on the PNE grounds, spying more yellow cabs parked outside the Agrodome where crew had constructed a huge interior cabaret set.

In its final days of shooting last week, Rags filmed in a Hotel Vancouver ballroom, with producer Nick Cannon flying in Monday night for a cameo on Tuesday and then flying right back out again. Meantime, Rags crew were constructing an elaborate Palace theatre facade on the outside of the Canvas Lounge in Gastown for Wednesday night filming of the actors coming and going through the entrance doors. I photographed Max Schneider early on giving his parents a tour of the Palace set and then waited to photograph his scene around midnight, leaving not long after. Rags continued filming through the night and wrapped production here last Thursday morning.

Rags is set to premiere on Nickelodeon in 2012.

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