Published August 22nd, 2013 on Vancouver is Awesome.
Who painted those famous 1950s and ’60s portraits of doe-eyed children? Tim Burton’s indie biopic Big Eyes tells the story of Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), an artist whose ambitious husband Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz ) successfully sold her work around the world under his own name. Years after their 1965 divorce, she challenged him to a paint off in San Francisco’s Union Square but he didn’t show. The decades-long battle to reclaim her work didn’t end until 1986 in a federal court when a judge ordered a paint off in front of a jury. She painted a portrait in 53 minutes while her ex-husband begged off because of “a shoulder injury”.
Blockbuster filmmaker and Margaret Keane collector Tim Burton chose to shoot this smaller art couple saga in Vancouver this summer with Stanley Park as an early 1950s fairgrounds; The Penthouse Night Club as the 1950s San Francisco night club The Hungry I; Gastown as the 1950s/60s San Francisco Art District and home to the Keane Gallery; and a Vancouver Art Gallery courtroom as the site of the pivotal court-ordered paint off in front of a jury.
It’s been so much fun for us to see the Big Eyes period sets, costumes and vehicles around the city. Crew set up an early 1950s art fair in Stanley Park near Lumberman’s Arch next to picnicking families to film Walter Keane meeting his future wife (Amy Adams) as she drew charcoal sketches of children as big-eyed waifs in her signature style.
The charismatic and perhaps a little crazy Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) became an international celebrity peddling Margaret’s big-eyed paintings to the public in mass-produced prints and then to elite New York galleries. New York Times senior art critic John Canaday (Terence Stamp) found Keane’s artistic prominence baffling and frustrating. Here is a comedic scene of Keane taunting a rival San Francisco gallery owner with his success, filmed on Powell Street in Gastown dressed as a North Beach arts district.
Big Eyes started its six-week-plus shoot in Vancouver in the second week of July in a heritage house (Ellis House) on Bute Street in Coal Harbour. Other early locations included a house in Strathcona and the New Westminster police station dressed as the San Francsico police station, with one great exterior scene of Walter and Margaret Keane (Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams in period costume) walking down Sixth Street to the entrance at the corner on Columbia Sttreet.
At a week-long shoot in the third week of July on Seymour Street downtown, locals and passersby caught glimpses of cast and background performers coming and going into The Penthouse Night Club dressed as The Hungry I. A large crowd gathered opposite on the Friday night to quip, “Where’s Johnny Depp?” and watch the celebrity director in action supervising an establishing shot outside the club.
Next Big Eyes crew dressed a tree-lined path in Stanley Park as an Art Fair, circa 1953, for the Margaret (Amy Adams) meetup with Walter Keane.
But the biggest and best shoot had to be in the 000 block of Powell Street in Gastown turned into the San Francisco Arts District in the last week of July. So many people watched, photographed, tweeted, instagrammed and even met Tim Burton on set.
On the Tuesday in Gastown, Big Eyes shot scenes of Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) entering a San Francisco gallery owned by Rube (Jason Schwartzman) as a fleet of 1950s classic cars circled the block during takes. Later that night, Big Eyes filmed gallery owner Rube (Schwartzman) as he walked past a dressed Rexall drug store window and stopped to stare at the mass-produced prints of Big Eyes paintings for sale — also sold in gas stations and hardware stores across America.
By Wednesday in Gastown, Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) was established in his own Keane Gallery opposite Rube’s. Tim Burton directed the scene like an orchestra conductor of Keane taunting Rube (Jason Schwartzman).
Two overnight shoots on the Thursday and Fridaynights in Gastown proved less public with long interior scenes of an opening party inside the Keane Gallery.
Big Eyes moved around a bit after Gastown with a shoot in Hy’s Encore on Hornby Street downtown with New York Times senior art critic John Canaday(Terence Stamp) in the scene. And then inside the former Main Street police station. Next up was another week-long shoot, this time in a house off SW Marine Drive and Dunbar. Is this the basement where Margaret Keane did all her paintings during her marriage to Walter?
Last weekend crew started to set up in the Annex building of the Vancouver Art Gallery for the big courtroom showdown and paint off which began filming on Monday and wrapped yesterday. Not much could be seen until Tim Burton, cast and crew surprised everyone late yesterday afternoon by emerging and gathering on the stone steps on the north side for a cast and crew photo, captured by Luiz Lopes (@luizmlopes) in an instagram below.
Big Eyes is expected to wrap filming in Vancouver in studio. Tim Burton and his partner Helena Bonham Carter, producers and cast will be missed here.