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BIG READ: LEO AWARDS Gala at Hotel Vancouver

Published June 14, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

Wild is the word I’d use to describe Saturday’s red carpet at the Leo Awards celebrating the best of BC-produced film and television: from one nominee going in and out of his character to another striking poses with his elastic face to another threatening to drop his pants to the entire cast of all-Canadian series Sanctuary making funny faces for the cameras. And immortal Sanctuary star Amanda Tapping owned all 100 metres of that carpet in her floor-length black dress and five-inch heels.

Since television built the town of Hollywood North it should be no surprise that Amanda Tapping is its Queen after more than a decade on the Stargate series and then co-creating Sanctuary with writer Damian Kindler and director Martin Wood, two other Stargate almuni who I photographed below watching Tapping walk towards them. Sanctuary came into the Leos with a whopping 17 nominations and the privilege of sauntering the red carpet in prime time (the last half-hour of the two-hour West Georgia Street spectacle).

The almost-block-long red carpet started at the corner of Burrard and West Georgia with Leo red carpet host and actress Gretal Montogmery, who happens to be the significant other of presenter Chad Willett. Having one of their own interview them on camera inspired Sanctuary’s Robin Dunne to unbuckle his belt and threaten to drop his pants (captured and later tweeted in a Twitpic by his co-star Robert Lawrenson). Autograph hounds and fans managed to nab the local celebs Read More »BIG READ: LEO AWARDS Gala at Hotel Vancouver

BIG READ: UNDERWORLD AWAKENING at Simon Fraser University Redux

Published June 9, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

I first photographed the Underworld vampire/Lycan film franchise at Simon Fraser University in early March when crew transformed Convocation Mall (Convo Mall) into nefarious bio-tech company Antigen with a large grey corporate reception area on the dais and fake Antigen doors at the top of the stairs leading into the Academic Quadrangle. Underworld 4 returned there two months later in early May to rebuild the set and this time filmed franchise star Kate Beckinsale as vampire Selene in her signature black leather/latex skin-tight cat suit, not her stunt double.

While I didn’t get to see any action scenes I did spot Kate Beckinsale in a North Face jacket and her black catsuit on Convo Mall laughing with her grey-suited co-star Michael Ealy (The Good Wife). Ealy plays a police detective hunting Beckinsale’s vampire Selene, who later teams up with her to stop bio-tech company Antigen from “creating super Lycans that will kill them all”. The two leads took turns sitting for on-camera interviews on a south walkway above the mall and Ealy is said to have given the camera crew a set tour of Antigen headquarters later that Sunday afternoon. As @ParrotGirl put it on Twitter: ” SFU probably hasn’t been this popular since X-Files.”

The fourth film in the Underworld franchise wrapped last week in Vancouver after almost three months of shooting here. Swedish director duo Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein must like concrete slabs because locations ranged from the iconic concrete architecture of Simon Fraser University to scenes below the concrete Georgia Viaduct and many days of filming inside the Coal Harbour Community Centre’s concrete parking lot. So much so that when I heard Underworld 4 crew had been spotted Read More »BIG READ: UNDERWORLD AWAKENING at Simon Fraser University Redux

BIG READ: PSYCH Plays Ball in Nat Bailey Stadium

Published June 2, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

PSYCH-Os, fans of USA Network comedic-detective series Psych, have been asking when I would return to their show. Since I watched Psych filming its vampire-themed season-six episode in late March, the producers have hosted a parade of guest stars ranging from Clockwork Orange baddie Malcolm McDowell to New Kid on the Block Joey McIntyre to Brat Packer Molly Ringwald and done Darth Vader to Superman to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest themed episodes in locations as far away as Gibsons Landing. I promised PSYCH-O’s I would try to photograph a rumoured baseball episode if the cast and crew showed up at Vancouver’s baseball mecca — Nat Bailey Stadium.

Sure enough, a friend spotted dozens of white film trucks and trailers parked at the Nat, home to minor league Vancouver Canadians, on the Tuesday morning after the Victoria Day long weekend. Various entertainment sites soon reported that Psych’s sixth filmed episode of the sixth season would feature the mysterious death of fictional minor league Santa Barbara Seabirds’ hitting coach, with guest stars Danny Glover (of Lethal Weapon fame), Baseball Hall of Famer and 1996 World Series Champ Wade Boggs and Michael Trucco (Fairly Legal/Battlestar Galactica), who plays a childhood idol of James Roday’s “psychic” detective Shawn Spencer. I did wonder how Spencer’s best friend Burton “Gus” Buster, embodied by Dule Hill, would figure into the investigation, but didn’t have long to wait.

Through the trees from the grassy slope of Queen Elizabeth Park that morning I could hear the extras, who filled section 1 of the reserved grandstand overlooking first base, shouting at a big white bird mascot Read More »BIG READ: PSYCH Plays Ball in Nat Bailey Stadium

BIG READ: OMC What a SUPERNATURAL Finale

Published May 26, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

I expect to see many OMC (Oh My Cas instead of Oh My God) tweets from Supernatural fans over the summer hiatus now that gravelly-voiced angel Castiel has promoted himself to God: “I’m your new God. A better one. So you will bow down and profess your love unto me your Lord or I shall destroy you.” The sixth season finale of the Vancouver-filmed horror series (which aired last Friday night in the U.S. and last night in Canada) ended with a slow pan in on the new God’s fanatical eyes.

A friend found a filming notice in late March for some season-finale scenes set to shoot downtown in a T-shaped alley between Seymour and Richards and around the Victorian Hotel on Homer. I put up the notice on #YVRshoots, which brought Supernatural fans out in droves to see their beloved Winchester brothers (Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki), the brothers’ father figure Bobby (Jim Beaver) and the brothers’ former angel ally Castiel (Misha Collins) in action.

Thirteen hours of filming that day ended up as a handful of scenes Read More »BIG READ: OMC What a SUPERNATURAL Finale

BIG READ: SANCTUARY Takes Amanda Tapping and its Green Screens Outside

Published May 20, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

I did not expect to be able to feature all-Canadian sci-fi success story Sanctuary in this series because it almost never goes on location, filming everything on greenscreen at its Burnaby soundstage, with virtually no physical sets whatsoever. And then a friend of a friend’s husband watched Sanctuary bring its greenscreens outside a week ago to film a bloodied and beat-up Amanda Tapping at a nearby office complex, masquerading as an airport on the Indian Ocean islands of Comoros.

When I arrived, I joked with Sanctuary crew about the number of green travelling mattes (used for special effects) they’d brought to a real location, including a stack of smaller sizes on a cart at the back of their studio, an immense street-width screen by the Departs door and one regular-sized screen at the Arrive door. This is where I photographed guest star Sandrine Holt and Sanctuary star Amanda Tapping already in character and about to turn around to the camera to meet guest stars Carlo Rota ( 24 and Little Mosque on the Prairie) and Martin Cummins (V and Shattered) on the steps above. Sanctuary had filmed explosions the day before at Mammoth studios and Tapping did not go unscathed: wardrobe had dressed her in an artfully ripped sweater and bandaged arm and makeup painted blood on her knees.

Who is Amanda Tapping? She is our Queen of Sci-fi after ten seasons in combat boots on Stargate SG-1 as scientist-soldier Samantha Carter, followed by more seasons as Carter on Stargate spinoffs and then coming-up-on-four seasons in stilettos on Sanctuary as immortal 160-something Dr. Helen Magnus from Victorian England, who rescues genetic mutants called Abnormals and harbours them in her stately gothic mansion overlooking the fictional Old City in the modern world.

What makes Sanctuary so unique is that this castle-like facility doesn’t exist, except as an empty set with some minimal props Read More »BIG READ: SANCTUARY Takes Amanda Tapping and its Green Screens Outside

BIG READ: STARGATE UNIVERSE (SGU) Meets its Destiny

Published May 12, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

I came to the Stargate TV franchise at the tail end of its incredible 14-year run in Vancouver. The third and final series Stargate Universe (SGU), set aboard an Ancient starship called the Destiny, reminded me of Battlestar Galactica, my favourite sci-fi series ever, also filmed here. Only the long, complex mythology of the long-running sci-fi Stargate saga occasionally defeated me.

To summarize: stargates are ring-shaped technology from the Ancients which create wormholes that allow travel between worlds cosmic distances away. In the 1994 MGM feature film Stargate, one is discovered on Earth and kept secret from the public by the U.S. military. Following up on the movie’s mammoth success, TV series Stargate SG-1 began filming in Vancouver in 1997 and ran for ten seasons. Partway through. a spinoff Stargate Atlantis (SGA) — set in the legendary city of Atlantis — launched in 2004 and ran for five seasons. It seemed like Stargate, already setting records for series longevity, would go on forever here when the third series Stargate Universe (SGU) started airing in 2009, but it was not to be.

Darker-edged but more critically-acclaimed Stargate Universe took home six Leo awards at last year’s annual celebration of film and television in British Columbia, winning Best Dramatic Series and Best Supporting Actress for Julia Benson. I took photos of Destiny crew Benson (Lt. James), Patrick Gilmore (Volker), Elyse Levesque (Chloe) and fan favourite Lou Diamond Phillips (Col. Telford) on the red carpet, without knowing what characters they played.

Not long after, I caught up with Stargate Universe’s first season and wondered if it would be possible to see them filming any of the second season on location in Vancouver. That was easier said than done, since 80% of SGU was filmed on studio sound stages, i.e. the Destiny, with the production only going on location to film rare planetary visits using the ship’s stargate or Earth visits using the communication stones (don’t ask).

Four months later, I found Stargate Universe filming a planetary visit at the old Terminal City Ironworks site (often used by film & TV productions) in East Vancouver. SGU filmed there for several days with a CGIed Stargate inside one of the buildings and virtually the entire cast there, with the exception of Robert Carlyle (Rush) and David Blue (Eli) left aboard the Destiny in studio. I photographed a green-screen on the roof to CGI a scene of Louis Ferreira (Col. Young) looking down on a deserted city: “It wasn’t abandoned. These people were wiped out.” I didn’t stick around once they finished the roof scene and moved inside, so I didn`t get to witness any of the cast`s crazy antics or shenanigans often involving cutup Ferreira, but I did see a happy and relaxed Jamil Walker Smith (Master Sgt. Greer) and Alaina Huffman (TJ), with her two young children, chatting outside their trailers with crew and fans while Ming-Na (Camille Wray) strolled around the block in the sun. SGU filmed other key scenes of this deserted city at the old Watchmen set in Burnaby. And these scenes ended up in the penultimate episode of the SGU series, in fact of the entire Stargate TV franchise.

More critical acclaim fell on Stargate Universe’s first season when the series earned multiple Gemini Award nominations last fall, including one for Best Dramatic Series. The entire cast and the creators flew to Toronto for an action-packed day on November 12th, with stops at Canada AM and then an InnerSPACE: SGU Special Read More »BIG READ: STARGATE UNIVERSE (SGU) Meets its Destiny

BIG READ: CHAOS Spies “Burn Noticed”

Published May 5, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

Since I last wrote about Chaos in early February, the dramedy about rogue spies made its debut on CBS/Global on April 1st — a Friday night at the tail end of the March break — to a small audience. What were CBS programmers thinking? It seemed inevitable that three episodes later, CBS would put the show on hiatus until the summer. The only surprising thing is that CBS and the studio allowed Chaos to finish filming its season here, wrapping a five-month shoot this past Tuesday.

CBS should take note that Chaos would be a smash hit if Vancouver fans had anything to do with it, judging by all the local tweets and fan photos of the “Right Bastards”, as the four lead actors – Freddy Rodriguez, Eric Close, James Murray and Tim Blake Nelson — call themselves. One fan arrived at a big shoot in Victory Square in early March wearing an “I Heart Eric Close” t-shirt and charmed Close into posing for a photo with her taken by her boyfriend. Close fans also got signed pages of that day’s script. Tim Blake Nelson signed a fan’s O Brother, Where Art Thou? CD (Blake Nelson did his own singing in the film). And later, the Chaos quartet posed together for yet another fan’s camera.

Chaos crew is good at taking parts of Vancouver and making them looking like almost anywhere else in the world, with the marked exception of the desert scenes of the California-filmed pilot. The Victory Square shoot seemed to be set in a fictional Soviet Union offshoot Rukovia and boasted an American embassy at Arch alley, a light armoured vehicle and Russian-type soldier extras with AK-47s on Cambie, as well as dozens of protester extras in the square itself. Other local areas have passed as Amsterdam, Paris, Turkey, the North Korea/China border and Hong Kong, using creative set dressing and CGI.

Two weeks later in mid-March, I found Freddy Rodriguez on location in “Hong Kong” outside a Chinatown market taking photos of himself outside and then of the four of them together inside with his iPhone in between scenes. He started tweeting these set photos on his Twitter account @FreddyRdriguez as part of CBS’s social media campaign for the show. Eric Close opened a Twitter account @EricRClose, as did James Murray under his character’s name @Op_Billy Collins. CBS even brought a Chaos spy-themed mobile social game to hipster, nerd and tri-Mohawk haven SXSW (South by Southwest, the annual music, film and interactive festival held in Austin, Texas), along with Freddy Rodriguez, Tim Blake Nelson and their executive producer Brett Ratner.

Chaos returned to Victory Square on March 21st to film a chase scene in Arch alley Read More »BIG READ: CHAOS Spies “Burn Noticed”

BIG READ: THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN 2’s Vampire Running in Stanley Park

Published April 28, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

Popular romantic-vampire movie franchise The Twilight Saga is famous for a certain kind of hysterical fandom known as Twi-hards. During the ten weeks that Breaking Dawn, Parts 1 and 2, have been filming in the Vancouver area, I did encounter some unbalanced Twi-hards on Twitter but never heard of them disrupting production here. It would be too difficult.

Director Bill Conroy, producers and crew know how to foil fans and paparazzi from photographing and spoiling any scenes of the long-awaited union of teenage vampire Edward Cullen and his human beloved Bella Swan, played by real-life couple Robert Pattison and Kristen Stewart (Robsten). Earlier this month, huge white tarpaulins covered the backyard of the Cullen house set near Squamish, where the wedding scenes were filmed for consistent lighting but also to prevent aerial spoilers And roadblocks and armed police (including RCMP) surrounded the set to prevent spoilers from the ground. Some joked that security for this fictional wedding rivalled that of the Royal Wedding in London tomorrow.

I steered clear of Breaking Dawn location shoots until a week ago Monday when the second unit set up in Stanley Park on the interior road between the Vancouver Aquarium and Brockton Oval to film Kristen Stewart as newly-made vampire Bella doing fast vampire-running stunts on a greenscreen treadmill towed by a camera truck for Breaking Dawn 2. When I arrived near the aquarium, set containment crew had already erected a huge black screen at that end of the closed road but I did manage to take a few photos from Brockton Oval of the treadmill before set containment crew started putting up several 12×12 black screens at that end. As I was walking away across a football field, a containment worker with a big black umbrella came out to discourage me from taking any more photos, even of set containment units.

So you can imagine how security tightened close to Kristen Stewart’s afternoon call time. A dozen containment workers started patrolling the woods on either side of the closed road to prevent papparazzi and fans from photographing Stewart as Bella. One speedy pap — Justin King — did manage to evade them long enough to photograph Stewart from behind running on the treadmill (plus Bella’s never-seen-before wedding ring) before being chased out. And back at Brockton Oval, crew allowed some fans, including Christine Kilpatrick (@OLTV who offers On Location tours of Twilight sights) to watch Stewart running in her blue vampire dress on the treadmill shielded by a containment unit worker with an umbrella, as long as they kept their cameras in their pockets. I cannot stress how unprecedented this was to get to see cast at work.

Before any of the cast arrived in Vancouver in late February (Robert Pattison and Kristen Stewart flew in by private jet and would have gone unpapped if they hadn’t had to go through customs where several photographers waited), it seemed there would be opportunities to see some filming in public places in downtown Vancouver. Read More »BIG READ: THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN 2’s Vampire Running in Stanley Park

BIG READ: FRINGE Wraps an Epic Third Season

Published April 14, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

Sci-fi series Fringe began in its third season filming an alternate universe with the Orpheum Theatre digitally encased in amber and seems to have ended it filming a post-apocalyptic future with the Orpheum Theatre exploded into rubble and cars burning on Granville Street. In between, it’s been one wild nine-month ride of inventive location shoots, other-worldly lighting and set-signage-to-puzzle-over (Manhatan is spelled with one “t” and The West Wing is in its 12th season in Fringe’s alternate universe).

Is it any wonder that Fringe location shoots are my favourite to photograph? I recently joked about how hard it is to quit Fringe shoots on Twitter but Fringe solved the problem last Sunday when it wrapped its third season with an extra day of shooting: shutting down the Deltaport Highway near Tsawwassen (for the second time) to film more daytime doomsday aftermath of explosions and burning cars. Tempting as that sounds, I was one long ferry ride away on Vancouver Island.

Fringe’s final four episodes of the season begin broadcasting this Friday night. And it’s fitting that the first is a homage to Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi mind-trip Inception in an episode entitled Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD). As I watched it being filmed in the T intersection of Hastings and Hornby in downtown Vancouver on March 1st, I remarked that it looked like one of Dr. Walter’s acid trips. Three hundred extras dressed in grey and black kept running around the Vancouver Club and down Hornby Street as if caught in a vortex while Joshua Jackson’s Peter Bishop (wearing dark sunglasses) and John Noble’s Dr. Walter Bishop ambled through, sometimes cracking up after a take. Later I photographed John Noble standing on a ladder and others captured him sitting on a bus. If it wasn’t obvious already, a Manhatan subway station sign gave it away: Drugs are hard to take.

Fringe had shut down the same T intersection on Sunday, February 20th to film master shots of the extras running. And a Fringe fan blogged on Tumblr (Un Canadian Errant) about watching Joshua Jackson and John Noble filming a scene with Noble driving a taxi outside Bentall 5. She called it “How I Hung Around the Set of Fringe and Didn’t Die of GLEE” and it’s a hilarious account of her adventures on set.

The tone changed to post-apocalyptic when Fringe returned to the T intersection at Hornby & Hastings on St. Patrick’s Day for a night shoot with Joshua Jackson seemingly playing a future version of his character Peter Bishop with a receding hairline, lying on the ground amidst burning cars and explosions, the first of several shoots where Fringe blew stuff up and strewed wreckage. I swear I heard Joshua Jackson yell “Holy Frak” after completing that scene in front of hundreds of spectators, some drunk and not sure what they were seeing.

I also watched Anna Torv seemingly play a future version of her character Olivia Dunham with her hair cut to shoulder length in a separate scene a few weeks later. One of the dangers Read More »BIG READ: FRINGE Wraps an Epic Third Season