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BIG READ: Now that’s a MAN OF STEEL in the new Superman

Published November 4, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

Director Zach Snyder is so secretive about his new Superman movie that crew must check their cell phones before entry into Mammoth Studios in Burnaby and paparazzi had to climb trees in Ucluelet last month to catch glimpses of the filming.

So it came as a shock last week to see the Man of Steel himself and shirtless to boot on a big green screen set on the North Shore. Henry Cavill, the first non-American to play the iconic role of Clark Kent/Superman, is best known to me for playing Charles Brandon on The Tudors. While Brandon is a handsome rake he didn’t look buffed-up like this so kudos to Cavill and his trainer Gym Jones. These aren’t CGIed muscles as some of the abs in Snyder’s 300 are rumoured to have been.

Man of Steel filmed in the small town of Plano and the big metropolis of Chicago, Illinois, this summer before heading to Vancouver for the autumn to film mainly in studio. Local paparazzi haunted Mammoth Studios in Burnaby in the early weeks but only Russell Crowe was spotted on a smoke break dressed in Kryptonian costume as Superman’s father Jor-El. Crowe’s presence in Vancouver is well-documented by his almost daily workout tweets, like this one on September 24th — “24 km bike out to Horseshoe Bay. This place is beautiful” — and by his surprise appearance on stage with his Aussie pal Keith Urban at the country star’s Rogers Arena concert.

So where was Henry Cavill? August casting calls in Ucluelet and Nanaimo foreshadowed that the Vancouver Island west coast town would play an Alaskan fishing village and that a Nanaimo dive hotel would play an Alaskan loggers bar. Read More »BIG READ: Now that’s a MAN OF STEEL in the new Superman

BIG READ: Teen Sitcom Mr. Young Live in Burnaby

Published October 28, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

Break-dancing kid, rapper Mom, a trio singing The Climb while building a girl pyramid, large group performing the Macarena and YMCA. That’s the audience at the Live Show of homegrown teen sitcom Mr. Young. So much talent in the audience and on set makes the Friday night taping of this multi-camera sitcom a fun destination for parents and kids. Plus every so often a well-known actor sits watching the show instead of being on it: V’s Christopher Shyer and family won a round of audience Monster Family Feud last Friday.

Made-in-Vancouver Mr. Young is a situation comedy about child prodigy Adam Young (Brendan Meyer) returning to his high school at the age of 14 to teach science to his best friend Derby (Gig Morton), his crush Echo (Matreya Fedor) and the dim-witted school bully Slab (Kurt Ostlund). Filming its second season in a massive studio behind the old Watchmen set in Burnaby, Mr. Young is a Canadian hit about to make it big in the U.S. Last month children’s entertainment giant Disney started airing YTV’s #1 show on its Disney XD channel and this past weekend premiered three episodes on the main Disney Channel as well as multiple airings on Disney XD. Seven episodes aired on Saturday alone.

Is Mr. Young on its way to becoming The Suite Life North? It has the pedigree: Mr. Young was created by Dan Signer, the writer/producer of Disney’s hit series The Suite Life on Deck. And it’s certainly laugh-out-loud funny to kids and some of their parents, although some of the adult-oriented jokes might have to be toned down for prospective Disney audiences. Each episode name is a variation on the premiere Mr. Young, from Mr. Roboto to last week’s Mr. Tickleshmooz — about Adam’s attempt to clone his crush’s hamster after it dies in his care. I laughed watching Brendan Meyer give the stiffened original hamster CPR and again when the cloned hamster grew to monstrous size filling the school hallway. Monster hamster turned out to be the fifteenth episode of the second season, which started taping in July and wraps in January of next year — six months for 26 half-hour episodes, including brief hiatuses for the young cast.

Last Friday’s Live Show for Mr. Cyclops began with the audience load-in at 4:15 p.m. of about 200 into a basketball-court-length grandstand, followed by a playback of Mr. Tickleschmootz, which I’d already seen on TV at home. Shooting of live scenes began about 5 p.m. and ended five hours later at 10 p.m. with a curtain call for the cast. That’s a long time but the audience’s energy never flagged thanks to wrangler/performer Dave Dimapalis, who kept the kids hopping between set-ups with games, contests, singing, dancing, you name-it. This man is great at his job.

Of the eight live scenes we watched, my favourite had to be Adam and Derby dressed as Men in Black with CIA (Cyclops Intelligence Agency) badges in their back pockets and black one-eye bands on their heads.

Note the yellow card in the photo above asking the audience not to “jump over the railing” at the teen stars. Read More »BIG READ: Teen Sitcom Mr. Young Live in Burnaby

#YVRShoots Series – Hurley’s on Alcatraz This Season

Published October 18, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

Every since I took a ferry to visit the infamous Alcatraz prison in San Francisco Bay to hear stories of its history, stroll Broadway in the main cell house and take a turn in solitary confinement, I’ve become a bit obsessed with all things Alcatraz. So you can imagine my anticipation for mega-producer JJ Abrams’s new sci-fi mystery island series about the present-day reappearance of 302 missing 1960s inhabitants of the Rock. Alcatraz is expected to air in early 2012 on FOX in the U.S.

Blonde Sarah Jones is the San Francisco police detective Rebecca Madsen investigating the reappearance of wardens and prisoners missing for 50 years from the notorious island prison and Jorge Garcia (Lost’s loveable Hurley) is the Alcatraz expert Dr. Diego “Doc” Soto she partners with to delve into its secret history and figure out where these prisoners have been and why they’re back. During each of the first season’s thirteen episodes this unlikely duo has to catch a different infamous criminal from America’s past, one that hasn’t aged since the 1960s and is now loose on the streets of Vancouver made to look like the streets of San Francisco.

On the Friday night ahead of the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, the takedown happened downtown outside the Royal Bank at Granville and West Hastings. Sarah Jones and Jorge Garcia drove up in a vintage Mustang to enter a building already surrounded by “picture” San Francisco police officers and a SWAT team. Cast and crew filmed through the night until dawn broke around 6 a.m. on Saturday, or as one of the actors dubbed it — “the longest night shoot ever”.

At the beginning of this year, JJ Abrams flew up here to oversee the filming of Alcatraz’s pilot, plus a hilarious scene on his other show Fringe (what Alcatraz crew jokingly calls its “evil sister”) of Jorge Garcia getting high with John Noble’s Dr. Walter Bishop. I tried to find Alcatraz on location during Abrams’s visit but kept showing up after they’d wrapped for the day — first in Queen Elizabeth Park where they filmed a standoff in a fake cemetary and then at a house in Shaughnessy where nobody remained except crew dismantling the set.

Luckily I caught one of the pivotal scenes of the pilot when Sarah Jones’s detective character meets Jorge Garcia’s Alcatraz expert and comic book enthusiast Dr. Diego “Doc” Soto at his store Doc’s Comics & Collectibles, Read More »#YVRShoots Series – Hurley’s on Alcatraz This Season

BIG READ: Here is Peter Bishop on FRINGE

Published October 14, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

Delayed-viewing Friday night hit Fringe recently changed its promotional tagline from “Where is Peter Bishop?” to “Here is Peter Bishop” followed by “Witness the Return Soon”. Hopefully this signals the on-screen return of one of the show’s trio of main characters — the ceased-to-exist Peter Bishop — as well as Joshua Jackson, the actor who plays him. Perhaps that on-screen return will be as soon as tonight’s episode, Subject 9, filmed partly at the Brixton Cafe in Chinatown and the Sherburn building in the West End.

After all, Joshua Jackson made his first on-set appearance on August 23rd at that Sherburn building location where Fringe filmed part of Subject 9, the fourth episode of season four. Jackson filmed inside for half an hour wearing a shirt with motion-capture tags so that ghostly images of Peter Bishop could be inserted into the first three episodes of the season. But it’s also possible that the Sherburn building will be the place where Peter Bishop finally breaks through into the altered Fringe timeline. I’m hoping it will be at fictional Reiden Lake instead — in actuality Rice Lake in North Vancouver where Fringe filmed a couple of weeks later — because Peter Bishop returning to existence at Reiden Lake would provide symmetry in Fringe mythology.

However it happens on screen, Peter Bishop has been back on the streets of Vancouver for almost two months. For example, Fringe fans got to see Joshua Jackson filming a scene today as Peter Bishop with Seth Gabel as original-universe Fringe Division agent Lincoln Lee outside the Orpheum Theatre, where so many pivotal Fringe events have taken place.

Fringe fans have missed Peter Bishop on screen but his disappearance in the season three finale last May did lead to one of the most amazing expressions of fan love I’ve ever seen in a video called #WhereisPeterBishop?, uploaded on YouTube ahead of the season four premiere on September 23rd. “The following footage was shot on location by Fringe fans around the world” — it says in the opening.

These fans photographed or video-taped handmade signs saying Where is Peter Bishop? in Canada, the U.S., Brazil, Israel, Kenya, France, Germany, Russia, Thailand, Australia and 27 other countries. Over 500 fan submissions in total. Fan video editor Zoey M. used as many she could, as well as photos taken by Fringe online promotion head Ari Margolis of cast John Noble, Jasika Nicole and He-Who-Does-Not-Exist Joshua Jackson holding up 4 signs representing season four.

I had met some of these international Fringe fans at the West End and Chinatown shoots in August Read More »BIG READ: Here is Peter Bishop on FRINGE

BIG READ: PSYCH’s James Roday & Dule Hill Wrap Season Six

Published October 3, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

Psych wrapped filming its sixteen episodes of season six last week in Vancouver and is set to debut the first one a week Wednesday on October 12th on the USA Network. A movie-style trailer of the season opener entitled Shawn Rescues Darth Vader reveals star James Roday wearing a tux in full James Bond-mode. Before it airs, some lucky Psych-os, as fans of the comedic-detective series are affectionately known, will attend this Thursday’s Psych Fan Appreciation Day at the historic Ziegfeld Theatre in New York to enjoy a popcorn-fueled advance screening of the season premiere with creator Steve Franks and the full cast in the audience.

Psych has been shooting season six here for six months but films out of order so although I wrote about and photographed scenes from the first filmed vampire-themed episode This Episode Sucks in March, it turned out not to be the season premiere. Similarly, the last filmed episode shot shot in Vancouver last week will not be the season finale but likely episode fourteen, Autopsy Turvy.

What’s Psych about? The season six trailer’s tagline sums it up: A City Under Seige/One Man Stands Prepared/To Predict and Serve. That one man would be James Roday, who plays a former Santa Barbara police sergeant’s son Shawn Spencer, who’s conned the police department into thinking he’s a psychic when he really uses his superior observational skills to solve crimes. Dule Hill is his best friend and police consultant partner Burton “Gus” Guster.

James Roday admitted this summer that Psych is a pretty wacky show ahead of Comic-Con in San Diego, where it is a popular attraction because of the way it crosses over into all sorts of subcultures like vampires, super heroes and Star Trek. Still, the long-running series is at its wackiest in its love for all things ’80s. They must have made an exception last week for guest star French Stewart from the classic ’90s comedy 3rd Rock From the Sun, as you can see below.

Since I watched and wrote about Psych filming its baseball-themed season-six episode Dead Man’s Curve Ball in Nat Bailey stadium this past June, the producers have hosted another parade of guest stars, but none bigger than Star Trek’s original Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner as the estranged father to junior Santa Barbara police detective and Shawn love interest Juliet, played by Maggie Lawson. Read More »BIG READ: PSYCH’s James Roday & Dule Hill Wrap Season Six

BIG READ – Vancouver as Vancouver at Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF)

Published September 29, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

It’s not often in this series that I get an opportunity to talk about movies where Vancouver plays itself but the Vancouver International Film Festival is showcasing 17 locally-filmed features in theatres over the next two weeks.

Four of the most-buzzed-about are Sisters & Brothers, the third in Carl Bessai’s trilogy about dysfunctional Vancouver families with real-life friends Cory Monteith and Dustin Milligan as brothers ; mockumentary Sunflower Hour about maladjusted puppeteers vying for a spot on a hit children’s show featuring real-life pals Patrick Gilmore and Ben Cotton; dramedy Everything & Everyone about a group of family and friends with Ryan Robbins’s naked torso in the teaser; and Donovan’s Echo with Danny Glover as a man who returns to his family home 30 years after a tragic accident in a movie produced by veteran Canadian actor Bruce Greenwood.

I met and chatted with some of the filmmakers and cast earlier this month at a VIFF media conference but didn’t get to see any of the filming here, mostly because the low budgets meant shooting is done mainly on weekends with a limited crew. The Sunflower Hour writer/producer/director Aaron Houston told me it took eight weekends, sixteen days of filming, seventeen locations and thirty-four actors to make his caustic and reportedly very funny mockumentary. Eveything & Everyone took only 12 days in Maple Ridge and Alouette Lake; and Donovan’s Echo filmed last November in Fort Langley. So I’ve made an exception in this series and used the VIFF handouts below to illustrate the films not my own photographs. From top to bottom: bearded Dustin Milligan and Cory Monteith as brothers in Sisters & Brothers; bad-ass Irish puppeteer Ben Cotton and his smoking puppet in Sunflower Hour; Gabrielle Rose and her newly-discovered grandson in Everything & Everyone; and Danny Glover in spooky blue on a bridge in Donovan’s Echo.

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Low budgets don’t have to limit these films when it comes to promotion though. Vancouver filmmakers are as savvy about social media as anyone in this city. The Sunflower Hour and Donovan’s Echo boast websites, YouTube trailers, facebook pages and Twitter accounts. Everything & Everyone has a teaser on You Tube and a facebook page. Sisters & Brothers has a facebook page and currently rules Twitter thanks to Glee star Cory Monteith’s 800,000+ Gleek followers. Almost everyone involved in that film has a Twitter account including @SisBroFilm and director @CarlBessai.

Sisters & Brothers, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 11th, Read More »BIG READ – Vancouver as Vancouver at Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF)

BIG READ: Matt Damon’s Spaceship Crashes on ELYSIUM – Updated

Published September 26, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

Updated: April 12, 2013.

Little is known about Vancouver writer and director Neill Blomkamp’s latest sci-fi project Elysium, which has been filming here for the past three months, except that it makes good use of our city’s visual effects expertise and stars a bald, buff Matt Damon as some kind of future being.

It’s not surprising about the visual effects if you know that Neill Blomkamp dabbled in 3D animation and design as a teen in South Africa and then studied it at the Vancouver Film School when his family moved here. After graduation, he worked as a 3D artist for two local visual effects companies, while branching into directing live-action shorts. He returned to his birthplace of Johannesburg to film his Oscar-nominated first feature District 9 about extra-terrestials (“Prawns”) kept in an Apartheid-like government camp. Despite his international success, Blomkamp is still based here and a proud booster of the local film industry. For example, the post-production work on Elysium will be done in Vancouver next year instead of being farmed out overseas like it usually is.

So what is Elysium about? That remains a mystery but “We’re Building the Future and We Need You” signs for a spaceship construction company Armadyne popped up at this year’s Comic-Con in San Diego, part of a viral campaign similar to the one done for District 9 at an earlier Comic-Con. Armadyne dot net is looking for mega-construction engineers, zero g welders, quantum networkers and experts in zero g coupling and multi-generational planning to build a massive space station that can house an entire colony of people — “Taking Mankind into the Future.” Last month I watched Elysium film scenes of a much smaller spaceship, with Matt Damon inside, crash-landing on a mansion facade and lush garden set at a vast gravel field at Kent and Boundary in Vancouver, often used by film crews for green and blue-screen filming. [This turned out to be the Elysium space station where the 1 per-centers of 2054 live.]

The blue rectangles are the spaceship, the fake palm trees have no fronds, and the small piles of sand seem to represent [a beach on Elysium]. Some might complain I’m undoing movie magic with photographs like these, but the contrastRead More »BIG READ: Matt Damon’s Spaceship Crashes on ELYSIUM – Updated

BIG READ: EUREKA Series Finale

Published September 19, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

The fourth season of life in the charmingly-eccentric and scientifically-dysfunctional town of Eureka ends with a big emotional cliffhanger tonight on the Syfy network in the U.S. We will have to wait three more weeks in Canada to start seeing the back half of season four on the SPACE channel. And the fifth and final season of Eureka won’t air until sometime next year in either country (apart from the animated Christmas episode this December). That’s why it feels so strange to write about or show anything of the Eureka series finale, which wrapped filming in Vancouver before the Labour Day weekend. Everything is a potential spoiler.

A month ago, Eureka crew transformed two blocks of Wellington Street in Chilliwack into the Main Street of their fictional town for the very last time: erecting the large Sheriff’s Office and Cafe Diem facades, adding the fake bronze statue/fountain of Archimedes and putting their own signage on the Teddy Bear Dreams clothing store (the owner told me Eureka star Salli Richardson-Whitfield bought several items there over the years). Production also set up running tabs at two downtown Chilliwack institutions: the Decade Coffee House and Sticky’s Candy, where a young salesgirl showed me the empty vats of ice cream consumed by Eureka crew in a day’s filming.

Cast and crew seemed just as verklempt at that last shoot in Chilliwack as the fans who’d come to say goodbye. I saw Salli Richardson-Whitfield hugging the Eureka stunt coordinator and Tembi Locke snapping photos with her camera phone of her TV husband Joe Morton. One of the Eureka producers brought his fancy DSLR to play set photographer, posing Colin Ferguson and Salli Richardson-Whitfield on a bench ahead of their big scene together. Director Matt Hastings couldn’t resist photobombing that beautifully-staged shot, which made everyone laugh and then cry.

Laughter and tears. Everything about that day in Chilliwack seemed bittersweet. Syfy had renewed and then cancelled Eureka earlier in August, belatedly coughing up enough money to film this last-minute wrap-up episode. Read More »BIG READ: EUREKA Series Finale

BIG READ: Cancer Dramedy 50/50 with Joseph Gordon-Levitt & Seth Rogen

Published September 5, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome.

Cancer dramedy 50/50, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the twenty-something cancer patient given 50/50 odds of survival and Vancouver’s own Seth Rogen as his horndog best friend, makes its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival next Monday — with wide release at the end of the month. Filmed here after the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, this small $8-million budget movie already has a reputation from advance screenings of charming people with laughs and then making them bawl like little children.

Seth Rogen developed and produced this buddy comedy, inspired by the true story of his comedy-writer friend Will Reiser’s extensive treatment after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer six years ago. In real life and fiction, the two pals dealt with it the only way they knew how — through humour. Yet Reiser’s script doesn’t shy away from the more gruesome aspects of cancer like hair loss, chemotherapy and prematurely facing one’s own mortality — both the movie poster and trailer feature a buzzed-about scene of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception) shaving his head.

Set in Seattle, the film also features Bryce Dallas Howard (in town this weekend to see her husband Seth Gabel of Fringe) as the girlfriend who can’t deal with her boyfriend’s cancer; Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air) as the therapist who grows into a relationship with her cancer patient; and Anjelica Huston as his worried mother. And if you’re looking for local actors, Matt Frewer and SGU: Stargate Universe alumni Julia Benson and Peter Kelamis are in some of the scenes.

I missed 50/50’s original five-week shoot in 2010 when the movie was called I’m with Cancer (later changed to Live With It and finally 50/50) but got to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt do reshoots of running scenes near Victory Square when he and Seth Rogen returned to the city for a day last November 1st.

The reshoots started that grey November day with Joseph Gordon-Levitt running along the seawall in Stanley Park near Lumberman’s Arch. Read More »BIG READ: Cancer Dramedy 50/50 with Joseph Gordon-Levitt & Seth Rogen

BIG READ: Where is Peter Bishop?

Published August 30, 3011 on Vancouver is Awesome

Friday night delayed-viewing hit Fringe did something unprecedented with its third season finale: it made Peter Bishop, one of its trio of main characters, cease to exist and asked Joshua Jackson, the actor who plays him, not to appear in the show for an unspecified amount of time in the fourth season filming now.

It appears much has changed since Peter Bishop averted the apocalyptic future of season three and created a bridge where Fringe’s two warring parallel universes could cross over and interact. Early episodes of season four are said to focus on what the lives of his beloved Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) and “father” Walter Bishop (John Noble) , as well as their alternate universe dopplegangers Fauxlivia (also Torv) and Walternate (also Noble), would be like without him. Lives that are not necessarily worse in the two universes, just different, except for Walter, who is a very sad man without Peter, as you can see in the photo below of Torv and Noble filming a scene of the two of them sitting on the back of an ambulance.

FOX began promoting the upcoming Fringe season with a sublimal teaser which spelled out “Where is Peter Bishop?” backwards and there have been several more teasers since, as well as promos for the aptly-named premiere, Neither Here Nor There, the latest of which appeared last night during a FOX commercial break. And of course the Twitter-savvy Fringe has its own hashtag #WhereisPeterBishop?

Filming of the season four opener began in mid-July and included a stint inside the old Terminal City Ironworks compound in east Vancouver where the two universes overlapped in last season’s twisty finale. Props crew were inside for several days but what they built and what Fringe was filming remains a secret as does almost everything about the premiere, except that it’s big (Observers spootted on set along with Hartford police car). I had speculated Joshua Jackson snuck into town for this on July 21st until I read a report that he’d been briefly hospitalized in Santa Monica that same Thursday for an allergic reaction.

Fringe, needing someone to fill the gap left by Peter Bishop, did upgrade Seth Gabel to series regular. Gabel, who plays Fringe Division agent Lincoln Lee in the alternate universe, reportedly will spend more time as original universe Lincoln Lee and his thick black glasses this season.Read More »BIG READ: Where is Peter Bishop?