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BIG READ: THE KILLING a “Damp, Good Mystery”

Published April 8, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

I would like to take credit for calling The Killing a “damp, good mystery” but Entertainment Weekly magazine coined that gem after the show’s two-hour premiere on AMC last Sunday. Filming in Vancouver for the past four months, the 13-part series about the murder of a teenage girl uses local rain and rain-making machines for atmosphere like horror series Supernatural uses local valley fog and smoke machines. I stood mouth agape on a wet, miserable day in early January watching The Killing crew set up a rain tower in Gastown outside their “Seattle Police Station” thinking: isn’t our rain good enough for TV? Some TV critics went so far as to list “heavy rain” as a co-star in the Seattle-set drama and you can see a damp, grey sheen overlaying the visuals.

A close adaptation of a hit Danish TV series, The Killing stars Mireille Enos as Sarah Linden, a pale, stoic, russett-haired homicide detective so consumed by the murder investigation she barely ever changes her sweater (although when I first photographed her near the Dunsmuir viaducts she had changed it from the Scandinavian sweater of the premiere to a serviceable grey wool one).

Mireille Enos’s detective character is not one for talking but she’s at peace with herself and provides a steady, calm focus Read More »BIG READ: THE KILLING a “Damp, Good Mystery”

BIG READ: PSYCH “Sucks” in Season Six

Published March 31, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

Did you spot a dozen or so vampires entering the blood-red interior of Barcelona night club on Granville Street this past Tuesday night? Maybe it’s not that surprising to see vampires on the streets of Vancouver with two big features – The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn and Underworld 4 – filming here but the vampires at Barcelona this week belonged to TV series Psych and are featured in the third episode of the sixth season, the aptly-titled “This Episode Sucks”.

Psych star James Roday teased fans late last year with the prospect of a vampire-themed episode for the long-running and popular USA Network detective series, promising that the show would do something different than the “spoofs on spoofs on spoofs” already out there. I don’t know if he planned to direct the episode back then but he is directing it now and getting ribbed for it by his co-stars.

Psych is the story of Shawn Spencer, played by James Roday, who cons the Santa Barbara police department into believing he`s a psychic but really uses his superior observational skills to solve crimes. He partners up with his best friend Burton “Gus” Guster, played by Dulé Hill (The West Wing) as police consultants. Lots of jokes and pranks later, the American comedy-drama is filming its sixth season.

A vampire episode is not that much of a departure for a dramedy like Psych, which paid tribute to cult noir series Twin Peaks last fall in an episode where the detectives investigated a murder of a high school student in fictional Dual Spires, with Twin Peak cast Sheryl Lee, Sherilyn Fenn, Ray Wise and Dana Ashbrook all guest starring.

For the first filmed episode of the sixth season, Psych producers searched for an actress already known for playing a vampire in a film or TV series. Then in a role reversal, they cast Kristy Swanson, who staked many a vampire in the movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as their lead suspect in a vampire-style killing. Vampire-related actor Corey Feldman from Lost Boys is on board too in one of the guest star roles, either as a vampire club bartender or as an offbeat rocker. The other vampire-related guest actor is not yet known.

Late last week, Dulé Hill tweeted a photo of a Psych family reunion, along with special guest star Kristy Swanson as Marlowe Viccellio. She reportedly meets and charms Timothy Ormundson’s Read More »BIG READ: PSYCH “Sucks” in Season Six

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. Read More »BIG READ: HELLCATS Wrap First Season at The Centre

BIG READ: Battlestar Galactica Reunion at TV Pilot 17th Precinct

Published March 17, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

“Frak yes! It’s a BSG reunion” read the New York Post headline of a PopWrap post illustrated with my photos of three of Battlestar Galactica’s cast filming a new NBC TV pilot 17th Precinct on location in Yaletown earlier this week. Why all the excitement? It’s the first major project from BSG showrunner Ronald D. Moore which reunites him with main cast – Apollo (Jamie Bamber ), Baltar (James Callis) and Cylon Six (Tricia Helfer) – from the cult sci-fi series plus one of its best directors, Michael Rymer.

As a long time fan of the Vancouver-shot BSG, I joked with friends that 17th Precinct needs Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff ) in the cast to be a true reunion for me, but she will not be in the mix. She has a new project in the offing. BSG’s Chief/Cylon (Aaron Douglas) tweeted her: “Take me with you? Jamie, James and Tricia are ganging up with Ron. I think it is high time you and I gang up somewhere else.”

17th Precinct is not the average cops and robbers procedural. Think cops and warlocks instead. It’s a Harry-Potter-for-grownups show about detectives Caolan (Jamie Bamber) and John (James Callis) investigating magical occurrences in the fictional town of Excelsior, with the help of the sorceress Morgana (Tricia Helfer). I spotted the strange steering-wheel-less unmarked car driven by the magical detectives and the Public Necromancer Van at a location shoot in the West End late last week. Police extras loaded a body into the rear of the van.

Most of that shoot happened inside The Kensington, the mustard-yellow Italianate heritage building on Nicola Street, with some exterior scenes scheduled at night until the high winds of last Thursday caused havoc. The craft tent blew off the street, damaging a fridge, and all exterior scenes got pushed to Friday evening. That night shoot introduced other cast members: the venerable Stockard Channing as robbery detective Mira and her partner, the relative newbie Matt Long (Peggy fired his ass on Mad Men), doing a scene at the staged crime scene. Later I spotted Eamonn Walker, who plays Dectective Chief Inspector Wilder Blanks, pile into the cast van after filming wrapped for the week.

On Monday 17th Precinct crew re-established themselves for a two-day shoot in Yaletown off Hamilton Street. I arrived to see Read More »BIG READ: Battlestar Galactica Reunion at TV Pilot 17th Precinct

BIG READ: UNDERWORLD AWAKENING at Simon Fraser University

Published March 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

I am happy to confirm the Kate Beckinsale catsuit is back and in 3D for the fourth film in the Underworld series. I didn’t get to see Kate Beckinsale in it but her Selene stunt double wore it when she jumped off the top floor of the Simon Fraser University Library last Friday night onto a moving truck — twice.

Underworld Awakening marks a return to the story of vampire Selene who, according to a leaked plot synopsis, finds out she has a teenage “vampire/Lycan hybrid daughter” and together they must stop bio-tech company Antigen from “creating super Lycans that will kill them all”. For those who missed the earlier Selene films and the gory Underworld: Return of the Lycans, a Lycan is an evolved werewolf who can shift between wolf and human form. In other words, Underworld is a movie franchise about vampires and werewolves that predates the Twilight craze and films partly in Vancouver.

Students at Simon Fraser University spotted WORLD production signs late last week. One fortunate enough to be enrolled in a librarian program there had a prime seat to watch an Underworld 4 stunt woman do some camera test jumps off the library’s top floor a week ago. Although the stunt crew had planned to do three jumps last Thursday, a roll of thunder claps delayed the third one, the stunt woman told me. Then a sudden snow squall on Burnaby Mountain forced the crew to pack up entirely to return the next day for the last camera test. At nightfall Friday, Underworld 4 lit up the east side of the grey concrete library with klieg lights and the blonde stuntwoman put on Selena’s black cat suit and a black wig to do two jumps for the camera, one after the other, to a burst of applause from the crew and a few bystanders.

Despite rumours, Kate Beckinsale herself did not appear at SFU. She had left Vancouver to celebrate her director husband Les Wiseman (who is producing but not directing the fourth film)’s birthday. That didn’t stop two male students from yelling “Kate” Read More »BIG READ: UNDERWORLD AWAKENING at Simon Fraser University

BIG READ: Above MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL on Granville Island

Published March 4, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

Where has Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol been? Sightings of four-year-old Suri Cruise, the adorable fashionista/bookworm daughter of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, have been more plentiful than sightings of TANK production signs in January and February. I wondered if there would be any more big location shoots before the film wrapped this month. And then this week, Mission Impossible 4 (MI-4) lit up west False Creek at night like it’s never been lit before (not even during the Vancouver 2010 Olympics) as a backdrop to Tom Cruise and his co-stars at Granville Market.

Word spread that MI-4 would be filming on Granville Island within hours of the Vancouver Arts Club tweeting a photo on February 16th of Tom Cruise visiting a set under construction on the waterfront nearby. I checked its progress and it turned out to be Pier 47 (not Pier 67) in Seattle. Crew later added King County Water Taxi signs and two prop water taxis which docked during scenes.

MI-4’s dazzling display of light is what made this three-night shoot so extraordinary to see. Half a dozen giant film lights illuminated the area on Tuesday and Wednesday nights until 6 a.m. the next morning, including one placed on a barge floating in the middle of False Creek. Additional flat lights shone down from trucks parked on the Granville Bridge and other flat lights shone up on the bridge girders from trucks parked underneath. One irate, sleepless woman living in one of the condominium towers took her complaints directly to the site where MI4 stored the flat lights during the day. Maybe she got some relief Thursday night, the third and final night of the shoot, although I saw the MI-4 site glow from my home in south False Creek well after midnight.

The MI-4 crew appears to have done all of this – the Seattle set, dozens of flat and other film lights and hundreds of extras — as a backdrop mainly for scenes of Tom Cruise and his co-star Jeremy Renner (Oscar nominee for Hurt Locker and The Town) drinking Dosequis beer Read More »BIG READ: Above MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL on Granville Island

BIG READ: Jeffrey Dean Morgan in THE POSSESSION (formerly Dibbuk Box)

Published February 24 , 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

I had no idea what I was unleashing when I tweeted the location for horror flick Dibbuk Box’s first day of filming in Vancouver on January 31st. But then, I had no idea that its easy-going star Jeffrey Dean Morgan was such a magnet for the kind of female fans who would steal his discarded cigarette butts on location (funny and true).

The Seattle native became a fan favourite when he played three beloved and now dead TV characters almost simultaneously: Izzy’s dying Denny on Grey’s Anatomy; dead-after-sporadic-appearances John Winchester, father of Dean and Sam in Supernatural; and Nancy’s dead husband on Weeds. Dean Morgan went on to star in several films including the Vancouver-shot and Zack-Snyder-directed adaption of the iconic graphic novel Watchmen but he didn’t leave his Vancouver TV sons behind. When in town he still socializes with Supernatural’s Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki, telling me happily after Dibbuk Box wrapped its first day of shooting that he’d just talked to “Jensen” on the phone and made plans to “see my boys”.

Sam Raimi`s Ghost House Pictures developed Dibbuk Box, a “based on true events” story of the terrible, inexplicable things happening to people who buy this haunted European antique on eBay. On the first day of shooting, I managed to photograph the pivotal scene where the young girl played by Natasha Calis runs to the car with the box she purchased at the yard sale, filmed at a corner ranch house near Lanagara College. She will refuse to give it up and so force her divorced parents – Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgewick (the Emmy-winning star of The Closer) – to work past their hostility over the next 29 days to save their youngest daughter from the malicious, ancient spirit which inhabits it.

When I next found Dibbuk Box a week later on location at a corner arts-and-crafts house in Kerrisdale, I witnessed plenty of hostility to get through. While their daughters wait in the car, Kyra Sedgewick chases after Jeffrey Dean Morgan (carrying suitcases) in her slippers to hector him with a list of instructions on how to care for them, such as no pizza and vegan diets. Her new boyfriend played by Grant Show (best known for Melrose Place and his porn-star mustache on cancelled-too-soon 70s series Swingtown) scraps with Dean Morgan on the lawn on the second day of filming at this house. Read More »BIG READ: Jeffrey Dean Morgan in THE POSSESSION (formerly Dibbuk Box)

BIG READ: Bayshore Hotel Plays Host to ENDGAME’s Recluse Sleuth

Published  February 17, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

I have been mildly chastised for my lack of Canadian content in this feature. Fortunately I found the about-to-launch Canadian drama series Endgame filming its season finale last week outside the Westin Bayshore Hotel and caught a rare glimpse of Newfoundland native Shawn Doyle as the brilliant chess-master-turned-detective Arkady Balagan.

How rare? Well, Balagan is a bare-footed, Howard-Hughes-esque wreck who spends virtually the entire season holed up in his luxury Vancouver hotel wearing his bathrobe after the traumatic murder of his fiancé. He uses a rag tag group of hotel staffers and chess fans to help him solve crimes. One surely memorable who-done-it? episode features a rock star and his pet polar bear (Endgame cast an actual polar bear for the scenes, one-upping Lost’s fake one).

I can’t say anything about how or why Balagan ends up outside the hotel in the season finale except to say I noticed Shawn Doyle’s lack of footwear in this exterior scene (brrrr) and his shock of rusty blonde hair. Two days before arriving in Vancouver late last summer, the brown-haired actor reportedly decided to dye his hair for the role, rendering him unrecognizable to me as the same actor from the Canadian newsmagazine drama The Eleventh Hour and from extended parts on American shows like 24, Desperate Housewives and Big Love. Doyle also adopted a Russian accent of sorts for the brainiac sleuth.

Endgame began filming its 13-episode season late last summer and although some spotted EG production signs around town it didn’t have a big profile except among Bayshore hotel guests, who sometimes caught sight of the strangely-garbed Doyle with a film crew following. It’s not the first time an eccentric, unkempt genius has made the Bayshore his home. American millionaire Howard Hughes’s extended stay in 1972 is part of Vancouver lore, but producers didn’t make the connection when they chose the Bayshore as Balagan’s fictional Huxley Hotel.

I arrived in time last week to see Endgame filming a near-miss hit-and-run of Pippa Ventura, Read More »BIG READ: Bayshore Hotel Plays Host to ENDGAME’s Recluse Sleuth

BIG READ: SUPERNATURAL’s Jared and Jensen Let Loose on Lonsdale

Published February 10, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

Supernatural`s vociferous fan base is both a blessing and a curse. Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki share a bodyguard named Clif who helps keep the fans at bay and block photographers` shots of the actors (recently Clif took to wearing a panda toque which is now featuring in many photos). And when filming at urban locales, producers often structure scenes so that only one lead is visible at a time (in very short exterior scenes) and even then, is often standing with his back to the fans and their cameras.

So I was surprised this week to be tipped that “Jensen and Jared” would be filming many outdoor scenes for episode 6.18 near lower Lonsdale in North Vancouver. And it turned out to be true. Some fans standing near the pair`s parked “star car” on West 1st Street even snagged photos of themselves with Jensen Ackles. Both actors remained on the open street during takes and seemed remarkably loose on location: entertaining the crew with stories, perhaps of their much talked-about Superbowl party with their TV father Jeffrey Dean Morgan at the Red Card Sports Bar last Sunday.

If you’ve watched any of the series’ six seasons then you`ll know that most Supernatural scenes take place at night with a spooky fog swirling about. The first night shoot I photographed last September proved to be classic Supernatural: from half a block away through dense smoke on Hamilton Street I captured Padalecki’s Sam pretending to chop off a vampire’s head with a huge knife in several extremely grainy photos. Crew had transformed an old bank building nearby into a Vampire Nest Read More »BIG READ: SUPERNATURAL’s Jared and Jensen Let Loose on Lonsdale

BIG READ: CHAOS Survives the Vancouver Rainocalypse

Published February 3, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

Another spy series began filming in Vancouver in December just as almost every other production took its annual holiday hiatus. First sighted in and around the Vancouver Rowing Club — with a big American flag flying on it — at mid-month, Chaos is a comic look at a group of rogue CIA spies in the so-called Clandestine Administration and Oversight Services. Producers took advantage of a less congested downtown later that month to film in Gastown two days before Christmas Eve and in the Vancouver Club (with a Russian beater parked outside) the day before New Year’s Eve.

This CBS TV series, set to premiere on April 1st, stars Freddy Rodriguez (Six Feet Under and Ugly Betty), as unwitting department mole Rick Martinez; Eric Close (Without a Trace) as paranoid tactician Michael Dorset; Tim Blake Nelson (who really sang on O Brother, Where Art Thou?) as “human weapon” Casey Malick; and James Murray (Primeval) as ex-British Secret Services agent Billy Collins. I photographed three of the spy foursome walking through Shaughnessy at a location shoot last week in and around Hycroft, the University Women’s Club of Vancouver dressed as the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

I even got confused for a moment by a brilliant piece of set dressing at the gate, Read More »BIG READ: CHAOS Survives the Vancouver Rainocalypse