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BIG READ: Jensen Ackles Directs a North Shore SUPERNATURAL

Published July 15, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

Horror series Supernatural has an amazing international fan base: loyal, opinionated and insatiable for news of their beloved boys, the Winchester Brothers. So when word came that series star Jensen Ackles (Dean Winchester) would be directing season seven’s first episode filmed, everyone demanded that locations be found and photos taken. Filming of The CW series began last Wednesday but it took fans a few days to find their show at a Travel Lodge in North Vancouver last Friday night.

It was almost dusk by the time I arrived to catch a relaxed and happy director, Jensen Ackles, taking a break between motel room scenes to joke with one of the producers, various crew and his bodyguard/driver Clif out in the parking lot. He later looked down at his smart phone, chuckled and shared something funny: maybe some tweets from his series co-star Jared Padalecki (Sam Winchester), who joined Twitter during the hiatus and has proved to be a crazy-fun tweeter, posting a photo of himself eating a steak and teasing veteran Supernatural tweeters Misha Collins (@MishaCollins) and Jim Beaver (@JumbleJim) with tweets. There’s only one problem: Padalecki can’t get verified despite an instant base of 100,000+ followers.

Jensen Ackles clearly enjoys directing after trying it out last season — flying in a week or so early to prep for directing episode four of season six. This time he’s directing a Sam-centric episode three of season seven. If you don’t want to spoiled about it, even a little, stop reading now.

Read More »BIG READ: Jensen Ackles Directs a North Shore SUPERNATURAL

BIG READ: Tribute to Axed Series as New TV Season Begins

Published July 7, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

Filming of the American network Fall TV season got underway this week around North America. Here in Vancouver, Supernatural star Jensen Ackles began directing a season seven episode of the Friday night show. And crew of the other locally-filmed Friday-night-hit Fringe prepped for the start of filming season four next Thursday: scouting locations and rebuilding sets in studio. So this seems an appropriate time to pay tribute to the Vancouver-shot network series not returning to our TV screens in 2011-12.

Sci-fi series V, cancelled in June after two seasons on ABC, couldn’t have been a better series to watch filming here. I will miss it most of all the axed series for its many downtown shoots and couldn’t-be-nicer-to-the-public cast led by its lead actor Elizabeth Mitchell. On the same day last summer that I photographed Mitchell (below) as FBI agent Erica Evans filming at the Vancouver Art Gallery, a photo from an office tower above of dozens of V dead-body extras lying on the grass at Portal Park made the cover of one of our local commuter papers. It took me a couple of months to find her evil counterpart V Queen Anna, played by Morena Baccarin, outside of her studio spaceship and back on location. Last September, V series took over the atrium of the Vancouver Public Library for two full nights to film scenes of Baccarin, Mitchell and other cast members at a black-tie function (below) with a greenscreen wooden spaceship platform erected outside on the south plaza.

CBC Vancouver might miss V even more than me, since the series regularly rented a CBC studio for filming, put one of its V Ambassador Centres in a CBC outdoor corridor and filmed part of its series finale in the entrance lobby. Read More »BIG READ: Tribute to Axed Series as New TV Season Begins

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, Read More »BIG READ: Hip Hop Fairytale RAGS Goes Downtown

BIG READ: Twitter Riot over THE KILLING Finale

Published June 23, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome

For reasons I don’t need to explain, I’m no fan of riots, even Twitter riots which are benign with no cars overturned or set on fire. But a Twitter riot is still a mob and a frenzied one at that: spewing F-U tweets at Vancouver-filmed The Killing and capital letter advisories to anyone planning to watch, DON’T DO IT! SAVE YOURSELVES!!! There’s even a web site: f—thekilling.com which says “Dear The Killing: F— you!!! Sincerely, Everyone Who Used to Watch Your Show.”

What set if off? Here come the spoilers. The finale didn’t solve the central mystery and show’s marketed tagline: Who Killed Rosie Larsen? And in a surprise if clumsy twist, it turned detective Stephen Holder, one of the few likable characters, into a seeming villain, who betrayed lead detective Sarah Linden and set up Seattle mayoral candidate Darren Richmond for arrest.

AOL TV critic Maureen Ryan (@MoRyan) pronounced it the “worst finale ever” on Twitter. Really? Ever? She elaborated in her linked review, saying she hated it with the “burning intensity of 10,000 white-hot suns” and held first-time showrunner Veena Sud responsible for not telling viewers who killed Rosie Larsen, turning Holder into a villain and a “number of other stupidly melodramatic, preposterously manipulative things.” She then retroactively called the 13-episode series a “crapfest” and hoped the actors wouldn’t return for a second season. Later she tweeted that it would be smart if AMC withdrew its renewal. It’s stuff like this from many critics as well as countless furious ex-fans which prompted Show Patrol to tweet: “I’m laughing at over-the-top reactions to season finale of [The Killing] as if, um, Veena Sud killed someone. Breathe, folks, breathe.”

Full dislosure: I am not blind to the show’s weaknesses, but won’t join the braying mob. I remain a fan of The Killing, having spent too many hours in real rain watching it film here for four months (while imagining how much worse it was for lead actors Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman being hosed with fake rain from the show’s rain towers). There’s more than a little hometown pride involved, even though this is an American series set in Seattle.

Read More »BIG READ: Twitter Riot over THE KILLING Finale

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