Vancouver Island plays starring role in War for the Planet of the Apes

If you want to see with Joan Miller a movie that was filmed on Vancouver Island, you do so at your peril.

That’s what friends of the Vancouver Island North Film Commission head discovered last Saturday when she took her granddaughter to see War for the Planet of the Apes at Campbell River’s Showcase 5 cinemas.

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“I drove my friends crazy as I pointed out every location in the movie,” said Miller, who worked with filmmakers, Parks Canada and First Nations to find locations for the film around Ucluelet and Pacific Rim National Park two years ago.

The locations included lush forests, waterfalls, cliffs and Long Beach in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, where apes are seen riding horses at sunset.

“You’ll see us when you get to the part where three apes are out searching and they come across this old abandoned recreational camp,” Miller said.

That footage was shot at Onni Group’s Wynansea property, once designated as a high-end subdivision development with a golf course. Miller said its new owners are film-friendly — the property has been used for everything from commercials to the new Apes movie.

Producers find the expansive property attractive, she said, because it’s gated and private, allowing productions to film without risking that their sets will be revealed before a film’s release.

The production marked the second time producers have filmed on Vancouver Island for the Apes franchise. Lupin Falls Provincial Park in Campbell River was featured in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

The new movie charts the continuing adventures of Caesar (Andy Serkis), the king of the ape colony drawn into a fierce battle with the cold-hearted Colonel, played by Woody Harrelson.

The Ucluelet-based shoot, which had an estimated economic impact of $1.5 million, involved a massive construction effort requiring 30 local carpenters to create old RV cabins where the searchers find the human character Nova.

Parts of an old military beach-camp sequence that were filmed on Long Beach were paired with footage shot on a set built in Vancouver, Miller said.

Crews also built a long wooden ramp through a forest behind Ucluelet to accommodate the camera as it tracked horses riding through the coastal wilderness.

The forest sequence, in which three apes ride past old abandoned Coca-Cola trucks, was filmed on First Nations land near the Ucluelet/Tofino Highway 4 junction, Miller said.

Of the film’s 52 B.C. locations, only a few were publicly accessible. Much of the footage was shot on a soundstage at Mammoth Studios in Burnaby.

Other public locations included the Callaghan Valley near Whistler, Othello Tunnels in Hope’s Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park and Golden Ears Provincial Park.

Miller is so enthusiastic about the “screen tourism” potential such locally filmed projects can inspire, she has partnered with Tourism Vancouver and the Vancouver Film Commission to launch a contest called Home of the Apes.

The prize is a trip for two to Vancouver and the Island to explore locations used in War For the Planet of the Apes. (Enter at tourismvancouver.com/apes.)

Miller has long lobbied government and tourism agencies to support film-tourism opportunities that would encourage visitors to check out regions where films were made.

When Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson went to Tofino to shoot The Big Year, for instance, she saw it as an opportunity to attract flocks of birdwatchers.

“I’ve been doing this for 15 years,” said Miller, who is eager to capitalize locally on the allure of films shot in part up-Island, such as Man of Steel and Twilight: New Moon.

“We have to really get out there and show people what we have,” Miller said.

American viewers were given an opportunity to visit Campbell River through last year’s promotional partnership with History Channel to launch the second season of its hit survival series Alone, filmed on the north island.

Miller is now considering potential screen-tourism opportunities related to Chesapeake Shores, the Hallmark series filmed in Oceanside.

“People are already asking: ‘Where’s [Sally’s] café? After Season 2 airs, I think we’ll see the same kind of excitement they had in Steveston, where Once Upon a Time was filmed.”

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