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Top 10 locations in B.C. where Hollywood crews love to make movies

Location manager Catou Kearney’s scouts scoured B.C. for three months to find the right forest for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Kearney, shooting location manager for the sci-fi blockbuster that opened Friday, knew exactly what she needed.
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The producers of X-Men 2 and X-Men 3 needed a location worthy of Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. They found what they wanted at Hatley Castle in Colwood.

Location manager Catou Kearney’s scouts scoured B.C. for three months to find the right forest for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Kearney, shooting location manager for the sci-fi blockbuster that opened Friday, knew exactly what she needed.

The forests for the latest Apes movie had to look older and wilder than the Burnaby woods used in the movie’s predecessor, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which was shot in B.C. in 2011. The new movie is set 10 years later than the first film.

Kearney’s scouts left no stump unturned in their quest to ape the apes’ world. They looked as far afield as Elk Falls and Strathcona Park on Vancouver Island.

When it came to potential movie sites, Kearney could afford to be fussy. B.C. is blessed with a variety of locations.

“Elk Falls and Strathcona are gorgeous places,” she says. “Our province has no shortage of beauty.”

Kearney found what she wanted. Capilano River Regional Park in North Vancouver and Golden Ears Provincial Park in Maple Ridge were chosen to double for fictional forests outside San Francisco.

B.C.’s array of buildings and landscapes make it a major magnet for foreign and homegrown filmmakers.

Vancouver alone earns a good living as an impersonator that easily steals the faces of dozens of communities, from Seattle to Mumbai.

“Our brand is a world of looks,” says Gordon Hardwick, director of industry development with Creative B.C., formerly the B.C. Film Commission.

“When it comes to locations, the only great challenge we have is [doubling as] the tropical rainforest. However, we’ve done that well, too, with some well-placed palm trees.”

Creative B.C. has a database of 20,000 locations to suit filmmakers’ needs, says Julie Bernard, the organization’s production services manager.

That’s enough to feed the up to 40 film and TV series that shoot in B.C. at any one time, Bernard says. Of the 20,000 locations, about 6,300 are private residences whose owners are open to having their homes used for filming, she adds.

B.C.’s locations can take their place alongside forests and minerals as one of the province’s lucrative resources. In 2012, filmmakers spent $1.22 billion on 294 productions in B.C., directly employing about 25,000 people.

The province’s industry, after hitting a slump in the first part of last year, has found its feet again. Thanks largely to brisk activity in TV series shooting here, the number of productions is steady compared with previous years, Hardwick says.

Film, TV and digital production activity for the city of Vancouver alone climbed 36 per cent between the first quarter of 2014 and the same period a year earlier, according to data from the city. Vancouver is North America’s fourth-largest film and TV production centre.

B.C. backs up its cosmetic appeal with financial incentives. Foreign filmmakers can take advantage of the provincial government’s production services tax credit. A cheaper Canadian dollar also helps make B.C. more attractive to U.S. filmmakers, Hardwick says. But without a good supply of potential locations, tax credits can’t carry the day when it comes to attracting film production. And B.C. is blessed with abundant and compelling locations, Hardwick says.

When creepy is called for, B.C. has cemeteries and an allegedly haunted hotel.

For upper-class cachet, we have West Vancouver mansions and an opulent castle in Victoria.

For films set in Afghanistan, the folks at the Thompson-Nicola Film Commission offer vast arid plains that can act as high Afghan desert in a jiffy.

Some of B.C.’s locations have been filmed so many times the province has ceded psychic ownership of them to audiences the world over.

And audiences’ fascination with where movies are made gives a boost to the province’s tourism industry. Fans of Twilight and The X-Files come to B.C. to see places where some of their favourite scenes have been shot, says Tourism Vancouver spokeswoman Amber Sessions.

“These locations are wonderful assets that Vancouver is lucky to have and a lot of other cities wish they had,” Sessions says. “It ties into our reputation as being a sexy, beautiful, exciting city.”

Filmmakers also love B.C. for being gross and unsexy. “We’ve shot in the sewage treatment plant on Annacis Island,” Hardwick says. “We’ve shot in abattoirs and horrid places.”

Shooting for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes started in April 2013 and lasted four weeks. A quarter of the film was shot on location in the Lower Mainland’s temperate rainforests and three-quarters in New Orleans.

It rained and rained during the Vancouver shoot. The rain made shooting colder for the crews but intensified the wild beauty the filmmakers wanted to put on screen.

“We didn’t go into this blindly,” Los Angeles-based Apes publicist Gregg Brilliant says of Vancouver’s moist climate. “We were really happy with what we got. I would come back to Vancouver to shoot in a heartbeat.”

Following are 10 of the most popular film and TV locations across B.C.

UBC and Chan Centre

UBC students may believe their campus is all about lectures, labs and learning but for filmmakers the university’s buildings and lands are highly valued locations.

The futuristic architecture of the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts has attracted more than 60 productions, ranging from films and TV series to music videos and commercials, since opening in 1997.

The Chan’s lobby has been used as a cafeteria and the all-black Telus studio as a sci-fi courtroom.

The round women’s restroom has been used in two productions. One of these, a feature called G Savior, used it as a kitchen.

Another, the Touching Evil television series, thoughtfully left behind severalpurple fabric benches that the Chan uses there to this day.

“They fit in,” says Chan rentals and programming manager Wendy Atkinson. “People using that washroom may not realize they’re from a film shoot.”

The Chan has appeared in productions such as Josie And The Pussycats, Catwoman, Fantastic Four: Rise of ohe Silver Surfer, Antitrust and the yet-to-be released Tomorrowland starring George Clooney.

Among other campus spots often enlisted by filmmakers are the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, Cecil Green Park House, Main Mall, Walter C. Koerner Library, The Chemistry Building and the Rose Garden.

Fans of X-Men Origins: Wolverine may also recognize the Buchanan Tower.

Vancouver’s Marine Building

The tower at Burrard and Hastings is widely regarded as one of the finest buildings in Vancouver.

“Its unique wedding cake ‘icing,’ topped by that vaguely Mayan tower, makes a dramatic and exciting backdrop as you look west down Hastings,” the late Vancouver historian Chuck Davis wrote.

“It is one of the great art deco buildings in the world.”

Built in 1930, the 97.8-metre Marine Building with its elaborate facade used to be the tallest building in the British Empire.

Its lavishly decorated lobby also featured the city’s fastest elevators — they could do 700 feet a minute at a time when 150 feet was the norm, Davis says.

The Marine Building’s grandeur has not been lost on filmmakers. Film and TV productions that have taken advantage of its character include Smallville, Fantastic Four, Blade: Trinity and Timecop.

Orpheum Theatre

The Orpheum knows the movie business from both ends: as presenter of finished films and a shooting location in its own right.

When it was built as a vaudeville house in 1927 for $1.25 million, the Orpheum was Canada’s largest theatre.

It soon moved into screening feature-length movies. The Famous Players movie chain wanted to convert the Orpheum into a multi-screen cinema in the 1970s but the city bought it in 1974 and restored it for live performances.

Currently home to the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, the Orpheum’s interior captures the hearts of producers with its extravagant colours and ornate architecture.

Psych, Fringe, The X-Files, Fantastic Four 2 and Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn are among the productions that have used the 2,780-seat Orpheum.

Hotel Europe

One of Vancouver’s most distinctive structures, the triangular “flatiron” style Hotel Europe in Gastown was built in 1908-09. It was among the first reinforced concrete buildings in the city and currently provides affordable housing.

One of the building’s biggest cinematic claims to fame is its role as the Seattle Historical Society in the 1980 supernatural thriller The Changeling, starring George C. Scott.

“Fittingly, given the nature of the film, there have been a number of reported encounters with ghosts and spirits by the building’s occupants over the years,” film teacher and writer Peter Lester says in the 2013 book World Film Locations: Vancouver.

The hotel’s Gastown neighbourhood, as well as bordering Strathcona and Chinatown, are among Vancouver’s busiest film locations.

Films shot in these areas include Big Eyes, Fringe, Catwoman, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Legends of ohe Fall, I, Robot and 21 Jump Street, the 1980s TV series that launched Johnny Depp’s career.

Simon Fraser Univesity

Architect Arthur Erickson had no way of knowing how popular SFU’s Burnaby Mountain campus would become among filmmakers when he designed it in the early 1960s. Erickson drew inspiration from the Acropolis in Athens and Italian hill towns but his futuristic, award-winning concept was all his own.

Movie producers soon came to recognize its adaptability as a location.

“SFU has morphed into CIA and FBI headquarters, a courthouse, a hospital, an advanced race’s planet, as well as various corporate headquarters and schools,” says Creative B.C. production services manager Julie Bernard.

The campus has appeared in movies such as Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn, Underworld Awakening, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Personal Effects, Two For The Money and Anti-Trust. The Sixth Day includes a half-dozen seconds where Arnold Schwarzenegger drives a car through the Academic Quadrangle pond and down and out of the Transportation Centre.

Among television series shot at SFU Burnaby Mountain are Masters of Science Fiction, Kyle XY, Battlestar Galactica, Stargate SG-1, Millennium and The X-Files.

Riverview Hospital

Riverview was called The Hospital for the Mind when it opened in 1913 with 340 male patients touched by mental illness. A hundred years later, the complex has proved a blessing for filmmakers seeking multiple locations.

The Coquitlam mental health complex’s 346 acres and buildings provide one-stop shopping for productions, says Creative BC’s Julie Bernard. Riverview’s buildings can double as hospitals, police stations, FBI offices, cafeterias, reception areas and apartments. The Crease clinic, East Lawn, West Lawn and North Lawn buildings are often used in movies and TV series.

Among the productions filmed here are Elysium, Rise of the Planet of ohe Apes, Fringe, The Killing, Falling Skies, Psych and Supernatural.

“Not including movie studios, Riverview Hospital’s grounds are the most filmed-at site in all of Canada,” Bernard says. “That has been an amazing property for us for a long time.”

Riverview has been mostly empty since the hospital was shut down in 2012. The site’s future has yet to be decided.

Thompson-Nicola region

The relatively warm and dry region of interior B.C., three hours drive northeast of Vancouver, has long appealed to film and TV producers in search of deserts and grasslands.

Producers who insist a desert can’t look authentic without prickly pear cactus will find plenty of the spiny plant here.

They will also find hoodoos, dramatic rock formations, sagebrush, rolling hills, box canyons, lakes, sculpted valleys, clay cliffs and gullies. Kamloops and Merritt are among the region’s 11 municipalities.

The Ashcroft Slough, one of the Thompson-Nicola’s most popular shooting locations, has doubled for Ethiopia, Mexico, Afghanistan, Tibet, Texas and Wyoming.

Among the dozens of productions that have taken advantage of the region’s arid good looks are Lost Treasure of the Grand Canyon, Miss Texas, Battlestar Galactica, Shana — The Wolf’s Music, The A-Team, Shooter and The Andromeda Strain.

Terminal City Ironworks 

Sprawling over a whole city block just off Hastings Street, Terminal City is a turn-of-the-century iron foundry that provides 100,000 square feet of multi-use warehouse space.

“The site provides an excellent setting for productions looking for that gritty, industrial look,” Creative BC’s Bernard says.

“Over the years, hundreds of productions have been shot at Terminal City.”

The foundry has been vacant for years. It’s now used exclusively by B.C.’s film industry.

Just a few of the productions to have made use of Terminal City are Fringe, Smallville, Catwoman, Underworld, Dark Angel and X-Men.

Britannia Mine Museum 

Rearing above the Sea-to-Sky Highway like an eight-tiered temple to mining gods, the Britannia Mine Museum has become a magnet for film and television producers.

The mining operation opened in 1904 and by 1929 was the biggest copper producer in the British Empire.

Just as its enormous copper horde drew miners from around the world, the mine’s massive and slightly eerie industrial grace attracts global filmmakers.

The mine’s legacy includes 210 kilometres of dark tunnels carved through mountains and a 20-storey mountainside mill.

Productions ranging from Scooby Doo Two and The X-Files to Once Upon A Time, Continuum, Fantastic Four, Smallville and Dark Angel have mined the museum’s rich visual reserves.


Hatley Castle

For X-Men 2 and X-Men 3, producers needed a location worthy of Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.

They found a sufficiently distinguished setting at Hatley Castle in Victoria.

Hatley, which sits on the grounds of Hatley Park and Royal Roads University, was built in 1908 for Vancouver Island coal baron James Dunsmuir. The conservatory was at one time filled with white orchids imported from India.

The orchids are gone but many of the other luxurious touches endure. As a result, filmmakers craving an “old world” feel are drawn as much to Hatley’s sumptuous interior as they are to its turreted exterior.

The 40-room castle features oak- and rosewood-panelled rooms, teak floors and hand-carved staircases.

The castle is now the administrative centre of Royal Roads University.

For more than 75 years, film crews and photographers have flocked to the castle and its surrounding gardens. Hatley Park has been a location for more than 33 major movies, according to the university.