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Oh, the places she’s been

Most people have that one friend who just seems to be able to pull it all off. At a charity ball, she can be Jackie O. with a little black dress and a strand of pearls. When you all head out to watch a pal’s baseball game, she can throw together that jaunty Kate I’m-so-cute-it-almost-hurts Hudson brand of casual. And when the possé meets at said friend’s pad for a dinner party, she’s transformed yet again, phone-booth style, into a home-making maven that could rival any east-coast high-society hostess, cardigan flung over her shoulders and all. While underneath the cable-knit she really hasn’t changed (she’s still the gal you once unsuccessfully snorted beer with at college), on the outside… that girl can pull anything off. And rather than stab needles into a voodoo doll bearing her uncanny likeness, we simply settle for being in a constant state of awe.

Well, if cities were friends and friends were cities, that friend who can pull it all off would, of course be the Tri-Cities. Oh sure, a map of the area might reveal clusters of geographic shapes labeled with the words Port Moody, Port Coquitlam, Coquitlam, Belcarra, and Anmore. However, rent a movie or two this weekend or stumble upon a hit series while you’re flipping, and you might do a double-take at that same map. As more and more production companies make the decision to bring their scripts to life on Tri-Cities’ soil, more and more corners of the earth (sorry, make that galaxy) are successfully being represented here.

Like the friend who can be Jackie, Kate, or Martha depending on the occasion, the Tri-Cities has successfully pulled off its own seemingly effortless alter-identities: Afghanistan, Alaska, Arkansas, China, Germany, Kansas, Manhattan, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Seattle, and a non-earthly planet here and there.

So, what’s the deal? And most importantly, what’s the appeal? As Port Moody’s Film Production Coordinator, Devin Jain, explains: “The Tri-Cities offers a wide variety of locations within a small geographical area. We offer nature settings, country roads, small town settings, and modern buildings.” Elizabeth Keurvorst, Port Moody’s Manager of Cultural Services goes on to say that within the Tri-Cities there is tremendous opportunity for cross-over when it comes to locations. “The feature Alien vs. Predator Two is set to go to camera in both Port Moody and Port Coquitlam in the next couple weeks.” Evidence that production companies have access to a variety of environments within close proximity.

But the implication shouldn’t be that these crews are coming in from afar and infiltrating day-to-day life in the Tri-Cities. Coquitlam Film Coordinator, Mariette Pilon, laughs when she relays a story about being on set when someone drove by and yelled to the crew: “Go back to L.A!” The irony, she explains, is that she would estimate 99% of the people working on any given set in the Tri-Cities are locals. “There are roughly 1,500 Tri-Cities’ residents employed by the industry. And this doesn’t include the ones on contract: the actors, the extras, the techies. These are your neighbours. They buy homes here, they pay taxes here, they send their kids to school here. And then they get told to ‘Go back to L.A.’”

It’s not just the 1,500 people whose paycheques come directly from the studios who are positively impacted by the increase in locally-shot productions. On a large scale, Mariette sites the example of New Zealand. “For the first time, Agriculture is taking a backseat to Tourism as the country’s number one industry. And the reason can be attributed to a native filmmaker who returned to his own country to make his little movie, The Lord of the Rings.”

After the 9/11 attacks on New York’s World Trade Towers and subsequent drop in tourism, officials felt the best way to quash fears and to renew interest was to make the city visible. It was agreed the way to achieve this would be through film. As such, their post-9/11 policy is that city costs are waived for filmmaking. This means: no charge for the use of parks, the police force, or parking. “Can you imagine, free parking in New York City?” Mariette laughs. “In fact, this policy is what helped cement the creation of shows like CSI: New York.”

The idea of ‘place as celebrity’ isn’t relegated to pulsing urban centers like New York (although who hasn’t rushed to find the Seinfeld restaurant on a trip to Manhattan?). The only time Coquitlam ever ‘played’ Coquitlam was on a 1999 episode of Stargate SG1 during a dream sequence filmed at the Fire Hall on Mariner Way. The station continues to get Stargate-a-philes from as far away as England who stop by for a photo-op.

While the big picture economic impact is impressive albeit immeasurable, there’s also no denying the affect on the local merchant as well. Perhaps Jay Reyburn, owner of Port Moody’s Lone Cypress Gallery and Gallery Bistro on the oft-shot Clarke Street says it best: “When the director yells ‘Cut!’, the crew is in here buying art and sipping lattés.” He goes on to emphasize: “They have always been very fair to those of us whose business may be impacted by their sets.” And Jay should know; he’s seen a film crew or two. “This place has been a sheriff’s office in the movie Alaska, it’s been used in Dead Zone, the X-Files, you name it.” Should you rent the big-name-studded feature We Don’t Live Here Anymore starring Six-Feet-Under’s Peter Krause, Laura Dern, and Naomi Watts, set in Smalltown, USA, it’s Jay’s bistro, (prior to the days of Jay’s bistro) where the dysfunctional friends meet at lunch. Said to be the set for over two dozen movies and series, of Clarke Street Jay adds: “I’ve been told by location managers that there’s no street quite like it.”

If there’s no street quite like Clarke, perhaps there’s no hospital like Riverview. If you ever find yourself tasked with knowing what the most filmed location in Canada is, keep the answer “Riverview Hospital” in your back pocket. Film Liaison for the Ministry of Labour and Citizens’ Services (Accommodations and Real Estate Services), Barb Faerge explains: “The buildings of Riverview Hospital lend themselves to a lot of diversity. Brick exteriors like these are hard to find.” As such, those exteriors have portrayed a Chinese prison in Romeo Must Die, Washington D.C.-based edifices in the Morgan Freeman thriller Along Came a Spider, and Manhattan’s Central Park in the Holiday cult classic Elf.

But Riverview’s contribution to the bizz doesn’t stop at exteriors. As Barb says, “It’s a film-friendly location. Ample parking in an isolated environment. And a vast number of wide hallways and empty rooms.” In fact, Riverview Hospital is the setting for the upscale New York apartment in Elf, not to mention a host of police squad rooms, morgues, high-end labs, and most recently, an execution chamber. While the list of Riverview-set productions is long, some examples of features and series are Afghan Knights (Coquitlam stars as Afghanistan), Battlestar Galactica (Coquitlam stars as a Cylon hospital on a foreign planet), Blade (Coquitlam stars as both Chicago and Germany), and Just Cause (Coquitlam stars as the Florida Everglades).

And if there’s no street quite like Clarke and no hospital quite like Riverview, perhaps there’s no lake quite like Buntzen. “We have seen a significant increase in filming here. It’s such a varied setting,” says Buntzen Lake Recreation Area Warden, Norm Breault. “You can turn Buntzen Lake into any geographical area.” Which is basically what has been done. Even Lake Placid in the movie of the same name is actually, yup, Buntzen. And for all of you who can’t sleep when you think of the unfortunate demise of young Jason Voorhees at Camp Crystal Lake that fateful Friday the 13th decades ago, well, good luck sleeping now. Buntzen Lake is the infamous Crystal Lake in the Friday the 13th offshoot, Freddy vs. Jason. As well, in the soon-to-be-released Shooter, Mark Wahlberg and Danny Glover will convince audiences that Buntzen is somewhere in Pennsylvania. And for those who pen your social calendar around re-runs of the X-Files, you’ll likely feel a sentimental twinge knowing that the forested area in the opening sequence is none other than the wilderness of Buntzen. Of the lake’s ability to take on the role of so many locales, perhaps Norm’s autographed photo of a hockey-masked clad Jason says it best: “I’ll always call Buntzen Lake home,” signed: “Jason”. Hmmmm, if the prone-to-violence Jason himself buys Buntzen’s authenticity, who’s going to argue?

But it’s not just these usual suspects that are worth a swivel-neck for the chance to see an A-lister. The places ‘we have been’ are dotted Tri-Cities-wide. Port Moody’s Ioco Road’s charming Pleasantside Convenience was the backdrop to one of the memorable scenes in improv-guru Christopher Guest’s mockumentary Best In Show. (Who could forget North Carolina’s hound-loving Harlan Pepper as he boards his motor home in front of his ‘tackle shop’, en route to the esteemed Mayflower dog show?) Coquitlam’s City Hall has been Seattle law offices in The Accidental Witness, the Kansas State Legislature in The Amber Alert Story, and a Vancouver Courtroom in DaVinci’s Inquest. And Anmore’s Little Wood Lodge proprietor Leigh Ann Littlewood has also seen her fair share of filming. In an episode of The Twilight Zone, her cozy inn was an upscale Colorado home. And an obvious example of the Tri-Cities’ ability to pull off any look is in the story Leigh Ann relays about the German crew filming a fast-food ad. “The entire crew flew over from Germany to film the commercial here because they felt our lodge looked like an authentic German lodge. Then, the ad aired in Germany.”

In addition to being points of interest for when the Cape Breton cousins come into town, there is perhaps no one who enjoys the benefits of the Tri-Cities’ film connection like our local thespians. As actor Brad Williams explains, “When you’re on the set from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m., being five minutes from home is great. In a 72-hour period this week, I worked on one feature that took place outside Philadelphia, shot on Clarke Street, and one in a courtroom in ‘Anytown, USA’ shot at Riverview.” And, because of a woman like Mariette Pilon who liaises between the production companies and School District 43, students are also subjected to opportunities they would not typically have access to. The students of Port Moody’s Heritage Woods Secondary, for example, were involved in various capacities on the set of the teen movie John Tucker Must Die. “These kids got paid for their involvement,” says Mariette. “For some of them, their first paycheques are from 20th Century Fox! There is a misconception that Hollywood careers are unattainable. That there is a wall between ‘us’ and ‘them’. What I try to impart on the students is that with anything, the wall only exists in their minds. Once they dissolve it, dreams are more attainable.”

There is a certain irony that this region, a growing magnet to all things film-related, was once a retreat for icons of Old Hollywood. Port Coquitlam’s charming residential nook, the ultra-serene River Springs, today boasts streets called “Gable”, “Flynn”, and “Elizabeth” named for Clark, Errol, and Ms. Taylor, who would fly to a rural-at-the-time fishing lodge on the shore of the Upper Coquitlam River to escape the pressures of the industry. In 2005, that same shore was used as the site of a Kansas car crash in an episode of Smallville.

So while a map of the area might reveal clusters of geographic shapes labeled with the words Port Moody, Port Coquitlam, Coquitlam, Belcarra, and Anmore, the truth behind the Tri-Cities is that when it gets right down to it, in pearls or in jeans, we are among the fortunate few who can pull it all off.