Vancouver Never Plays Itself

Hi my name is Tony
and this is Every Frame a Painting. The first time I ever felt like a movie
lied to me, I was eight years old and it was
Homeward Bound 2: Lost in San Francisco. Because this isn’t San Francisco. –“What’s this? I thought
we were going someplace cool.” –“This is my favorite place
in the entire city.” This is Vancouver, where I grew up. If you watch enough TV or blockbusters,
then chances are you’ve seen my city disguised as Santa Barbara or as Seattle and even one time
as the Bronx. –“Something’s always happening here.” –“That’s New York for you.
You’ll get used to it.” But no matter how many
movies or TV shows are filmed here there’s always been one nagging problem. We never actually see the city. It’s
always pretending to be somewhere else. –“I’m in Vancouver downtown, Robson
Square on the set of The Interview…” –“This is where
Seth Rogen and James Franco…” –“…they’re supposed to be
in North Korea, so check it out.” –“You are fucking stupid and
you are fucking ignorant, Dave.” –“Mmgh!!
–“Ugh!” Vancouver is actually the third
biggest film city in North America. But we’re so hidden we have movies about
how we’re not featured in the movies. –“My specialty is disguising Vancouver
so it looks like an American city.” But how do you fake one city as
another without the audience noticing? Well first you need to know the city
and Vancouver is kind of a chameleon. In Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol,
it plays Seattle… and Eastern Europe… and even India, all within
a 15-minute drive of each other. Once you know the city, it’s actually
pretty simple to trick the audience. Most people don’t question
the establishing shot so you can just find the right building
and put a title card onscreen. The other option is to shoot 2nd unit
footage of another city and then cut to somewhere in Vancouver. This is especially common with Seattle
since a lot of the architecture there looks pretty similar to here. But to really convince the audience,
you’re gonna need a lot of help. Which brings us to the art department
who control all the little details… Like decals on the sides of cars American flags in the background new signs in front of buildings and this one’s my personal favorite –“I’m not gonna kiss them but
let’s just say I might give em some–” USA Today vending machines Because nothing says America
like USA Today. –“I read it every day for
news around the U.S.A.” The next step in faking a city is
deciding how to light and shoot it. One of the best ways to disguise Vancouver
is to film at night in shallow focus. This is to avoid pulling a
“Rumble in the Bronx” when they pointed the camera north
and you could clearly see the mountains. It’s kind of remarkable what
you can get from a location by changing the angle and the lighting This is the Orpheum Theatre,
on a tripod from a high angle. And here’s the exact same entryway
from a low-angle, handheld. Last, there’s the VFX team who
composite specific elements in the shot Sometimes it’s a landmark
like Alcatraz the TransAmerica Pyramid
or the Space Needle. But other times, they’ll change
almost the entire frame. This is Front Street, playing Japan. And here it is again
playing future Chicago. And it’s all these little details
that help us believe the illusion. So that a character can jump
out of a window in Vancouver… and in the space of one cut… end up in San Francisco. But what does it mean for a city
if it’s always playing somewhere else? Well for Vancouver, it means that
our onscreen image is kind of generic. What you’ve seen in the movies is
mostly downtown like the glass buildings
along Burrard Street. And the area around Gastown,
like this alley off of Cambie. The city is kind of like
one giant backlot a bunch of anonymous buildings
that can stand in for anywhere else. Even when the movies go somewhere unique
they have a way of typecasting it. For instance, BCIT’s Aerospace Campus
actually looks pretty cool. But it’s always turned into some
vaguely dystopian government facility. Everybody walks around
waving a special badge and they try to maintain order,
but of course they can’t. Vancouver’s locations are like
weirdly familiar character actors. For instance, the city’s
two biggest universities play opposite roles onscreen. SFU, with its concrete staircases,
never plays a university. It’s either a military base or some evil corporation. Meanwhile, UBC always plays a university that’s located everywhere else
but Canada. This year, it even played
Washington State University which means that Vancouver, B.C.
finally got to play… Vancouver, Washington For me, this is the single
worst moment in local film history. I will never forgive this. But if filmmaking today is global… why do so many of our stories
take place in the same four cities? Is it just so we can destroy
the same landmark over… and over… and over? By the way, take a guess where
all four of these films were shot. –“Who wants to go to Vancouver?” Sometimes, I wonder if local film crews
try to sneak the city into the shot As a form of protest. To Hollywood, Vancouver is
a location but not a setting. It’s a place with talent and scenery
and tax incentives but almost no film identity of its own. Just other identities it can borrow. But maybe there’s some hope. For 50 years, there’s been a
local movement of films and TV shows where Vancouver does play itself. –“We had no idea how to make a film.” –“We had no idea. We just
went ahead and made the film.” A lot of these films
aren’t widely distributed. But they offer
a completely different perspective. For me, they’re often a lot closer
to my own experiences… As a child of immigrants who
mostly explored the city on foot. –“Come on Dad!” –“Oh shit, my camera!” These movies treat Vancouver
not as a location but as a setting. And they capture the things
that are unique to us. So we need these images more than ever. Because films can preserve
a particular time and place. Not as a documentary but as
a fictional story about the real world. And the city deserves better than
the occasional joke about its weather –“Pack your winter coat.
We’re going to Canada’s warmest city.” So this is Vancouver. The third biggest
filmmaking town in North America. Onscreen, it is ubiquitous
and it is invisible. But offscreen, there are
other angles just waiting to be filmed. And I think it’s time we made a push
to create new images of ourselves. Because honestly, it’s our city. Who else is going to do it? Subtitles by the community


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