Opinion: Vancouver is always seen in Hollywood productions, but never known

Mar 9 2023, 9:09 pm

As a child growing up in Vancouver, it was always a thrilling moment to spot places I knew and frequented in films and on television.

Sometimes it was very intimate, such as seeing the street I lived on or spotting the local school I attended behind the action, and other times it was just routine, like catching a glimpse of Harbour Centre in the background for the 100th time.

Even while living and travelling abroad, Vancouver and its surrounding areas are never too far away.

On a long-haul flight over the Pacific Ocean? Time to enjoy Deadpool laying down some carnage on the Georgia Viaduct. To be honest, the standstill traffic looked at home in Vancouver.

Checking into a hotel in Vegas? The first thing I spot on TV is a line of GMC vehicles driving up to Pitt Lake. Why would a convoy of vehicles be heading up a dead-end road, I don’t know.

Watching the coming attractions in a crowded movie theatre in Japan, that’s the Vancouver Convention Centre I spot, only now it has become OmniCorp’s Head Office in 2014’s RoboCop. I must say, Detroit in 2028 looks quite spectacular!

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The Sixth Day, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, destroys Library Square in downtown Vancouver. (Columbia Pictures)

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2014’s Robocop, starring Joel Kinnaman, at the Vancouver Convention Centre. (Columbia Pictures)

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The Adam Project, starring Ryan Reynolds and Ruffalo, at the Vancouver Convention Centre. (Netflix)

Indeed, it must be tiring for those around me to be continually informed of all the Vancouver landmarks appearing in their entertainment.

Common locations and sights seen in film and TV productions are Stanley Park, Lions Gate Bridge, BC Ferries, countless local golf courses such as Furry Creek and Swaneset Bay Resort, BC Place Stadium, Marine Building in all its art deco glory, One Wall Centre, Vancouver Public Library, SkyTrain, and more.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the film and television production industry in BC is approaching the $5 billion mark annually, having generated a record $4.8 billion dollars in 2021. This employs around 65,000 workers, largely within Metro Vancouver.

An active film set in downtown Vancouver. (Ian Ius/Daily Hive)

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50/50, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen, on the Stanley Park seawall. (Point Grey Pictures)

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X-Men: The Last Stand stunt scene at Sheraton One Wall Centre in downtown Vancouver. (20th Century Studios)

While it’s fun to see Vancouver plastered throughout so many movies and TV shows it can also feel hollow, for as Vancouverites know, Vancouver rarely appears as Vancouver.

Instead, it is filling in as Seattle, Portland, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, just to name a few.

Yes, Vancouver has played itself in smaller, often locally produced films. And yes, it occasionally is given a minor guest appearance or subtle reference within larger features.

Examples of these minor nods are Superbad name-dropping Granville Street and 2012 having a brief G8 political summit take place in “British Columbia,” but these are few and far between.

While this may seem trivial, there are indeed some very real cultural and economical consequences to this, beyond that of bruised egos.

The most basic of course is the loss of geographic notoriety. Many of Vancouver’s most beautiful settings and intriguing landmarks are erroneously sold to world audiences as American, European, and even at times Asian locations to explore.

Look at that beautiful pan shot of the Lions Gate Bridge and the North Shore! Seattle sure looks beautiful… Those are some gorgeous golf courses nestled between the sea and the mountains in San Francisco ā€” I really need to play on them myself one day!

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The stunning setting of Vancouver is regularly displayed as other cities in film. (Muddymari/Shutterstock)

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Deadpool 2 backdropped by a reimagined downtown Vancouver skyline. (20th Century Studios)

While such misdirected tourism and notoriety may lose Vancouver some potential economic activity, the most distressing issue is the cultural export.

Much of Vancouver’s cultural identity is seen as that of California or the US Pacific Northwest in popular media.

This transplantation of our local identity is a key component in creating the incorrect notion that Vancouver doesn’t have its own cultural flare. Once again, the film Superbad is a prime example of this. Both screenwriters, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, were born and raised in Vancouver. Everything about this film screams the experiences of being a youth in and around BC’s South Coast.

There is no reason why this film couldn’t have taken place in the Vancouver area. Not in the forefront screaming Vancouver’s name, but just in the details as in how Los Angeles, New York City, Denver, or any other American location is presented in most films. Instead of American cops, they could simply have Vancouver Police Department uniforms. Instead of American flags flying in the background, they could be Canadian flags.

Trailer Park Boys perfectly exemplifies this background cultural influence without becoming overbearing. The series doesn’t shove the fact that it takes place in Nova Scotia down the viewers’ throats; however, this setting is always subtly lurking in the background, as it naturally would.

The police are RCMP, they go to Halifax to do their big business, and the weather matches that experienced in Nova Scotia. Most importantly, despite taking place in Canada, Trailer Park Boys has become well-known and culturally relevant in many countries throughout the world.

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Ryan Reynolds filming Deadpool on the Georgia Viaduct in downtown Vancouver. (20th Century Studios)

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A shot from Deadpool on the Georgia Viaduct in downtown Vancouver, starring Ryan Reynolds. (20th Century Studios)

One can argue that creators such as Seth Rogen have to appeal to American sensitivities when starting out in Hollywood, but once established, they definitely have the clout and ability to return their storytelling to their home city.

This goes for other homegrown stars such as Michael J. Fox and Ryan Reynolds. While it is appreciated that some of these creators, such as Reynolds, do help bring production activities north to Vancouver, it would be wonderful if they threw more direct exposure Vancouver’s way by having their next major project actually take place within the City of Vancouver.

Toronto has also suffered a similar fate of rarely playing itself in film and television, but unlike Vancouver, Toronto appears to be breaking this trend recently.

The 2010 cult classic Scott Pilgrim vs. The World kept true to the source material and proudly took place in Toronto, and wasn’t changed to Chicago or Detroit. Last year we saw the release of Turning Red, a major Disney Pixar Animation Studios feature that also took place in Toronto with no apologies.

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Turning Red features the CN Tower in downtown Toronto. (Pixar/Disney)

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A scene from Turning Red with a distinct Toronto streetcar in the background. (Pixar/Disney)

Well, now it’s Vancouver’s turn. Now it’s time for established creators from Vancouver to help retain and build the city’s culture and identity.

Peter Jackson’s love and respect for his home country put New Zealand on the map like never before and embedded it deep within popular culture for years.

Maybe one day, Vancouver can be so lucky to have even a sliver of such care and devotion from an influential filmmaker.

Ian IusIan Ius

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