You’ve heard of Hollywood, but you might not be aware of Hollywood North unless you’re already well-acquainted with the land of maple sugar. At least, not that you may know of.
Hollywood North has been a nickname for British Columbia’s Vancouver since the late 70’s, but the Canadian coastal city has been on the filmmaking map since the Edison Manufacturing Company shot The Cowpuncher’s Glove and The Ship’s Husband in 1910. Since then, its position on the west coast and slick incentives for Hollywood filmmakers have crafted an industry name for Vancouver.
Most would probably immediately think of The X-Files as their celluloid introduction to Vancouver, lending its soft grey skies, the notorious Skyland Mountain, and much more to the series’ iconographical impact. It’s certainly not the only one, though: from classics like The Neverending Story, Battlestar Galactica, Stargate (all of them), and 21 Jump Street, to modern hits like Deadpool, Supernatural, The 100, and Riverdale, hundreds of productions have made their home among the greens and greys of the perennially-lush city.
There are a few contributing factors to Vancouver’s popularity. A big one is, love it or hate it, the weather. As one of the wettest cities in Canada, Vancouver averages an annual precipitation of 1588mm in the downtown area, which can be the perfect atmosphere for those looking to craft a spooky or dramatic setting. This temperate rainforest climate also ensures that there’s greenery to be found year round, with plenty of dense forests stacked with enormous ferns, mosses, and other such plants that won’t immediately go grey the second the winter rolls around. In fact, Vancouver has some of the warmest winters in Canada, rarely dropping below freezing, which means less harsh conditions for filmmakers to work with. Many also state that the near-constant cloud cover makes it easier to adjust lighting when shooting outdoors.
So, that’s Canada then, right? Snow, maple syrup, hockey and the Vancouver film industry? Well, not exactly.
In 2017, CreativeBC – the independent agency that promotes and monitors BC’s creative industries – reported that the BC film industry had spent over 2.6 billion dollars this past fiscal year. That’s a good number, but it’s only the first we’re going to look at.
The city of Vancouver is 44.39 square miles (compared to, say, Los Angeles’s 502.76 sq miles). Okay, to be fair, when we say Vancouver, most people are referring to the Metro Vancouver Regional District, which is actually the county that Vancouver is in. It contains a collection of other cities, including North Vancouver, West Vancouver, Surrey, New Westminster, and Burnaby – the last of which is actually responsible for providing more studio space than even Vancouver itself.
The MVRD is closer to 1100 square miles, which seems a bit more reasonable for the business (even though Los Angeles county is still a good three thousand square miles more).
Now let’s look at the size of British Columbia.
From toe to tip, you’re looking at a province that is 364,764 square miles in size – two hundred thousand square miles larger than California, and with only 13% of California’s population.
That’s a lot of wild land.
Though the MVRD is responsible for a huge percentage of the province’s film and television production, it has also been a gateway of discovery to the rest of the province. People expect to see desolate snow wastes, or maybe they don’t expect anything at all, as the business of daily life doesn’t allot the brainspace for geographical speculation. When you’re there, though, you’re confronted by an impossibly massive, wild stretch of ancient and variable land. The cozy coast drenched in rain and coffee is friendly and familiar, but British Columbia is a place of many faces.
Did you see the A-Team movie back in 2010? You know the vast desert landscapes portrayed by the film, ranging in location from Mexico to Iraq? In reality that was shot in BC’s Thompson-Nicola Regional District, a county just a couple hours away from Vancouver. The climate there is semi-arid, and its rolling sage-dusted hills play a convincing part in desert-set films. The Andromeda Strain (2008), the disaster movie 2012 (2009), Monster Trucks (2016) and more have all made use of Kamloops and its neighbouring towns for their sun-baked backdrops.
You may have noticed that massive sliver of land hanging off the edge of BC on the map. That would be Vancouver Island, home to the BC capital of Victoria, a host of adorable sea critters and some great surfing waves. With its rocky shores on the outside, and untamed forested mountains on the inside, the island has a cinematic secret: it’s been host to movie shoots including Man of Steel, Godzilla (2014), and the entire Twilight franchise. Hallmark hit Chesapeake Shores, going into its second season, has also set up camp on the island, utilizing local hires for over half of the project’s production staff and immensely boosting the island’s economy.
Interest in Vancouver Island as a filming location has sparked the impending arrival of the Vancouver Island Film Studios. The 32,000 square foot facility is slated for an early 2018 opening outside of the town of Parksville.
In the opposite, Easterly direction, far from the coast and into the land of endless lakes and vineyards, lays the Okanagan Valley. Stretching from Salmon Arm, down through Kelowna and to the border town of Osoyoos, the region is known for its relaxed, outdoorsy lifestyle, and land fertile for both fruit and film. Since Clan of the Cave Bear brought attention to the region, many other productions have shown interest in the area, prompting the development of Kelowna’s Okanagan Film Studios – also set for completion in early 2018.
That’s one major production center, and three quickly-expanding ones… and that’s only in the south side of the province. Once you head north you’re bound to find even more of what British Columbia has in store, whether it’s endless miles of rugged coast, the ridges of dormant volcanoes and lava fields, old forts and mines or, some may even say, secret Sasquatch hideouts. It’s an entire province of a location scout’s dream – or a great excuse to vacation while you work. From the wet to dry, the coast to the peaks, British Columbia is a grab-bag of natural beauty deserving of respect and admiration, be it on-screen or in person. Vancouver is only the beginning.