Tours lift lid on spooky locales of 'Twilight' and highlight emerging film center
NORTH VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - Capilano River Regional Park is not the kind of place where you want to get stranded alone.
The trees are so dense and the clouds hang so low that any time of day can feel like the sun is about to set. And when the wind blows, it delivers a chill like a frosty breath down the back of your neck.
When it rains, which is often, the rubber soles of your sneakers sink and slide in the mud and swollen raindrops bounce down the evergreens and land on your forehead with a splash.
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I was standing in the spot where Edward breaks up with Bella at the beginning of the just-released "The Twilight Saga: New Moon," sending her into a deep depression. Soggy, cold and exhausted, I couldn't help but relate if my vampire boyfriend ditched me in these woods, I'd be pretty depressed, too.
One of multiple stops on a six-hour "New Moon" tour offered by On Location Tours Vancouver, my foray into the woods gave me a perspective on the film that most Twihards would kill for. But while "New Moon" is certainly the it movie of the moment, it's just one of dozens of major productions filmed every year in British Columbia.
The third-largest film production center in North America after Los Angeles and New York, British Columbia nicknamed "Hollywood North" brings in about a billion dollars a year thanks to the film industry. Some popular productions filmed at least in part in the Vancouver area include "2012," "Juno," "Fantastic Four," "The Day the Earth Stood Still," "Battlestar Galactica," "X-Files" (series and movies), "Fringe" and "Smallville."
No matter what brings you to Vancouver (the upcoming Olympic Games, perhaps?) chances are the film industry will play at least a minor role in your visit. Nearly all of the major tourist attractions have been featured in films and TV shows, and camera crews are such a part of everyday life that you may even become an extra by accident.
One morning as I was strolling past the shops and cafes of the trendy Gastown district - a must-see for Vancouver visitors - I noticed a bunch of oddly parked yellow cabs marked "NY Taxi." As I tried to figure out what was going on, a production assistant for the show "V" approached me.
"Excuse me, ma'am," he said. "The cameras are rolling, so you can keep walking, but you can't stand there."
A moment later I was walking by two of the actors as they filmed a kissing scene on the sidewalk. If you see a smiling woman in a blue sweater who looks like she just fell off the turnip truck in the background of an upcoming "V" episode, that's me.
"It's a feel-good industry for people," said Susan Croome, British Columbia film commissioner. "As a province, we're happy to see ourselves up on screen."
There's no denying as a leading lady, British Columbia is easy on the eyes. Between jagged mountains, crashing waves, thick forests, sprawling parks and snowy slopes, natural beauty comes, well, naturally. Throw in upscale bistros, quirky boutiques, thought-provoking galleries and family-friendly museums, and you're looking at a total package.
During my visit, the streets were buzzing with excitement about the 2010 Winter Games, with newspapers proclaiming "100 days and counting!" and shops filling their shelves with Olympic-themed coffee mugs, T-shirts, stuffed animals and trinkets.
But while the Games are certainly a source of pride for Vancouver, they also produce some logistical setbacks for the film commission and its potential clients.
"Filming on location in downtown Vancouver won't really be possible (during the Olympics)," Croome said. "We're working on ensuring that hotel rooms are available. February is a time of year where there isn't a lot of outside location shooting, so it's not such a bad time for the Olympics to happen, but it does present some challenges."
At its downtown office, the film commission provides photocopied lists of the movies and TV shows that are currently filming. But unlike Los Angeles, where paparazzi, double-decker tour buses and over-priced studio tours seem to be as much a part of the industry's anatomy as the productions themselves, Vancouver's dedication to film is understated.
On Location Tours Vancouver owner Christine Kilpatrick picked me up at my hotel in a blue minivan that had "Twilight" fan books tucked neatly in the seat pockets for our reading pleasure.
As she drove, Kilpatrick munched on a croissant and offered sugary tidbits about how actors Robert Pattinson (Edward Cullen), Kristen Stewart (Bella Swan) and Taylor Lautner (Jacob Black) spent their time when filming in Vancouver.
"Chill Winston," Kilpatrick said, pointing to a restaurant/bar in Gastown, "is where Kristen had her 19th birthday during the filming of "New Moon." It was a very small party."
With her knowledge of the cast and her "New Moon" tour rate of $169, I couldn't decide if Kilpatrick is an avid fan of the series or a savvy businesswoman. My suspicion is a little bit of both.
In addition to being entertaining, the tour, which included locations such as the Cullen house and a swimming pool where portions of Bella's cliff-jumping scene were shot, also provided a comprehensive view of Vancouver.
Having tracked all the filming locations both online and in person while the cast and crew were in town, Kilpatrick had lots of interesting stories about the fans who lined up when the cameras were rolling.
"Look at all the people that go to Graceland," Kilpatrick said. "When people come and stand at Bella's house or Jacob's house, to them, it's their Graceland. They want to make that connection and have that feeling that they're standing on the same earth, the same patch of dirt, as the cast members did to make the movie."
As Kilpatrick navigated the car toward our final stop, Jacob's house in nearby Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Cara Price, a 22-year-old fan from Sydney, Australia, who was also on the tour, got noticeably excited.
"Jacob is my favorite," Price said. "I just love ("Twilight"). I read the book and then another girl at my work borrowed the book, and then my books just went around to everyone. They're all big fans, too."
The rustic red house where Jacob famously transforms into a werewolf in the "New Moon" previews looked exactly how I pictured it, with two exceptions: Goats roamed the front yard, and the air reeked like a Red Lobster trash container in July.
Kilpatrick was quick to explain the fishy smell. She lead us to an adjacent creek where dozens of salmon were strewn across the rocky bottom, having returned from the ocean to spawn and die.
It seemed like a fair explanation, but as we drove away, I couldn't help wondering if maybe something else had killed them. Something lurking in the woods.
IF YOU GO
Two operators offer Twilight tours in the Vancouver area. They are:
- On Location Tours Vancouver: Six-hour "New Moon" tours are $169 for adults, $119 for children 12 and younger. Tours visit a number of locations used in the movie, including the Cullen house and Jacob Black's house. http://www.twilighttoursvancouver.ca
- Vancouver Set Tours: Offer a variety of "Twilight"-related tours. A four-hour "vampire set blast" is $199. http://www.vancouversettours.com