Finding out that longtime Whistler company Blackcomb Aviation is firmly entrenched in the B.C. film industry is a bit like finding out that an old friend is a professional movie extra, dancing around in the background in some of Hollywood's biggest flicks.
First you think, "Ah, have you been in anything I've seen?" Then, as the list of credits gets longer, thoughts turn to "Oh! Wow. Really? REALLY?"
The company has worked on some major productions, either providing background helicopters or taking part in aerial filming. The A-Team, Elf, Eragon, The Fantastic Four, X-Men, The Bourne Legacy, the X-Files and dozens more make up their resumé. There has been a lot of studio money riding on their rotary blades over the years.
Steve Wright provides the long lens of history into how the growth of film has impacted his helicopter company and the aviation industry in general. Now vice president and aerial film coordinator for Blackcomb Aviation, he was there when Hollywood first came knocking on B.C.'s door.
Blackcomb Aviation has been doing film work since shortly after its founding in Whistler in 1989.
"I remember one of the first projects I worked on was in 1979 or 1980, just as the industry was getting going here. It was a TV series, ironically called Whistler.... We were using a helicopter with bungee cords hanging off it. We're doing all this stunt work that hasn't been done before," Wright recalled.
"Then we saw the industry go up, and at one point in the 80s we had helicopters on eight shows simultaneously."
And technologically speaking it has also flown higher, growing from ad hoc creative uses of paint shakers on plywood to stabilize cameras to "multi-gyro stabilized using GPS technology." Requiring professional qualifications and certifications in those being employed on aviation shoots became de rigueur with American companies like NBCUniversal or Disney, which led many in the industry to seek formal training.
Wright's colleague Steve Gray is the Whistler Base Manager and Blackcomb Aviation's principal film pilot. He said his work varies from shooting ski films and documentaries in the Whistler and Pemberton areas to shooting feature films throughout the Sea to Sky corridor and around the rest of B.C.
"It's a wide spectrum of work that we do," he said. "Our work seems to be very cyclical... we get sudden flurries of activity. For example, last year we got many more car commercials than we've gotten in the past. Kia, Ford, Dodge Ram, Lincoln — all in the last 12 months."
At the moment, he is in the middle of working on seasonally dependent ski and snowboard films.
"But coming in the spring we'll get into more feature films. This winter we worked on The Last Ship, a TV series," he said.