It was obvious one day in February 2011 that Something Was Going On in the gravel pit behind Pemberton Plateau, the little cluster of houses where I lived at the time, perched on a hill just north of town. A mass of trailers was parked in the pit; guys with headsets stood around waiting for something important. On my walk that day, I asked one of the movie-making minions what, exactly, they were filming. "I can't say," he replied, and then smirked, "it has something to do with wolves."
A year later, Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 hit screens. I confess to watching it. A little over half an hour in, all three stars of the series (Kristen Stewart, newly turned vampire; teen-idol vamp Robert Pattinson; and everyone's favourite werewolf Taylor Lautner) drove up my old street, Pinewood Drive, to the house at the top of the road. Apparently a little nest of vampires was living there. Mount Currie loomed large in the background.
There's something quite thrilling about seeing a familiar building, street or even mountain on the big screen. I don't know why. In theory it should detract from the so-called suspension of disbelief that underlies the whole movie experience — that's not Alaska, I should be screaming, that's Pemberton! It should be annoying when Seth Rogen stands on top of the granite slabs near Squamish's Chief, pretending he's up some mountain in China. It should pop the bubble of the Star Trek world when they start boulder-hopping through the Squamish forest, all the while pretending it's some alien planet called Altamid. But instead I feel a rush of something like pride: there's my little home, lit large, for all the world to see and admire.
Vancouver has been called Hollywood North since the 1970s, with filming north of the border getting a big boost after the 1988 Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement was signed. The cheap Canadian dollar, the varied landscape, the low population density and high availability of empty gravel parking lots makes B.C. a great place to film. In the Sea to Sky, we have an iconic highway for filming gorgeous car commercials; communities that can be dressed up to active little high streets, or dressed down to two-horse towns; not to mention towering granite slabs, old-growth forests, pebbled beaches and expanses of clean water. Not a bad little place to film.
The result has been a steady stream of movies and Hollywood stars parading through our communities, leaving a trail of encounters and stories in their wake.
Squamish is perhaps the most popular spot for filming, with dozens of movies under its belt. Movies filmed at least partly in Squamish include 2007's Jennifer Garner rom-com Catch and Release; the 2008 Ryan Reynolds bombed-drama Chaos Theory; the 2009 John Cusack natural disaster blockbuster 2012; Harry Potter imitator, 2010's Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief; the 2011 low-key Jack Black comedy The Big Year; 2014's sci-fi reboot Dawn of the Planet of the Apes; and the Oscar-winning 2015 Leonardo DiCaprio thriller The Revenant.
According to a March press release from the District of Squamish, the town hosted 61 film and TV productions in 2016 (up from 35 in 2015), injecting $1.4 million into the local economy. Athough more than a third of those were commercials, that still leaves a lot of movies.
All that action makes it easy to work in the film industry locally. Squamish Nation local Wayne Charles Baker makes his living as an actor, and has starred in films such as the 2007 made-for-TV Buried My Heart at Wounded Knee. His wife, Marlana Thompson Baker, has taken up doing the occasional extra spot; she spent about eight hours recently at Cheekye Ranch earning $70 and three seconds of screen time in the TV series Beyond. "It's a lot of waiting around, but it's fun," she says. "My husband said I'd be bored to death, so I brought beads and was beading on set."
Britannia Mine is a popular filming spot, says location manager Anne Goobie, who works in the area. That easily identifiable, stepped building was famously the hiding spot for secret files in episode 302 of the X-Files (1995), for example. Underground tunnels here are also frequently used in the ongoing post-apocalyptic science-fiction drama The 100 (after a nuclear disaster on Earth, humanity escapes to a space habitat, and eventually 100 juvenile prisoners are sent back down to the surface to see if it's habitable).
Another favourite location is Minaty Bay, just south of the Galileo Coffee Company. "It's idyllic," says location scout Joel Hurley. This is also a popular spot for The 100, and it's the setting for Rogen's SEAL-assisted escape from North Korea in the controversial 2014 film The Interview (after cheesy tabloid newscaster, James Franco, and producer Seth Rogen get invited to North Korea to interview fan Kim Jong-Un, the CIA recruits them to assassinate the dictator). The Interview also features scenes from an area called the Makin Lands and Murrin Construction's Watts Point Quarry near Britannia Beach. "We were looking for a non-descript North Korean look. Well, none of us know what that looks like anyway," laughs Hurley.
Paradise Valley and its outdoor school is popular for scenes requiring long, uninhabited roads through the forest or remote cabins.
While many movies are shot in the region, only a few have really recognizable scenes. The incredibly cheesy Ski School movies (1990, 1994) feature a lot of Whistler landmarks. Insomnia (2002) is clearly in Squamish. When a 17-year-old girl is murdered in the small fishing town of Nightmute, Alaska, local detective Hilary Swank greets expert Al Pacino, who arrives in a float plane on Howe Sound. Their hotel is clearly somewhere up against the granite walls of the Chief or the Smoke Bluffs. Another famous local scene is the 1996 comedy Happy Gilmore: Adam Sandler punches out Bob Barker on the Furry Creek golfcourse.
Not every local project goes smoothly. When Star Trek Beyond came to town in summer 2015, Goobie says it caused a lot of controversy with some rock climbers, who felt the crew was harming the landscape and unfairly restricting access to some of the trails.
"It was a very, very small vocal group that would not have been happy with any commercial activity in the park," says Goobie, who was surprised by the negative attention. "It was the boulderers. I had no idea how territorial they were."
The Star Trek crew, says Goobie, set up at Cacodemon Boulder at the base of the Chief. The crew had cameras rigged in the trees and used local climbers, including Perry Beckham, to get into the trees without using spikes or other harmful equipment. But climbers complained that the crew had cleaned chalk off some rocks with wire brushes, and shellaced some of the holds on at least one route. The film crew set up water stations for hikers, Goobie says, and "tried to give back, and leave the place better than we found it." But protesters took down the flags they had put up to direct crews along walking paths to the set, she says, and took shifts to watch the production and take notes. "I was very taken aback by the behaviour of some of the boulderers who were really abusive and acted like it was their park," says Beckham. "I helped create that park back in the '90s."
"We are locals; we're not going to destroy the forest, we enjoy them too. We're not outsiders hell-bent on destruction," says Goobie, who adds that the provincial park filming guidelines, which she says they followed, are really restrictive. "We trimmed some branches with permission from BC Parks," she notes; that kicked off a fresh round of protest, with some saying that at least one tree was felled.
"They've made it harder to film there. I don't think I'm ever going back to the boulders. It's not worth it," says Goobie at first. But then, on reflection, she changes her mind. "Actually, it's such a beautiful setting. I can't say I won't go back. It's pretty darn cool."
Squamish local Brian Vincent wrote a letter to the Chief newspaper saying it would have helped if film crews had consulted with climbers and gave everyone fore-warning of their activities.
Perhaps Goobie's favourite spot for filming is on top of the mountains; she helped to film parts of Fantastic Four (2005) up on the snowy mountaintops of Whistler and Blackcomb, and the sequel Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) up on Bridge Glacier. "It's logistically challenging up on a mountain. You try to bring a minimum of people, so it's a really fun shoot: everybody is doing everything, carting gear and pitching in," she says. "Not a bad way to get out of the office!"
The actual movie sets are usually quite guarded: screens are often put up to protect the privacy of the stars, notes Hurley, and the movies being made are signposted with code-words to protect the sanctity of the scripts. (These are usually very badly kept secrets, however. If you really want to know what a coded film sign is referring to, just Google it — someone somewhere has usually let it slip).
Celebrities, however, don't have protection 24-7, and still have to eat, drink coffee, and enjoy the great outdoors. In February 2017, David and Victoria (aka Posh Spice) Beckham were spotted up on the slopes, for example; David kept posting Instagram pictures of his trip, saying: "Don't usually post so many but it's so beautiful up here plus having a special time so before anyone else sells pictures of the family I wanted you guys to see them first." It was, he adds, his first ever time boarding or even on the slopes. Brooklyn, their 17-year-old son, apparently broke his collarbone after wiping out on his snowboard, according to his own Instagram posts.
Whitney Keyes used to work at the Starbucks in Squamish. During her two years there, from 2004 to 2006, she served and chatted with Hugh Jackman (Wolverine from the X-Men), Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind), Anthony Michael Hall (of Breakfast Club fame), and Amanda Bynes (teen actress from What I Like About You) to name a few. "Hugh Jackman was one of my favourites. He is a musical theatre nerd like myself," she laughs. "He is quite lovely." Chatting while making coffee was made easier by the fact that they had a friend in common, she adds: Daniel Cudmore, who plays Colossus in the X-Men series, was raised in Squamish and his father is a local doctor.
Pemberton resident Kate Buchanan has had several close encounters of the celebrity kind. Hiking at Joffre a couple of years ago, her five-month-old daughter got a smile from Channing Tatum, who has a daughter of about the same age. And in February this year, she was sitting at the Blackbird Bakery when the staff yelled out "breakfast sandwich for Kate!" She was confused, since she hadn't ordered one. Looking around she realized it was for another Kate: Winslet. "She is beautiful!" Buchanan says. "I was in Ivy (Esthetics Studio) a couple days later and heard she had visited there, too."
Winslet seems to have made quite a tour of the town: she was also served at Mile One restaurant by Mhairi Marcella. "I was talking to her kids (not knowing who they were) and when she spoke, I looked up and recognized her; I could barely talk then, felt like I was having a heart attack."
Winslet is married to Ned Rocknroll (yes, that's his legal name, though not his birth name), Richard Branson's nephew who works for the space-tourism company Virgin Galactic. Winslet and Rocknroll's son is named Bear Blaze (again, yes really), and she has two other children from previous relationships: Joe Alfie Winslet Mendes, and Mia Honey Threapleton. A quick search of the Internet Movie Database reveals that Winslet was probably in town filming The Mountain Betweeen Us, featuring a crashed airplane. Or maybe she was just on holiday.
It's difficult to explain why seeing a celebrity in person can be so discombobulating. They are, after all, only people. They're not even particularly impressive people: doctors, lawyers, teachers and firemen often do much harder, braver, and more meaningful work, but we don't dissolve into blather when we run into them in the coffee queue.
Perhaps being starstruck comes from feeling like you know someone intimately (you might have seen them naked or watched them bleed), while simultaneously knowing that you don't know them at all.
Researchers have studied what they call the parasocial interaction: the feeling of getting to know someone through a one-sided conversation, whether it be watching them on television or reading their Twitter feed. Originally this was thought to be an abnormality arising from a lack of time spent with real people, but others countered that this is just something normal that happens to everyone. If we spend time looking and listening to someone, even if they're acting, we start to feel like we know them. (There is, however, a real disorder called celebrity worship syndrome, which takes this to unhealthy levels.)
Before movies, people peeked out of their windows at the neighbours and gossiped about who was sleeping with whom. OK, we still do that. Movie stars are just another group of people we can gawk at, speculate about, and chat to each other about — without the problematic issues of accidentally stepping on a friend's feelings or feeling guilty about knowing about an affair. It is human nature to want to feel part of a group: celebrities and television shows give us something in common to bind us together.
So then what do you do when you actually meet this person who you feel you know? This is a minefield. It seems disingenuous to pretend you don't recognize them, and too cheesy to gush about how much you admire them. Perhaps the best thing to do is simply say: "Oh, hi, I love your work!" and then revert to normal small talk.
Or you can play it cool, like location manager Goobie. "I'm not a starstruck person," she says. "Sure, you see them [the stars], but I'm not trying to strike up a conversation." Maybe that's the classy way to go.
When Squamish Coun. Peter Kent was elected in 2014, he had a hard campaign promise to fulfill: lighting himself on fire.
Dismayed by poor voter turnout, the Squamish resident promised that if more people turned up at the polls, he'd perform the daring stunt. "It was a day that was just pissing rain," remembers Kent. "We had about 350 die-hards show up to watch."
Though the trick sounds extreme, it was old-school for Kent, who was Arnold Schwarzenegger's stunt double for 14 films over 13 years, performing feats that were deemed too dangerous for Schwarzenegger in movies such as Predator and Twins.
"I basically lied my way into it," admits Kent. After moving to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career in 1983, director James Cameron called him in for a stand-in role for The Terminator, just to help get the staging and lighting right. "He then asked if I had any stunt experience and I thought I might not get the stand-in job, so I just said yes." Next thing he knew he was diving backwards through a nightclub window. Things got worse (or better) from there. The bike jump scene in 1991's Terminator 2 landed him in the Hollywood Stuntmen's Hall of Fame.
Kent says he spent pretty much all his time, 24-7, with Arnie. "We read lines together. And I learned German to do that. I cooked for him, and I worked out with him every day," he remembers. "We had a lot of fun. Like anybody, he can also be an asshole," he laughs. It's difficult for a star not to get a big ego, he says.
Kent moved to Squamish in 2006, not for the town's movie connections but for his future kids. "I grew up in North Van and I wanted that same environment for my kid, and there's few spaces where that exists anymore," says Kent. "It's fun and outdoor adventure all day long. I could just run around on the river all day; I never needed a toy, just a stick." His twin boys have done their fair share of running amok in Squamish's forests.
Now 60 years old, Kent divides his time between local politics and stunt school: he's an instructor at Peter Kent's School of Hard Knocks in Vancouver. He's also writing on the side, and trying to gather funding for a Christmas movie about a young orphaned ballerina who, after being injured in a car crash, finds a new family through rehabilitation. He hopes to film that in Squamish. If he does, it will be the first project he will work on locally.
"The movies are growing exponentially here," says Kent. "The nice thing is we get a mixed bag of commercials, movies of the week, TV series, and every once in a while a big feature like Twilight. It's undeniable how the trickledown effect goes into everyone's pocket." Plus, there are a lot of people working on the movies in the corridor, from seamstresses to key grips. A lot of climbers turn their hand to rigging and special camera work, he adds.
Kent mostly stays out of movie crews' way, though. "I did this for 30 years. I don't need to get under their feet," he says. If you do run into a star in town, he advises, "Just say hi, and maybe ask for an autograph — but the fawning just doesn't go well."
Kent once ran into Robert Redford at the Squamish Starbucks. "He looked up from the paper and I said: 'Morning, Bob.' And he said: 'Morning.' And I said: 'Hope you have a nice day.' And that was it."
Deadpool 2 (code name Love Machine)
Deadpool, starring Ryan Reynolds as a disfigured, foul-mouthed Marvel anti-hero, was the second-highest grossing movie filmed in the Vancouver area. The sequel was scheduled to start shooting June 19.
A gender-reversed remake of the 1980s rom-com Overboard, in which a spoiled, wealthy Goldie Hawn falls from a yacht, suffers amnesia, and winds up performing wifely cooking and cleaning duties for carpenter Kurt Russell. In the new version, Anna Faris gets her revenge on (and presumably falls in love with) a spoiled, amnesiac Eugenio Derbez. Shooting began in Minaty Bay in May.
The Shack (in theatres now)
A man who suffered child abuse and the loss of his daughter receives an invitation from God to an abandoned cabin in the Oregon wilderness. Squamish lays claim to some of the filming of this current movie back in 2015, though it's unclear where (or if) the titular shack exists in reality.