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On Location — Vancouver Vaults Up from MacGyver to Movies

On Location -- Vancouver Vaults Up from MacGyver to Movies


by Jason Margolis and Maureen Prentice

[EDITORS NOTE: Today, indieWIRE explores the film community in
Vancouver, Canada. If you are a reader who lives or works in an area with a
burgeoning film scene and you would like to share information about your scene in a future On Location article, please email us at features@indiewire.com.]

The independent film community has been quietly staking it’s claim in
one of North America’s most active motion picture production centers:
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. With sixteen dramatic series, 5
studio feature films, and approximately ten TV movies, the massive
amount of mainstream production offers a viable alternative to the
packed landscape of Los Angeles, but where exactly does Vancouver’s
indie industry stand?

Film production was uncommon on Canada’s west coast until Robert Altman
chose the area to shoot “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” in 1971. Establishing
a small of degree of infrastructure, Vancouver soon hosted a few
Canadian television series (“The Beachcombers”) and the occasional
television movie. However, things began to heat up in the mid-Eighties
when American producers realized the value of shooting in a region with
such diverse terrain; the terrific exchange rate on the Canadian dollar
didn’t hurt either. A thriving service industry grew as Vancouver
became known as the home of “MacGyver,” “21 Jump Street,” and features
like “The Accused” and “Bird On A Wire.” And gracing movie screens this
summer are the made in Vancouver films “Disturbing Behavior” and “Air
Bud 2: Golden Receiver

However, the development of a continuously-active, indigenous, film
scene is a relatively recent occurrence in Vancouver. If local
filmmakers haven’t cut their teeth on the American shows, they’ve
studied at one of the three big schools, The University of British
Columbia, Simon Fraser University and the Vancouver Film School. Other
training is gleaned from the countless smaller film and acting
institutes, screenwriting development centers such as the acclaimed
Praxis Institute, the production co-operatives Cineworks and Video In,
and funding institutions like BC Film and Telefilm Canada.

The real proof that Vancouver’s indie community has made headway is the
fact that two major distributors: Red Sky Entertainment and Lions Gate
, recently set up headquarters here.

“Why Vancouver?” asks Mary Pat Gleeson of Red Sky. “Look around. It is
a city that encourages creative thinking. It is a city full of talent
and energy. If we can foster the kind of atmosphere that encourages
risk-taking and a more aggressive approach to marketing and global
sales, I think Vancouver and British Columbia will be able to maintain
its role as the vanguard of the Canadian independent film industry.”

“I think there is a sense that indie filmmaking is possible in
Vancouver. There are support systems in place that can and do help
emerging talent. I’m very impressed by the synergy that seems to
flourish because of the keen interest in filmmakers as well as Praxis,
BC Film, the National Screen Institute, and by the Vancouver office of

The level of support activities available to foster community spirit is
mind-boggling at times. These activities include workshops, readings,
screenings, fundraisers, and networking opportunities. In fact, it
could be said that there is almost too much of a good thing, often times
several events will vie for the community’s attention on a particular

For instance, on July 16th, choices included Spincycle Productions’
popular Cold Reading Series at the Anza Club, a weekly night club event
organized by a group called Vancouver Film West held at Richard’s On
Richards, another weekly film industry social mixer at Mescalero’s
restaurant, and an Indie Film Schmooze Cruise, which at $25 a ticket
still managed to pack the boat to barely legal sailing capacity with a
mix of over four hundred industry veterans, wannabes, and media. A few
nights later, on July 21st, there were functions organized by both the
Celluloid Social Club, a monthly screening of independent features and
shorts in a bar atmosphere, and the Zeus Group, a weekly gathering for
actors and crew wanting to break into the industry.

Everyone on the scene has their favorite place to hang out. “The
Celluloid Social Club was started as sort of a creative haven amidst all
the schmoozing parties, ” explains co-founder, Jeanne Harco. “A place
where you could come to actually enjoy the fruits of each other’s labor:
to actually watch films. We encourage meeting and mixing amongst
producers, actors, etc. and there are always some very substantially
‘important’ people in our audience, but we don’t announce their presence
– we just let the process develop naturally and hope that the films
themselves inspire people to come together and help build each other’s
careers. So far it’s been a huge success!”

Harco sums up the local scene. “It’s a great place to be because the
energy is so alive! The scene here was created when hundreds of
professional, experienced young creative-types suddenly decided to
escape the doldrums of service industry jobs on American shows like
‘MacGyver’ and more recently,’ The X-Files.’ They decided to take the
knowledge and experience they’d gained and put it to work for
themselves.” Harco cites the success of directors John Pozer (“The
Grocer’s Wife
“), Mina Shum (“Double Happiness“), Lynne Stopkewich
(“Kissed“), and Bruce Sweeney (“Dirty“) as well as Bruce McDonald’s
locally produced “Hard Core Logo” as major factors in the independent
community’s development. “Many of us were a part of one of those films
and it brought us together in a creative way which has allowed
subsequent projects to blossom.”

The best way to check out the local scene is on the city’s very own
indie web site Mediastate at www.mediastate.com. Chris Shachtay
created the site to help unify the community. “While we do have a lot
of things going on (in Vancouver), it seems to be quite fragmented.
Everyone and their dog has a prodco and is going in opposite directions
instead of forging ahead with new alliances”.

“The main reason why Mediastate was setup was to give the independent
community a window to see the entire scene in motion. My goal is to
collect all the information that is floating around and deposit it in
one location.” Mediastate has even begun organizing its own events, such
as the recent Pitch Off ’98, a competition that judged pitching style
rather than script content to amusing result.

With a new crop of events on the horizon, it’s a wonder how filmmakers
even have time to write their scripts, let alone jump through the hoops
required to get their project funded. Banking on the success of the
first sail, another Indie Film Cruise is scheduled for September 4th.
The Celluloid Social Club will present short films by Bruce McDonald on
August 12th at the Anza Club, and the fast-approaching 17th Vancouver
International Film Festival (viff.org) is always an invigorating
event for the local independent community. This year’s line-up has not
been announced yet, but the dates are set: September 25 – October 11.

[Jason Margolis and Maureen Prentice are partners in Vancouver’s Jump
Communications Inc., a company with several music videos and short films
to its credit.]

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