James Bartlett explains why Canada is one of the most popular locations for Hollywood and the important role The X-Files played.
It’s not Chicago, New Orleans or Boston that gets the bronze medal behind Los Angeles and New York. No, the third largest film centre in North America is Vancouver, an area that’s so popular with the studios that it’s often called “Hollywood North.”
Like Ireland, Canada has benefited greatly from offering generous tax breaks, and the often-low Canadian dollar (and Euro) exchange rates can make shooting there a simple matter of economics.
More than that though, both have seen an upswing in new jobs, crew skills, production and studio facilities, and of course all that money that’s being spent there instead of somewhere else.
The so-called “Game of Thrones” effect has famously been almost life-changing for Belfast and Northern Ireland, and the global reach of Irish filmmaking took a symbiotic step last year when the inaugural Vancouver Irish Film Festival was held in late November.
Its symbolic parent, the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) celebrated its 37th anniversary and this year the Irish films screening included Extra Ordinary.
Perhaps surprisingly, it was nearly 110 years ago when the Edison Manufacturing Company first took their cumbersome cameras to British Columbia and filmed The Cowpuncher’s Glove and The Ship’s Husband. Since then, Vancouver and its surrounding areas have stood in for almost everywhere in the world.
Like Dublin and Belfast, celebrities also find Vancouver more relaxed and low-stress, and there’s a long list of Canadian natives who have hit the big time (Ryan Reynolds, Seth Rogen, Jim Carrey, Ryan Gosling, Mike Myers, Rachel McAdams, Michael J. Fox, Keanu Reeves, Sandra Oh, Ellen Page, Christopher Plummer and many more).
For years the coastal seaport of Vancouver flew under the radar until, like “Game of Thrones” did for Belfast, the worldwide success of “The X-Files” changed everything. Starring Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny, “The X-Files” filmed five of its original six seasons and the 2008 movie The X-Files: I Want to Believe in Vancouver, and then returned again for the six-episode revival a few years ago.
Even with the show’s freaky monsters and strange aliens, Vancouver was probably the most versatile cast member, doubling for everywhere from Kazakhstan to Virginia as they filmed at countless locations around the city and beyond.
On a recent visit I recognized the distinctive “Angel of Stone” statue in Gastown, which featured in the 13th episode of season 1 (“Beyond the Sea”), but one of the most memorable locations was the lonely Britannia Mine Museum.
After gazing at the endless forests, snow-capped mountains and waterfalls and fjords during the drive along the Sea-to-Sky highway out of Vancouver, it appeared through the mist.
Its grounds are scattered with old mining equipment, a Godzilla-sized yellow truck and a scary boxy “Man Car” that used to take the miners deep underground, but it’s the bizarre, 20-story office building cut into the side of a mountain that grabs your attention.
From 1900 – 1974 it was one of the biggest copper mines in the British Empire, and at one end of its cavernous interior 300-plus precarious wooden steps seem to go up into the heavens.
These rickety steps featured in “Paper Clip”, the second episode of the third “X-Files” season, which saw Mulder and Scully finding their names in some mysterious filing cabinets, chasing down some of the tunnels, and seeing a brightly-lit UFO.
The facility looked much spookier then than it does now, as it was given a multi-million-dollar renovation before it opened as a museum. Those steps too are part of a new, multi-media sensory experience called “Boom!”.
The X-Files – Paper Clip
Back outside in the sunlight, we were told about other films that were shot here at the mine or right nearby, and that included Intersection (1994), Double Jeopardy (1999), Insomnia (2002), Walking Tall (2004), Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed and Underworld: Evolution (2006), Star Trek Beyond (2016) and Okja (2017).
Of course, there are plenty of apps and maps if you want to take a tour of movie locations in Vancouver, Dublin and Belfast (or both countries for that matter), and while some of the movies might fade from memory, their influence will last much longer.
Currently based in Los Angeles, James Bartlett is a story analyst for the Sundance Institute, the Nicholl Fellowships, the UCLA Professional Screenwriting Program, the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards and National Geographic Films. He also reads for several UK regions, is the US consultant for Euroscript, and lectures across the UK and Ireland.
He’s available for private consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org