#YVRShoots – Supernatural in Gastown

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This series had its genesis when I began photographing Vancouver area location shoots last summer to get over a long post-Olympics funk. Film and TV productions like This Means War, Mission Impossible 4, Fringe and the new AMC series The Killing showcase our city in similar fashion and sometimes put a celebrity actor or two in the frame.

Gastown played host to Supernatural’s Winchester Brothers and their signature black Impala late last week for an epic two-day shoot which went past curfew hours on both Thursday and Friday nights. Since the show’s two stars, Jensen Ackles and Jared Padelecki, don’t film downtown that often, this ranked as a big event in the Supernatural world. Local fans mobilized on Twitter for the chance to see their boys filming scenes of season seven’s fourth episode, Defend Your Life, apparently set in Dearborn, Michigan.

Filming notices posted in the impacted areas of Gastown and the downtown Eastside said the City of Vancouver had given Supernatural permission to film late both nights based on the positive results of a poll conducted in the neighbourhood.  Around 10 p.m. on Thursday night, I watched crew hoist a film light from a genie parked outside Incendio’s, a light that would illuminate a block of Alexander street to film a scene of a vehicle chasing a pedestrian west towards the Gassy Jack statue and up onto the sidewalk on the north side. Suddenly a man with waist-length grey hair stormed past me, shouting “What is that noise?” I watched him argue heatedly with police and crew long after the light was up and quiet. I can only imagine the ruckus that happened at 1 a.m. when filming was expected to wrap, the light lowered and equipment packed into trucks. I might feel more sympathetic if it was my neighbourhood, but I was there to photograph the spectacle of Gastown lit up.

On Friday night, Supernatural had permission to film until 2:30 a.m. This time the big light was parked in Chinatown and hoisted closer to 10:30 p.m. to what looked like ten stories above street level. From there, it shone like moonlight on Carrall Street two blocks north to film another scene of a pedestrian being chased by a vehicle, this time into an alley. As I walked towards the closed-off, wetted-down 300 block of Carrall Street, I spied Supernatural’s smoke machines filling it with fake smoke. As actor Jim Beaver once explained about the show’s beautiful lighting: “Its texture is due to expertly placed lights seen through fake smoke. Lovely to breathe day in, day out”. That’s a bit of sarcasm. I can attest to its acrid, foul stench and wouldn’t want to be the crew guy who sat next to one on a Carrall Street bench. By the time I got there, quite a large crowd had gathered at the north end of the block near the Rainier Hotel to gawk at the crime scene with yellow tape, a Dearborn police car and Wayne Country Coroner’s van. I left around 11 p.m. before filming started but I expect the location only got rowdier, situated as it was on the edge of the Gastown party zone, less than half a block away from the Blarney Stone pub.

Supernatural actually began its two-day shoot in Gastown in the Blarney Stonemid-afternoon Thursday with four to five dozen extras inside. When I walked by I saw blacked-out windows for all interior scenes so I didn’t linger. I did plan to return for an exterior scenes with Jared Padalecki at the Rainier Hotel and Jensen Ackles in a suit buying flowers  at Greenstems Floral on Abbott Street. Then I saw tweets about rising tensions on set,  involving fans, photographers and J & J’s bodyguard Clif. One fan reportedly left in tears after being bullied by a local pap and Clif. I wasn’t there but I do know of other incidents where Clif has overreacted, intimidated and even thrown fans off set. Most local fans know how to behave on set and by all accounts the Gastown fans behaved well but there are always exceptions and that’s one of the reasons why Clif is needed. Later Clif tweeted that he didn’t hate any fans, only paps — which set off another melee still ongoing on Twitter. For obvious reasons, I stayed away until the night shoot on Alexander Street.

While still leery about the atmosphere on set, I forced myself to go to the Friday afternoon shoot on the same block of Alexander Street as the night shoot, now a crime scene with yellow tape, Dearborn police car, Wayne County Coroner’s van and a fake local TV reporter. Crew asked bystanders if they wanted to play lookyloos at the crime scene on one condition, that they not photograph the actors. This proved to be an effective strategy as overjoyed fans got a chance to see their beloved boys up close and the lookyloos blocked views of the filming from people walking along the south sidewalk. Production assistants asked anyone with a camera not to take photos of the filming but everyone snuck a few between takes and that was tolerated. The actual scene consisted of Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki dressed in blue suits, not their usual jeans and boots, driving a short distance to the crime scene in their black Impala, getting out and running into a stairwell.

After each take, the two Js climbed back into the Impala and Jensen reversed the car back to a point where they would wait for the director to say action and then drive to the crime scene again. Both of them seemed loose and relaxed sitting in the car, as they often do on set. It is this camraderie and the genuine affection that they have for each other that makes them so beloved by fans, as well as what someone calls their “mind-blowing hotness”. I witnessed one funny moment when Jared took his time getting back into the Impala, walking along beside it, as Jensen teased him by accelerating and then stopping and accelerating again so that Jared couldn’t get in the car. Jensen had the upper hand until he stalled the Impala and everyone broke up laughing.  He did manage to start it again, but if he hadn’t, there was a second Impala parked down the block outside Incendio’s ready for the next location shoot at Powell and Columbia.

I directed a fan to the next shoot at a fake Wayne Country Corone’rs office but opted not to push my luck with cast and crew. She and a dozen other fans watched from across the street as Jensen Ackles leaned back against the hood of the black Impala waiting for Jared Padalecki to come out of the coroner’s office. The two chat briefly and that was the scene. Again production assistants asked that no photos be taken and again everyone snuck a few but this was not as open a shoot as before because local paps had arrived. Crew opened up big blue umbrellas to shield the actors between takes and Clif went into action blocking shots. Still, most fans sounded satisfied, tweeting that J & J smiled at them and waved as they were leaving.

Meanwhile, crew had set up for the next shoot, turning Akira Women’s Resource Society on the corner of  Columbia and Cordova into the Dearborn Outreach Center for a scene of Jared Padalecki and an unidentified woman talking outside. Half a dozen fans sat on the sidewalk watching the filming from one corner. I stood on another corner with a friend. Bodyguard Clif was relaxing among crew until a pap showed up and we witnessed an astonishing transformation. Crew opened up blue umbrellas again and Clif went back into action blocking shots. I left but later saw a photo on Twitter of Clif giving the finger to someone.

Supernatural in Gastown might sound like a particularly-charged two-day shoot but it’s not that abnormal. Location shoots are work places and the actors are working so there is always some tension, especially downtown when they’re filming in very public places where people are entitled to watch and even take photographs. Fortunately, the next three hours or so of Supernatural filming was inside the Columbia Hotel, with special effects gunfire and police present. Next up was the night shoot on Carrall Street and sometime early Saturday morning, Supernatural wrapped in Gastown.

The next big event for fans is the upcoming Supernatural convention in Vancouver.

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