YVRShoots – Once Upon a Time is Fall TV’s Biggest New Hit

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This series had its genesis when I began photographing Vancouver area location shoots in the summer of 2010 to get over a post-Olympics funk. Film and TV productions like Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Fringe, Supernatural and Once Upon a Time showcase our city in similar fashion and sometimes put a celebrity actor or two in the frame.

Modern fairy tale series Once Upon a Time is American TV’s biggest new fall drama, putting the fictional town of Storybrooke, Maine, on the map. Normally played by Moncton Street in the village of Steveston, pieces of Storybrooke can pop up anywhere in the Vancouver area from Fort Langley to New Westminster to North Vancouver. For its October 23rd debut, the freshman show commanded an amazing 13 million American viewers and the next three episodes stayed steady at 11 milliion. On the American Thanksgiving weekend, an episode held its own against Sunday night football. And while last Sunday’s Prince Charming episode marked a series low, the hashtag #OnceUponaTime topped worldwide trending on Twitter during the broadcast. So it’s much more than a family show — the 18-49 demos are great too. Tune in this Sunday for the Fall Finale.

Created by Lost writers Eddy Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, Once Upon a Time airs on ABC, whose Disney parent company owns the rights to most of the world’s fairy tales. That’s essential since the show mixes reality and fantasy from present-day-but-frozen-in-time Storybrooke to flashbacks of a fairy tale world lost when the Evil Queen cursed all the fairy tale characters to spend their lives in the real world without getting happy endings or even knowing their true identities. Prince Charming (Josh Dallas of Thor) and Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin of Big Love)’s daughter Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison of House) has grown up in the real world without knowing her fairy tale parents. When Henry (Jared Gilmore), the son Emma gave up for adoption a decade earlier, finds her and begs her to come back with him to Storybrooke to break the curse. things start to change — but not too quickly we hope.

In a delicious twist, the Evil Queen happens to be Henry’s adoptive mother and Storybrooke mayor Regina (Lana Parrilla) in the real world, someone who does not want Henry’s real mother in town at all. I have watched a few Regina vs Emma confrontations being filmed already, the latest in an epic windstorm at Garry’s Point in Steveston last month. Henry’s castle had been damaged and I’m not alone in suspecting Regina is behind it. Be warned: there are mild to medium spoilers throughout this post.

I wrote about the filming of the Once Upon a Time pilot and Evil Queen-centric second episode for my YVRShoots series in the summer. I’ve since learned more about how the fairy tale world scenes are created using revolutionary Z.E.U.S. visual effects technology. If you looked through the camera lense or on the director/producer monitors during filming of the wedding of Prince Charming to Snow White in the pilot, you’d have seen a detailed ballroom wedding scene rendered in real time while elaborately-costumed Josh Dallas and Ginnifer Goodwin performed on a mostly empty green screen stage with costumed extras. Z.E.U.S. apparently lengthened the white columns and added stained glass windows and more costumed wedding guests as well. This is just one example of how big a show Once Upon a Time is, with long hours for every department from makeup to costumes to locations to stunts.

Each episode tells the backstory of one character and takes nine days to film. The third episode Snow Falls, the backstory of a badass Snow White, began on July 29th and featured a lot of stunts. Ginnifer Goodwin later tweeted about injuring her left hand which swelled to the size of baseball mitt and cutting her left eye which required three stitches in an emergency room while doing her own horse-back riding scenes. There was no green screen for real world scenes of Josh Dallas as amensiac David lying unconscious in a creek either. The actor almost froze in the cold water but fortunately crew had a hot tub nearby to warm him up between takes and scenes.

Partway through filming this episode, the main cast flew to L.A. to promote their fairy tale series to skeptical TV critics. Young Jared Gilmore did manage to make this cranky bunch laugh, saying, “When I was a kid, I read a lot of fairy tales”. Sorry Jared, but you’re still a kid and that’s a good thing since so much of Once Upon a Time depends on Henry, aka “the kid”. Gilmore is great at playing him, perhaps because the crew lets the 11-year-old act his age on set, running around with a nerf gun shooting people and even taking a turn in the camera operator’s chair. Last month Gilmore went to a live show of sitcom Mr. Young taped in a Burnaby studio, where he made friends with that young cast and posed for photos with his own fans in the audience.

Filming of episode five, the Cinderella backstory called The Price of Gold, began in mid-August and included two full days in Steveston. I saw some scenes of Jennifer Morrison and Jared Gilmore filming on Moncton Street  but tragically missed seeing former Calvin Klein model Jamie Dornan, dubbed the “hot hipster Sheriff ” by his many fans, leaning against a Storybrooke sheriff car. Others photographed Falling Skies’ Jessy Schram playing Ashley-slash-Cinderella outside the Copper Cafe turned Granny’s Diner. That Saturday, Schram, Josh Dallas and Ginnifer Goodwin bloodied their faces and donned dark glasses to lurch along with locals in Vancouver’s annual Zombie Walk.

Next up in fairy tale backstories was the telling of Jiminy Cricket’s origin in episode five titled That Small Still Voice, which started filming in late August. Henry’s psychiatrist Dr. Archie Hopper-slash-Jiminy-Cricket, played by Raphael Sbarge, takes a stand against Regina and joins Operation Cobra after Henry gets trapped in a sinkhole looking for a clue to the fairy tale world. He finds one — a piece of glass — but don’t ask me what it means. Deer Lake Park, where Ginnifer Goodwin’s Mary-Margaret-slash-Snow-White walks with Josh Dallas’s amnesiac David-slash-Prince-Charming in the cursed world, is the only location I recognized.

Sometime around the Labour Day weekend, Once Upon a Time began filming episode six entitled The Shepherd, which seemed an odd title for the backstory of Prince Charming. Josh Dallas later tweeted how much he loved doing the green-screen sword-fighting scene, which took about six hours to shoot. It turns out our  “Charming came from a humble background”, filmed on a Langley farm with snowy Mount Baker in the background on a “very very HOT day” with sheep extras who refused to cooperate and local acting legend Gabrielle Rose as his mother.  The only scene of  The Shepherd I saw being filmed was a night shoot of Josh Dallas in Steveston looking at a map outside Mr. Gold-slash-Rumplestiltskin’s pawn shop.

If I’d known that Mr. Gold planned to thwart David’s happy ending with Mary Margaret, I’d have yelled out, “Don’t go into Mr. Gold’s, Charming.”

Episode seven, called The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, began filming later in September and is said to be the Sheriff’s backstory as a fairy tale character widely thought to be the Huntsman, the one who tries to kill Snow White. Partway through filming, Jamie Dornan surprised the organizers of the Once Upon a Cure gala  when he showed up with the rest of the main cast at the Sutton Hotel on September 24th.  ABC is teasing this episode as the one where the Sheriff and his deputy Emma kiss so it’s fitting that Vision Events Photography’s Mark Kinskofer captured Once’s two on-screen couples arms round one another at the gala: Jennifer Morrison in black strapless gown, Jamie Dornan in black suit and open white shirt, Ginnifer Goodwin in a short white dress with black sash and Josh Dallas in a black suit and white shirt with black tie. Kinskofer also photographed Lana Parilla in a black satin flapper dress and Robert Carlyle in a jazzy white-on-black pinstriped jacket with young Jared Gilmore sandwiched between them in a black suit and pink shirt. As if that wasn’t enough for the Hunter’s Syndrome charity, Once Upon a Time also offered a studio visit in that night’s auction.

Fans watching episode eight, called Desperate Souls, being filmed in Fort Langley in early October may have caught a spoiler. Don’t read this paragraph if you don’t want to know. A Debate Today banner for a Sheriff’s election hung from the yellow community hall. And Ginnifer Goodwin’s Mary Margaret were spotted putting up a Swan for Sheriff poster. Is Jamie Dornan’s hot hipster Sheriff the character who dies in episode seven? We’ll find out this Sunday when the Fall Finale airs.

I did manage to see some filming of episode nine, entitled True North, out in Steveston in mid-October, spotting the Mayor’s Mercedes parked outside Steveston Coffee turned Storybrooke Coffee for the day.  On the other side of the street, Lana Parrilla’s Mayor and Jennifer Morrison’s Emma went at it in another public set-to, which continued into the night shoot.

One of the best things about episode nine is it brings a new hunk to Storybrooke: Eion Bailey from Covert Affairs is the ominously-named The Stranger. I missed seeing his grand entrance late at night in Steveston but caught up with him that Friday afternoon in New Westminster filming the opening scene of episode ten, called 7:15 a.m., sitting on his big motorcycle talking to Jared Gilmore in the pouring rain.
That Sunday, October 23rd, Once Upon a Time wowed an American audience with its opening episode, confounding the critics who’d seen nothing special about it. Canadians embraced the show in big numbers too. As giddy Once Upon a Time cast and crew kept filming the first thirteen episodes, it didn’t take ABC long to order a full season of twenty-two.
I didn’t see any more filming of the series until the scenes of Henry’s damaged castle at Garry Point in episode eleven, Fruit of a Poisonous Tree. I watched crew bundle the actors in big coats between takes and shelter them inside the prop Storybrooke sheriff car. Lana Parrilla later passed me, walking quickly to set in the windstorm, muttering, “What are we doing? This is torture.” Other cast like Josh Dallas, Raphael Sbarge and Eion Bailey took it easy, filming episode twelve inside the nearby Buck and Ears pub in Steveston.
Episode twelve, Skin Deep, features the fairy tale story of Beauty and the Beast and is said to be a Valentine’s Day show, tentatively scheduled for Feburary 12th next year. Half-a-dozen photographers showed up to try to capture a scene of Josh Dallas’s David leaning in to kiss Ginnifer Goodwin’s Mary Margaret, who backs away, postponing their happy ending? I saw the scene being filmed near the Copper Cafe-turned Granny’s Diner but only managed to get a blurry photo of Goodwin’s huge smile at Dallas after the director called “Cut.” Rumours have swirled for months that the pair are a real-life couple, apparently confirmed earlier this week on eTalk.
Other afternoon scenes involved Robert Carlyle (Stargate Universe), who’s always doing deals as Rumplestiltskin in the fairy tale world and Mr. Gold in the real world. I photographed him walking with a huge bodyguard in Steveston.

Jessy Schram’s Ashley-slash-Cinderella returned that night for a scene of her running while holding a bouquet of flowers to her Sean-slash-Prince-Thomas’s Storybrooke truck.

That Wednesday, Once Upon a Time moved to North Vancouver for a night shoot at an old wood caretaker’s cabin on a pond at Murdo Park. Apalling conditions kept me away, but it sounds like Ginnifer Goodwin was there, tweeting about listening to the rain on of her trailer and needing Jewish pencillin, aka her grandmother’s chicken soup. Rain did turn to snow overnight in Vancouver but Goodwin must have recovered from the miserable conditions, joining a Once Upon a Time field trip to hear Feist perform live that Friday night.

On the Monday before American Thanksgiving, the Once Upon a Cure auction winner and her rival bidder Sean Koo (photographed below in Steveston-turned-Storybrooke) finally got their 10-hour Once Upon a Time set visit at the show’s four soundstages in The Bridge Studios. Not only were the pair presented with cast-autographed pilot scripts, they sat in official production chairs with their names on them near the director/producer monitors where they could watch and listen to the filming. Sean Koo tweeted about seeing a brunette Emilie de Ravin from Lost in costume as Belle  filming a green screen scene with Robert Carlyle in costume as Rumplestiltskin. After lunch in their own trailer, Lana Parrilla invited the  two bidders into the makeup trailer to see her get made up as the Evil Queen. To top it off, co-showrunner Adam Horowitz was available to chat and Josh Dallas dropped by to say Hi on his day off. All that plus a tour of all the sets will make a Once Upon a Time set visit a valuable auction commodity next year.

On to episode thirteen, which wrapped Thursday and could be the start of a romance. Jennifer Morrison tweeted last week about spending “the day on a motorcycle with a handsome man.”  That handsome man has to be Eion Bailey’s The Stranger. I just missed a scene of them filming together in Steveston, arriving in time to see a crew member park the motorcyle at the Marine Garage. And earlier this week, it was back to horses in the woods with Josh Dallas on set. Dallas and Ginnifer Goodwin also tweeted about spending hours if not days filming underwater this week? Sounds intriguing.

Episode fourteen started filming today so there is much to look forward to in the new year. The seven dwarfs will get their own backstory or as Lee Arenburg’s Grumpy dubbed it on Twitter — #TeamSeven. And there will be a reimagining of Beauty and the Beast as well as Aladdin and his Genie. Producers also hope to someday update the story of Peter Pan, one of the few fairy tale characters not owned by Disney.

Once Upon a Time returns with new episodes on January 8th, 2012, airing on Sunday nights at variable times on CTV and 8 p.m. on ABC.

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Follow Susan on Twitter at Twitter.com/SusanGittins, watch her photo stream on her Flickr for daily updates and watch V.I.A. for more from her #YVRShoots series!