YVRshoots – Making Of Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol

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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.

The round-the-world spy thriller Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol has more Vancouver in it than the Mumbai running scene outside the Vancouver Convention Centre which I wrote about in my inaugural #YVRShoots series post and the Seattle post-mission team beer at a table on Granville Island which I covered in my second post about the Tom Cruise franchise filming here. Director Brad Bird filmed the last shot of Josh Holloway’s Budapest alley death scene in between the Dunsmuir and Georgia Viaducts; the Moscow scene where the team gets its Kremlin mission beneath the Burrard Bridge; the Kremlin explosion in a giant blue screen box at a gravel field near the Fraser River path; some of the Dubai  sandstorm scene at an Arab market set at that same gravel field; the Sun Network station in Mumbai at a Richmond office park and the Mumbai automated car park scene inside a vast Vancouver Drydocks warehouse in North Vancouver.

Tom Cruise and his co-stars did go on location with Brad Bird and crew to Prague and Dubai before their final three months of shooting in Vancouver in late 2010 and early 2011, with the second unit filming scenes without cast in Moscow for a week and in Mumbai for the BMW coupe racing-through-the-streets sequence. Prague doubled for Budapest and Moscow, with some exceptions. And the Dubai showpiece of Cruise as IMF agent Ethan Hunt scaling and swinging from the tallest building in the world could not have be done anywhere but the actual Burj Khalifa.

Almost everything else happened here in studio at Canada Motion Picture Park or on location in the Vancouver area. It’s a credit to our crews and VFX expertise that the only things that give us away are glimpses of the Vancouver Convention Centre and a lit-up southwest False Creek between the Burrard and Granville Bridges.

So far, I’ve seen Mission Impossible -Ghost Protocol twice in theatres. Once to simply enjoy Brad Bird’s first big action movie with a non-animated cast and the second time to nail down as many of the Vancouver locations as possible. Despite my best efforts I’m sure I missed several.

The fourth in the Mission Impossible movie franchise opens with Josh Holloway as IMF agent Trevor Hanaway in Prague-as-Budapest trying to intercept a courier of a threat codenamed COBALT at a train station. Then we’re treated to Tom Cruise’s Moscow prison escape to the tune of Dean Martin’s Ain’t That a Kick in the Head, likely filmed here given the numerous Vancouver paparrazi shots of Cruise in his dirty white muscle shirt from prison. Post-escape Cruise meets his new team: Simon Pegg as newly promoted field agent Benji Dunn and Paula Patton as Hanaway’s team leader Jane Carter while they drive around in a Russian van. Patton tells Crusie the story of Holloway’s death, flashing back to her scene in a  Budapest train car filmed at Rocky Mountaineer station here on February 28th, as well as her exit from that train filmed near the tracks at the station against a backdrop of piled lumber dusted with snow.

She also recalls leaning over dying Josh Holloway whose character is killed by assassin Sabrine Moreau. The final shot in her memory is of an iPhone with Moreau’s photo and the word Assassin imprinted across it lying on the ground beside Holloway, as the camera pans up to the underside of the Georgia Viaduct. Vancouver crew recreated a small section of the Prague alley in the Viaduct lot for this pickup scene filmed in mid-March, complete with stacked tomato crates and a small section of a  white rippled steel fence.

After driving around Vancouver-as-Moscow in the van, the new team stops under the Burrard Bridge at a prop Russian pay telephone which self-destructs — with a little help — after Cruise picks up their mission to retrieve the COBALT file from the Kremlin archives. I photographed the pay telephone as well as the top of Cruise’s head outside the van as he chats with Simon Pegg in the driver’s seat and Paula Patton in the back between scenes a year ago on January 3rd.

Some of the Kremlin archives scenes were filmed more than a year ago at the Delta Suites conference centre on Seymour and Hastings, with Simon Pegg and Swedish actor Michael Nyvqist of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo fame spotted on location. Nyvqist is the Big Bad of the movie as the Swedish-born Russian nuclear scientist codenamed COBALT who’s determined to kickstart a nuclear war to separate the strong from the weak. While filming here, Nyvqist, who’s pals with Matts Sundin and other Scandinavian hockey players, actually met the Sedin twins at a Vancouver Canucks game. Cruise and Pegg also took in a Canucks game to the delight of local paps.

In the Kremlin archives, Nyvqist’s COBALT sets off a spectactular explosion designed to implicate Cruise’s IMF team  which leads to a Ghost Protocol disavowal of the entire IMF. I can’t be sure but believe that the Kremlin explosion — one of the movie’s 25 minutes of IMAX sequences — was filmed  in a giant blue screen box on the massive gravel field at Boundary and Kent near the Fraser River on March 18th . I have photographs of this blue screen box filming in my Flickr photoset, which is approaching 20,000 views.

Kent Hangar field is also where MI:4 filmed some pickup scenes of Tom Cruise chasing Michael Nyvqist as COBALT through palm trees and then a market during a massive Dubai sandstorm. I  kept checking out the progress on this Arab set not sure what would be filmed there until  @zaks_fifth_ave tweeted about getting a notice at work that Mission Impossible would be shooting a sandstorm scene there during daylight hours for three days in late January. I went out in a downpour to find the palm trees and sets covered in plastic until the rain eased, finally catching the end of some sandstorm filming close to sunset on January 27th — you can see one of the Arab facades, as well as the palm trees and the wind machines.

Scenes of flipping cars narrowly missing Tom Cruise were also filmed at Kent Hangar field, with the crew conducting several test explosions ahead of time.

Next stop for the disavowed team in the movie is Mumbai where they need to thwart COBALT’s plan to use a Sun Network satellite to transmit the order to a Russian submarine to fire a nuclear missile at the U.S. to provoke nuclear war. Three members of the team — Jeremy Renner as the-intelligence-analyst-with-some-kickass-fighting-skills William Brandt, Paula Patton and Simon Pegg — fight to bring a Sun Network TV station back online, filmed at a Shellbridge office park on February 28th. Meanwhile their leader Tom Cruise chases Nyvqist as COBALT through Mumbai wedding procession traffic outside the Vancouver Convention Centre, filmed almost two months earlier in early January 2011.

COBALT runs from the wedding procession into a Mumbai automated parking garage, which turned out to be one of the most elaborate sets constructed here, taking almost three months to assemble inside the Vancouver Drydocks warehouse because there wasn’t a sound stage big enough. Someone tipped me they’d seen lots and lots of cars inside but I didn’t know what that meant  until I saw the climatic, escalating fight scene between Cruise and Nyvqist’s characters over the Russian nuclear launch codes. It took nine industrial generators to power the filming of that fight with IMAX cameras on March 8th,  enough to power the city of North Vancouver (I heard the  humming from Lonsdale). This is one of the sequences that director Brad Bird says he had to pre-visualize because they had to figure out just how much to build and how much could be left to visual effects.

Of course Cruise and Co. stop the missile attack, regrouping in Vancouver-as-Seattle weeks later for a post-mission beer, filmed over three long nights at the beginning March last year . I took most of my photographs of the Granville Market scenes from the Granville Bridge above since production assistants restricited public access so I didn’t know exactly who was there other than Tom Cruise and Jeremy Renner. After the surprise on-screen appearance of Ving Rhames as Luther from previous Mission Impossibles, I looked for him among my photographs, finding him in the one below. I also captured a visiting Suri Cruise in her fashionable pink bunny suit on set that night.

On the second night of filming at Granville Market dressed as Pier 47, Cruise’s Ethan Hunt issues new assignments to his team. You can see Cruise, Simon Pegg, and Paula Patton filming the table scene below (Jeremy Renner is partially obscured by a white pole).

On the third night of filming at Granville Market, one of the extras unknowingly tweeted a big spoiler, saying how nice Michelle Monoghan was to work with. So it didn’t come as a complete surprise in the movie to see her supposedly-dead character Julia getting off a prop King County water taxi and walking into Granville Market.

Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol ends with Tom Cruise disappearing in a patch of fog en route to his next mission.

We can be proud that Vancouver contributed so much to what many consider to be the best of the Mission Impossible franchise, with worldwide box office at $465 million and counting.

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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!