Go North, Paparazzi! This Is Why "Every TV Star Is Going to Be Running Around and Misbehaving" in Vancouver
From 'The Flash' to recently relocated 'Supergirl,' tax credits and a strong creative community are driving a major production boom.
When CBS announced in May that Supergirl would be shifting to sister network The CW, it also revealed another big move for the superhero drama: Production would relocate from Los Angeles to Vancouver. The trip north makes the DC comic series the latest in a slew of TV shows to settle in British Columbia.
There are 44 scripted series that call Vancouver home. Of those, 10 are CW shows. "It makes it easier because everyone's there," says CW president Mark Pedowitz. "They've built a real creative community up there." A bonus is that crossover episodes, like the one planned for December between Supergirl and The Flash, are easier to facilitate.
Having all his shows in one place certainly makes life run more smoothly for Greg Berlanti. "We've already established a base of operations, and there are a lot of different departments that help each other out," says the producer, who has five series based in Vancouver.
Ultimately, studio Warner Bros. TV made the decision to uproot Supergirl in an effort to cut costs. "We were starting to investigate moving Supergirl before the end of the year because it was so expensive," says Berlanti, who notes the drama didn't qualify for the coveted California tax credit program, even after the state revamped it last year.
To be sure, the biggest draw to shooting in Vancouver is the financial ease. "It's extremely cost-effective," says NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment chief content officer Jeff Wachtel, who has four series filming there, including Marti Noxon's Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce. Generous tax credits (33 percent) and a favorable exchange rate (around 75 cents on the dollar) make the northern city hard to compete with — and despite its provincial government's vote in May to lower those tax incentives from 33 to 28 percent beginning Oct. 1, the subsidies aren't shrinking enough to scare anyone away.
In fact, Noxon will spend the next eight months in Vancouver — also home to Lifetime's UnREAL, another show with which she's been involved — finishing out the last 19 episodes of her Bravo drama. "It's a little bit of a blow when you don't get to shoot right in your home city, but if you have to go some place, Vancouver is pretty sweet," she says. "There are nice locations that can really double for L.A. pretty convincingly."
Noxon, who co-created UnREAL (above), stays at Vancouver’s Sutton Place Hotel, dubbed “The Slutton.”
For Ben Silverman, whose two projects — the CW comedy No Tomorrow and the TBS pilot World's End — have set up shop in Vancouver, the appeal is obvious. "The bottom line is the U.S. dollar is so freakin' strong, the production capacity in British Columbia has expanded so much, and we're asleep at the wheel in California, not moving the needle to energize our [local] business," he says. Silverman adds that it's hard to resist a place that speaks the same language, is in the same time zone and drives on the same side of the road. "I mean, why wouldn't you go there if it's 30 percent less to produce?"
But the uptick in Vancouver's production has its downsides, too. Facilities are overcrowded and little shooting space is available. It's why Legion, FX's highly anticipated Marvel series from Fargo creator Noah Hawley, is filming in a former Safeway distribution warehouse (yes, the grocery chain). "It doesn't have the ceiling height or the power supply that a normal studio would have, but we're managing," says executive producer John Cameron.
As with Legion, productions that are new to Vancouver are having to get creative since the majority of the 2 million square feet of available stage space has been snapped up. And some studios have long-term holds on spaces, so, should a soundstage become available, they get first dibs. Warner Bros. and Fox, in particular, have a very large footprint in the city.
Likewise, production personnel are stretched thin, and housing is as booked up as the soundstages. "We can't even get apartments for the cast, let alone hotel rooms," adds Silverman, later joking: "If you're a paparazzo, you should go to Vancouver because it's where every television star is going to be running around and misbehaving."
A Sampling of Vancouver's Stellar Soundstages (If You Can Book Them)
Vancouver Film Studios
3500 Cornett Road, Vancouver (12 stages) 190,000 square feet
TV shows: Arrow, The Flash, Bates Motel, Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce
North Shore Studios
555 Brooksbank Ave. North, Vancouver (eight stages) 120,000 square feet
TV shows: Zoo, No Tomorrow, iZombie
Films: 50 Shades Darker
2820 Underhill Ave., Burnaby (three stages) 250,000 square feet
Films: War for the Planet of the Apes, The BFG
2400 Boundary Road, Burnaby (10 stages) 145,000 square feet
TV shows: Once Upon a Time
Films: Star Trek Beyond
Canadian Motion Picture Park
8085 Glenwood Drive, Burnaby (15 stages) 230,000 square feet
TV shows: Supernatural, The Man in the High Castle
Films: World of Warcraft
This story first appeared in the Aug. 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.