Canadian cities try novel idea: being themselves


TORONTO -- Canadians have long been used to seeing their cities on the big screen as backdrops for Hollywood shoots here.

But with U.S. production in Canada on the wane, Canadian cities increasingly get to play themselves in homegrown theatrical dramas and comedies.

Paul Fox's "Everything's Gone Green," for example, features Vancouver as Vancouver, which sits well with local screenwriter Douglas Coupland.

"So many shoots are always going on in Vancouver. You'll see four or five in a row, and every time you die inside, as we're never Vancouver. Instead, we're Portland, Los Angeles or Seattle," Coupland says.

He recalls the Vancouver street he lives on doubling in 1999 for a location in Denver and Boulder, Colo., as Bruce Beresford shot the Tommy Lee Jones and Ashley Judd-starring thriller "Double Jeopardy."

"It was out of control," Coupland says of his hometown disguising itself for Hollywood's benefit. In "Everything's Gone Green," Coupland's ode to Vancouver, the screenwriter uses the city's sea-to-sky beauty and expensive property market to drive the motivation of characters.

"That helped establish what the characters do, and the embryo of the city itself -- real estate, grow-ops, pyramid schemes and the post-industrial economy -- anything where you don't make anything tangible," he explains.

At the other end of the country, Atlantic Canada is disguising itself less and less as New England. Halifax, for example, plays itself in two goofball comedies: the Ivan Reitman-produced "Trailer Park Boys: The Movie" and David Gonnella's "A Bug and a Bag of Weed," which used the city's South Center Mall and Q Billiards Hall as locations.

Erik Canuel's buddy movie "Bon Cop, Bad Cop," which in early October became the highest-grossing Canadian movie of all time, even used its Toronto and Montreal backdrops to generate laughs. That includes a murder investigation opened after a body is found draped over a highway sign on the border dividing Quebec and Ontario.

And Ross Weber's "Mount Pleasant" features a derelict, drug-ridden Vancouver neighborhood in which the journey of three separate couples from varying backgrounds intersect when a little girl is accidentally pricked by a poisoned discarded needle.

U.S. production here continues to slide due to the rising Canadian dollar compared with the U.S. greenback and competition from rival foreign locales.

To restore foreign location shooting here, Canadian provinces have raised their tax credits and other lucrative financial incentives to keep L.A. producers shooting here.

All of which has provided a boon to local filmmakers, who are also sharing in the tax credit riches.