Vancouver shifting into Olympics mode

Restrictions will affect a host of film and TV productions

TORONTO -- As athletes prepare to compete for gold at the Vancouver Winter Olympics next month, film and TV producers have begun to run a gauntlet of road closures and security restrictions in and around the host city.

Los Angeles and local producers have been told by Mayor Gregor Robertson that the downtown core and areas with Olympic venues will be off-limits to location filming during the Feb. 12-28 Games.

Vancouver will continue to issue film permits for shooting in suburban locales that might stand in for the city. Local soundstages, post and visual effects facilities outside the downtown core will remain open.

And L.A. producers still will be able to secure script breakdowns, digital location packages, scouts and ongoing production support from the B.C. Film Commission through the Games.

But disruption in Hollywood North during the Olympics will be inevitable for local and foreign shoots that include Fox's "Fringe" and "Human Target," ABC's "V" and the CW's "Smallville."

"By early March, we anticipate having more areas accessible for production in the downtown core, and by very early April, we'll be back in business as you've come to expect," Robertson wrote in a letter to the Motion Picture Production Industry Assn. last month.

The restrictions come as the West Coast city has taken on the metropolitan hustle and headaches of a Middle East bazaar -- more than three weeks before the Opening Ceremony.

Sue Ridout, a producer with Vancouver-based doc producer Dreamfilm, was riding the elevator at the Bayshore Hotel -- a major Games accommodation -- on a location shoot recently when she read a sign indicating that the parking garage would be closed from Jan. 23 through March.

"The notice was very apologetic. But the Games is taking over their four-level garage," said Ridout of the hotel, a major Vancouver landmark adjoining Stanley Park.

The veteran producer will be shooting docs for Discovery Channel and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. through the winter and doesn't relish shepherding camera gear and crews in and out of the Vancouver airport during the next two months.

Said Ridout: "It's a double whammy: They've increased the security level since the (attempted terrorism) events over Christmas, and there's increased security because of the Olympics."

Games organizers already have begun to restrict traffic and parking in Vancouver to keep Olympic venues accessible and will increase security around them during the high-profile sporting event.

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Some productions planned their shoots with the Olympics in mind. "Human Target" and the Zack Snyder fantasy "Suckerpunch" will wrap before the Games start, and the producers of "Stargate Atlantis" have decided that now would be a good time for the show to go on hiatus.

"It will definitely be a problem if you want to shoot downtown, but the rest of the city is open for business," British Columbia Film Commissioner Susan Croome said, noting that much of the Olympic action will be in the outlying areas of Whistler and Cypress Mountain.

Among the features shooting in February are Mandate's untitled cancer movie, starring James McAvoy and Seth Rogen, and the romance "Daydream Nation."

"Fringe," which tends to shoot a lot in a section of Vancouver's core called Yaletown, will still be before cameras though changing shooting schedules to focus more on stage work and interiors.

"It's a disruption, yes, but not a large disruption," Croome said.

Local producers report some difficulty accessing equipment rentals as generators and other production gear has been hired out by the Olympic organizing committee. Meanwhile, freelance camera operators, audio technicians and directors are finding lucrative work with Canadian and foreign broadcasters covering the Games, and production designers are in demand to decorate Olympic pavilions.

That has a host of local producers shooting movies in suburban Vancouver to escape the hurlyburly of the Olympics.

Jason James, a producer with Vancouver-based Resonance Films, shifted the shoot for the thriller "Repeaters" to Mission, an hour outside Vancouver.

"We're all a Vancouver crew, and we've been inundated with the hype of the Olympics for years and knew it was coming," James said of the decision to bypass downtown Vancouver.

Despite the suburban calm, the movie shoot has faced some Olympic roadblocks. James hoped to shoot a key action stunt scene at a local hydro dam but was denied a permit as guards have been posted on the security-sensitive site for the duration of the Games.

Christine Haebler, a producer with Screen Siren Pictures, also found relative quiet shooting the romantic feature "Daydream Nation" in Maple Ridge, 45 minutes outside of Vancouver.

"We're fine," she said. "We're going against the traffic, and we're in the sticks."

Other producers simply opted for an Olympics hiatus.

"We always planned to take the two weeks off from shooting at the very least," said Kristina Matisic, co-host of "Anna & Kristina's Beauty Call" from Vancouver-based Worldwide Bag Media, as her crew takes time off from production shoots in upmarket Vancouver, New York and Los Angeles shopping zones.

Canuck broadcasters, bulking up to cover an Olympic Games on their home turf, don't have that same luxury. The CTV, which plans round-the-clock coverage of the Games as the host broadcaster, has been forced to shift its lineup of U.S. shows -- including ABC's "Lost" and "Grey's Anatomy" and Fox's "American Idol" -- to its secondary A Channel network from Feb. 12-29.

"For two weeks in February, the A channels will have their most powerful schedule ever -- and a schedule that's nearly impossible to duplicate," Mike Cosentino, senior vp program scheduling at CTV Networks, said of the converged CTV and A Channel schedules, which now includes such series as "Desperate Housewives," "Two and a Half Men," "The Mentalist" and the new "Human Target."

Rival Canadian networks have had to respond to CTV's Olympic offensive, which will include 4,800 hours of multiplatform coverage, complete with every second of the Games available live.

Global Television, coming off an impressive fall 2009 season backed by Fox's "Glee," plans to air a returning season of Fox's "24" and CBS' "Survivor 20: Heroes vs. Villains" during the February sweep.
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