“Where the hell are we, anyway?
Dude, we’re not even in America…” Dean Winchester
Vancouver is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and there is so much to see and do, especially for first-time visitors. But for Supernatural (SPN) fans it’s even more special because this is where ‘our show’ is filmed; where Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles have portrayed ‘our boys’ Sam and Dean Winchester. So I guess it goes without saying that location hunting is high on the agenda.
Fortunately, there are some iconic spots that are easy to find such as St Andrew’s-Wesley Church, which was used during season two’s Houses of the Holy. This is located just across the road from the Sheraton Wall Center, where the convention is held, and there are plenty of other locations within walking distance of here.
When I started to write about the Salute to Supernatural convention in Vancouver, I thought it would be one blog, not three. And it could have been more, which I guess just means that I had the most amazing time. In this final installment I’d like to share with you some of the other fun SPN-related things I did either side of the convention weekend. This includes Russ Hamilton’s location tour and the VFX non-con. If you’d like to read the previous parts to my story, please click on the links (Part 1 & Part 2).
If there is a better place than Hell Pizza to meet up with a bunch of SPN fans, I’m yet to discover it. Their pizzas are Purgatory, Cursed, Damned, Creator, Wrath and The 666; their pastas are Spirit and Demon; and their dessert is I-Scream. It was here that I met up with a group of fellow-Australians; most of whom I’d met online but not in person. This was such a great way to get to know each other before the convention began and, as a few of us were flying solo, it meant we were no longer alone.
While at Hell Pizza, I heard a couple of women talking about SPN and stopped to say hello. It was a brief conversation, but it was fun to spot some fellow-fans. It was only later that I realised they were Lynn and Katherine from Fangasm. As a fan of their books, I’d really hoped to meet them and I guess I did; I just didn’t know it at the time.
Hell Pizza is located only a block from the Sheraton Wall Centre at 1074 Davie Street. For the quickest way to Hell go to www.hellpizza.ca.
It is so much fun being a tourist in Vancouver with fellow-SPN fans. I mean, this is a city I’ve visited many times, but it’s the first time I’ve walked alongside the picturesque Coal Harbour and totally geeked out over a couple of lamp-poles. We’d managed to identify the spot where Dean started hyperventilating because he thought the impala had been stolen, in the season three episode Red Sky At Morning.
Suddenly I was seeing Vancouver in a whole new light. There’s no shortage of tourists wandering around this area, but very few of them are re-enacting a scene from a television show.
From here, we wandered down to the popular Gastown. But instead of sticking to the main byways, we peeked into all of the laneways. They all look much the same, unless you’re a SPN fan. We also chose our lunch spot at Malone’s Bar and Grill because it appeared in the season one episode of Shadow, where the first victim was walking home.
We mentioned this to our waitress and she proceeded to tell us that SPN had once used her downtown apartment to film a few scenes. She couldn’t recall the name of the episode because she doesn’t watch the show. The five of us just stared at her totally gobsmacked. How many of us would love to have SPN filming in our apartment?
*Brief pause while I imagine this scene playing out in my life…
*I guess I need to shift to Vancouver…
Where was I?
Oh yeah. Apparently, they took photographs of her apartment so they could put everything back in place once they were done filming. She was given accommodation in a nearby hotel and when she returned home nothing was out of place. You wouldn’t have known they’d been there, she said.
She also mentioned that SPN had been filming in the laneway behind this restaurant only a couple of weeks ago which, by my calculations, would make it the third episode of season nine. I’m fairly confident it was the scene where Castiel met April while he was looking through the rubbish in I’m No Angel.
Just down the road from here, in Hastings Street, is the RBC Royal Bank where season two’s Nightshifter was filmed on the lower level. This is one of my favourite episodes and I seriously felt like I was stepping onto the SPN set. It was SO familiar to me. Of course, being in a bank, we couldn’t take photographs unless we wanted to get arrested. It was all we could do to look inconspicuous as we lingered, awe-struck, in the very place where Sam and Dean hunted a shape-shifter.
A staff member asked if he could help us and I almost blurted out “we’re just looking” before I composed myself. Why would anyone be “just looking” in a bank? In my imagination, I could also hear the Styx song Renegade blaring over the loud-speakers as we made our escape (or, in this case, quietly left the building).
On another day, we ventured out to the historic fishing village of Steveston in Richmond (which is not far from the Vancouver International Airport). SPN has filmed here on a few occasions, most notably in the iconic season three episode Mystery Spot.
“Today is Tuesday, but yesterday was Tuesday too.”
Poor Sam! In his groundhog day, he and Dean walked down the same stretch of the main street so many times that it was very easy for us to recognise. But it’s slightly confusing, because this is also the main street of the fictional town of Storybrooke from Once Upon A Time. Not to mention, the place where Sam got shot with a poison dart in season five’s Swap Meat. Poor Sam! I don’t think he’d like Steveston.
But maybe Soulless Sam would. After all, this is where he hooked up with all those women while hunting the arachne in the season six episode Unforgiven. Scenes were filmed in the Britannia Heritage Shipyards National Historic Site, which was also the location for some scenes from season two’s Born Under A Bad Sign. It’s a really lovely walk through this area, whether you’re looking for SPN locations or not.
Afterwards, we had a drink in The Buck & Ear Bar & Grill, where body swap Sam picked up the older woman at the bar. We spoke to the barman, who’d watched the filming, but the waitress had no idea what I was talking about when I asked if they get many people ordering banana daiquiris. In fact, they didn’t even serve banana daiquiris, which was a tad disappointing.
I can almost guarantee that you’ll see a few SPN locations while you’re out and about, even if you don’t realise it. I know this because I’ve done it myself on a previous trip. A group of us hiked up The Chief, which is a granite dome adjacent to the town of Squamish (north of Vancouver). I had no idea that this landmark made an appearance in the season four episode of Wishful Thinking, but I returned there last year with my brother and, this time, recognised it and the main street. We also looked for the pier from the final scene, but couldn’t find it. It was only later I realised that this was filmed in Port Moody, 110 km away. Such is the power of filmmaking.
The Russ Bus – SPN location tour
I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the official SPN location tour with the show’s Location Manager, Russ Hamilton. It might sound ridiculous to those who don’t watch SPN, but I was so excited to walk down the lane-way that leads to the Men of Letters (MoL) bunker; to explore the park and woods where they filmed LARP and the Real Girl; and to stand in the lobby of the building that was Dick Roman Enterprises, imagining Sam and Dean crashing through the glass doors to rescue Charlie.
On top of that the whole day was filled with laughter. Russ is such a character. I follow him on Twitter so I (almost) knew what to expect, but what impressed me most about him was the obvious passion he has for his job (which seems to be a common trait for anyone working on SPN). Executive Producer Jim Michaels told us at the convention that Russ was the first person he met when he started working on SPN. He said Russ picked him at the airport and he thought: “Oh God, what am I getting into? I’ll either wind up in jail or have the best time of my life with these people.”
Safe to say, it’s the latter. And, even though the location tour is only a day, it’s so much fun. Russ’s enthusiasm was contagious and never more evident than when he and a few of the fans re-enacted a scene from LARP and the Real Girl.
Our first stop of the day was amazing – and I think a first for Russ’s location tours – as we got to briefly join the Tech Survey for episode 905 (which aired as 907 – Bad Boys). We joined First Assistant Director Kevin Parks, who was directing his second episode, Production Designer Jerry Wanek, Jim Michaels, and a host of other people as they discussed logistics for a couple of scenes that would be filmed at this restaurant in North Vancouver.
I asked Kevin how many days it takes to complete the Tech Survey and he told me it was usually two or three days. I also asked if he was enjoying directing and he said, yes, it was a challenge but he really enjoyed it. Kevin’s beautiful dog Kuma was also here. I’d seen him in the Harlem Shake video when he was just a pup and we were told to look out for him in future episodes.
The other big highlight was seeing the exterior of the MoL bunker, which is located under the Second Narrows Bridge. It was all so familiar – the lane-way, the bridge in the background and then the actual bunker doorway.
I also really enjoyed hearing Russ explain about how they transform this location to what we see onscreen and how they overcome some of the problems such as the noise from bridge traffic.
For lunch we visited a spot under the Burrard Street Bridge near Granville Island. This was the location of the homeless camp where Castiel spent time in season nine’s I’m No Angel. Russ couldn’t tell us much because it was a sneak peek at a future episode (but it was great to see how different this looked when episode finally aired). It was also a treat to have lunch from the Guanaco mobile food truck, which has appeared on the show and is owned by SPN’s Camera Assistant Jose Manzano. This was the first time I’d tried Salvadorian food and it was so delicious!
Later we drove through Gastown, with Russ pointing out several locations, and then further afield to see where they’d filmed LARP and the Real Girl and The Girl with the Dungeons and Dragons Tatoo. It was such an awesome day and I’d highly recommend going on one of these tours if you ever get the chance. Thanks Russ 🙂
On the Monday night after the convention I was lucky enough to attend a night out with the Visual Effects Team (VFX), which was organised by the lovely Jules from Supernatural Wiki. This inaugural event was christened the non-con because it wasn’t part of the convention, but rather an informal gathering of SPN fans and the VFX team at the Storm Crow Tavern.
The venue was located out of the downtown area so we had to catch the SkyTrain to Commercial station and then walk for about 15 minutes. En route my friend Rachel turned to me and said, “I think we just walked past a leviathan”.
Of course, I thought she’d gone mad; that perhaps she’d experienced so much SPN in the last few days that she was now a bit delusional. But then I looked around and saw that it was Chet, the leviathan that Bobby had locked up in his basement during the season seven episode of Slash Fiction – aka actor Sean Owen Roberts.
It was such a surreal moment that we just kept walking and it didn’t even occur to us, until much later, that we should’ve invited him to the event. We were also a bit freaked out because he was a leviathan who’d somehow managed to get his decapitated head back. And we really didn’t want to mess with him. (I sometimes confuse fiction with reality).
The Storm Crow Tavern has been described as the nerdiest bar in Vancouver – perhaps the world – and we immediately knew we were in the right place. For one, it was full of SPN fans. But also, there was memorabilia all over the walls and above the bars, and the menu had the following inscription:
“Travellers tell of a secret haven, beyond the Gulf of Ghosts, deep in the mazed valleys of the port of Vancouver, called the Storm Crow Tavern. Here, they say, even the foulest of blackguards find sanctuary if their gold is good, and almost anything can be bought or sold in the smoky black dens. But beyond the lusty wenches and bloody brawls, tales speak of something more sinister brewing in the Storm Crow… whispers of darkest sorcery, rumors of an ancient evil awakening.”
I loved it. And it was the perfect place for us to gather to hear all about the amazing world of VFX on SPN. We got to watch a couple of unofficial VFX demo reels, saw some before and after VFX shots, and had a Q&A with VFX Coordinator Ryan Curtis.
What I loved the most was hearing about the season eight finale, Sacrifice. At the convention we’d heard Jared and Jensen talk about it from an acting perspective, so it was fascinating to also hear about the special effects. And there were plenty in that episode – Kevin putting the tablet back together, the floor of the church cracking, Abaddon being set on fire and then smoking out, Sam’s glowing arms, Castiel losing his grace and, of course, the angels falling.
I asked Ryan a question – did they ever look at a script and think we can’t possibly do all of that? He said that they rank the scripts in terms of VFX as light, medium, heavy, and… “Oh fuck”. Sacrifice was the latter. The team were still finalising the effects in Sam’s arms two days prior to the show going to air. He also listed the other heavy VFX episodes in season eight as Blood Brother, A Little Slice of Kevin, The Great Escapist and Clip Show.
Ryan also talked a bit about when they are called in to touch up people’s faces. They once had to get rid of a pimple on Jensen’s face and another time they had to add some cuts on Rachel Miner’s face due to a loss of continuity for a particular scene. He also joked, “There have been some facial injuries on certain cast members that we’ve had to erase or minimise, which certain cast members have rewarded us handsomely with scotch for making them look pretty again.”
I’m fairly certain that Ryan was talking about the infamous wrestling match between Jared, Jensen and Misha that occurred at one of the convention hotels – ‘fight training’ for Misha the guys had joked at the time. They all sustained injuries but Jensen had visible rug burns on his face that needed to be hidden onscreen. You could still see one on his forehead. Boys will be boys.
The other VFX team members who joined us were VFX I/O Coordinator Adam Williams; 2D Artists Werner ten Hoeve, Christian Blaze and Rikin Patel; and Senior 2D Artist Vivian Jim. Writer Adam Glass also made a surprise appearance with his son, Aiden. The event was live-streamed for those who couldn’t make it and can now be heard on the Women of Letters podcast.
About halfway through the evening the bar staff began serving Purple Nurples, which of course we had to try. They are made from Malibu coconut rum, Blue Curacao liquer, cranberry juice and triple sec, which I discovered is not my favourite combination. I think I would’ve preferred a banana daiquiri.
My only disappointment for the evening was that I had to leave early. I missed the photographs, autograph signings and, apparently, a rousing rendition of Carry on my wayward son. I would’ve loved that.
I can’t thank the VFX team enough for taking the time to hang out with fans. It was a fantastic night and I hope that we can do it again this year. Oh, and if you’re ever in the Storm Crow Tavern look out for a signed photo of Jared and Jensen on their wall. It was presented to them at this inaugural gathering.
PHEW. I think this is the longest blog I’ve ever written. So if you’ve made it to the end I’m very impressed. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read my articles and to those who’ve made heartfelt comments on Twitter, Facebook and my blog. I’m very happy to be a part of the SPN family… and hope our little show continues for a few more years.
SPN episode photographs: © The WB/The CW Network