Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Last updated: 2 years ago

The university of everywhere: why film companies shoot at UBC

Shia Labeouf was spotted on campus in 2011 when filming the movie The Company You Keep. Chances are, you've seen a movie or TV show filmed on the UBC campus — but if you weren't paying attention, you'd miss it. File photo Geoff Lister / The Ubyssey

Shia Labeouf was spotted on campus in 2011 when filming the movie The Company You Keep. Chances are, you’ve seen a movie or TV show filmed on the UBC campus — but if you weren’t paying attention, you’d miss it. File photo Geoff Lister / The Ubyssey

You may pay $175 for a two-day pass for the happiest place on earth, but film companies pay UBC $2,500 a day for the benefit of one of the most diverse settings in the world.

The UBC Vancouver campus is notorious for several things: Wreck Beach, bad Subway experiences and hosting celebrities and the feature films and television shows they perform in. For the most part, commercial filming has had a positive effect on campus in light of the opportunities they provide for the university, and their overall cultural impact.

“Our experience with commercial productions has been uniformly excellent,” said Robert Gardiner, head of the theatre and film department. “The disruptions are minor, the small amount of revenue is good for film students, and the opportunities for students to watch professional crews in action is good for training.”

UBC filming experiences are made appealing to companies by those in charge of the management of film productions on campus. Arlene Chan, the events and film liaison for UBC, believes the prospect of filming on campus benefits the university as a whole — as long as it poses no impact on the daily life of UBC and its students.

“When they first request to film on campus, we look at the timing so that it doesn’t interfere with any UBC operations such as exams, graduations, that kind of thing,” said Chan. “Filming is not meant to interrupt the general operations of the university.”

Following an examination of location, a script review and a cheque, productions are granted permission to snap their clapperboards on campus for $2,500 a day. With the average filming project requiring a preparation day, one shooting day and a wrap day, the university cashes in on half of the fee for reinvestment into the film program. The other half is divided between UBC Central Planning and facility upkeep for whichever specific campus site is used.

“We use the money we receive to purchase cameras and equipment for the film students, and to purchase rights for our collection of videos that are shown in film classes,” Gardiner said.

Over the past few years that Chan has been responsible for managing the shooting of productions, she said the increase in film crews on campus is highly variable from year to year. In the past year, UBC has provided settings for a variety of major upcoming movie and television releases, including the film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey, Tomorrowland (starring Hugh Laurie and George Clooney), the pilot for Agent X and a third Night at the Museum film.

We have quite a diverse area. When you go into the city, that’s it, it looks just like the city. But when you come out to UBC, it could be a city, but it could [also] be some rural area because you have so many trees, and looking at some of the gardens and wooded areas we have on campus as well.”

Just last week, filming even took place at the New SUB construction site for a show entitled Warriors about a team of elite doctors who treat war veterans.

“Right now there is an increase, but it is very cyclical,” Chan said, regarding current demand for UBC as a set. “One year it could be a little lower, the next year it could be a lot higher; it all depends on the types of productions that are being written and where locations are required.”

This demand, Chan said, is due to the fact that UBC’s campus can be interpreted in so many different ways.

“We have quite a diverse area,” she said. “When you go into the city, that’s it, it looks just like the city. But when you come out to UBC, it could be a city, but it could [also] be some rural area because you have so many trees, and looking at some of the gardens and wooded areas we have on campus as well. When you look at the [Irving K.] Barber Learning Centre, part of it is old and part of it is new, and that has an appeal for a number of productions.

“If [a production] can find the right location on campus and make a number of days of it, they can accomplish a lot in a more controlled environment,” Chan said — as opposed to filming in the city, where the roads are busy even on a good night and there are people everywhere.

Culturally, filming doesn’t seem to have a negative connotation regarding its impact on campus.

“I think it is an opportunity for the university to be portrayed in this manner. We try to engage the film students with the production as often as we can so they can actually see a production in process,” Chan said.

“It’s exciting, too, when you turn on the television and you see UBC, and … the way they can make it look so different or exactly the way it looks.”

The hit list: a brief history of film and TV at UBC

It's not uncommon to see signs on campus suggesting that this is another campus. In the show Smallville, Koerner Library was said to be Central A&M Kansas. Photo traintracks / Flickr

It’s not uncommon to see signs on campus suggesting that this is another campus. In the show Smallville, Koerner Library was said to be Central A&M Kansas. Photo traintracks / Flickr

MacGyver (1985–1992): The popular show about the mullet-wearing secret agent super repairman shot at the Irving K. Barber centre — so don’t be surprised if all those computers were actually made from nothing but twigs and a Swiss army knife (pictured below).

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The X-Files (1993–2002): The classic ’90s sci-fi show filmed one of its early episodes near Irving K. Barber. Unfortunately, it will probably take half a series to convince Agent Scully that this fact is true.

Smallville (2001–2011): The TV origin story of the Man of Steel filmed in Koerner and other parts of the campus, hopefully without the Last Son of Krypton dishing out the billion-dollar damage costs caused in his latest movie.

Try Seventeen (2002): Remember that coming of age comedy-drama starring Mandy Moore and Elijah Wood? Probably not, but it did film throughout various parts of the campus and in IKB.

Battlestar Galactica (2004–2009): This epic space opera TV series remake covering the conflicts of humans and the robotic cylons had both sides duke it out occasionally at places like Koerner Library and the Chan Centre.

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Supernatural (2005–present): The hit TV series (pictured right) about a pair of demon-hunting brothers has dropped by to film here at UBC on occasion — probably not without a handful of fans ogling the two leads, Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, from a distance.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007): This sequel about the further adventures of the popular Marvel superhero group shot a scene in Chan Centre.

Good Luck Chuck (2007): This critically panned comedy about a man cursed to break up with every woman he sleeps with filmed some of its antics around Green College, which shouldn’t be surprising given that location’s ranking in our sex survey.

Fringe (2008–2013): This contemporary X-Files and Twilight Zone hybrid was also filmed around parts of campus — or at the very least, their parallel dimension counterparts.

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X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009): This origin story of everyone’s favorite swearing, adamantium-clawed Canadian X-Man used the Buchanan tower as a stand-in for a prison — not far from the real thing, really (pictured right).

Arrow (2012–present): The TV series about the DC Comics hero and Justice League member Green Arrow recently filmed a fight scene at the Chan Centre.

The Company You Keep (2012): This espionage thriller starring Robert Redford and Shia LaBeouf filmed some scenes along Main Mall. Fun fact: LaBeouf got involved in a bar fight on Granville Street on the night of the UBC shoot.

  • 80085

    You failed to list The Butterfly Effect, featuring probably one of the clearest displays of UBC campus in blockbuster cinema!

  • http://www.jason-halayko.com Jason Halayko

    Parts of the “Butterfly Effect” was also filmed there, if I remeber correctly.