Vancouver, British Columbia: You know, Canada’s good city.

I’ve been to Toronto. I’ve been to Montreal. I’ve been to Ontario. And I liked all of these Canadian cities, except for Montreal which is annoying for the same reason France is (I don’t speak French). But I was unprepared for the majesty of Vancouver. Before visiting this Western Province, I had pretty much written off Canada as The Land That Summer Forgot.

Yeah, that cross goes right through the roof.

My impression of Canada was that of a snow-covered, winter wonderland that never thawed out. I grew up in the snow belt, so for me, anything north of Washington, DC is considered the Arctic Circle, and Vancouver is up near this place called the Yukon. Yeah, that’s up there near the Arctic Circle. We’re talking tundra, subzero temperatures, and man-eating polar bears.

With that mentality, it’s no surprise then that I didn’t relish going there, especially since San Francisco was plenty cold enough for my tastes.

But recently, my partner and I were forced to shoot a series of Burger King TV commercials up in Vancouver due to the Commercial Actor’s strike in Los Angeles.

We flew northward in August and were immediately and pleasantly surprised to find Vancouver almost hot. Granted it was summer, but Vancouver was sunny and in the seventies most days. The conditions were perfect since we were trying to replicate the American Southwest, something made more difficult if you can see the actor’s breath.

Find the window washer!

The city itself seemed very cosmopolitan and positively bustled with activity (if you call Asian tourists shopping “bustling with activity”). Still, it gave the city an appealing energy and Euro-quality. In fact, there was impressive racial diversity for the “Great White North” (we saw Caucasians of all descents milling about).

Downtown Vancouver.

Clean and modern, Vancouver enjoys weather that’s crisp and brisk feeling, dropping just shy of chilly thanks to the bright, West Coast sun that warmed the sidewalk cafes where we were supposed to be working. The downtown area is fashionable and trendy with lots of luxury shopping. After “work,” we did our share of shopping since everything was 33% off thanks to the backwoods-shed-beating the US dollar gives the Canadian one. (Most of the stores were US-based retail operations, but we ran into an odd local store that sold bulk soap, called Lush).

Five-star restaurants, on the other hand, were in short supply. There is one particularly good Japanese restaurant with celebrity photos lining the walls whose name escapes me. (UPDATE: It’s called Tojo’s Restaurant. Turns out the chef is friends with Anthony Bourdain.)

We stayed at Sutter Place, a four-star hotel located in downtown Vancouver. It was very expensive-looking, with all the comforts you’d expect in an overpriced flophouse, plus the added perk of a dark, wood-paneled hotel bar that attracted many of Hollywood’s elite. In fact, we saw or met so many celebrities, we stopped going anywhere else. (David Boreanaz (from the TV show, Angel), Jason Biggs, Michael Clark Duncan, Linda Hamilton, Corbin Benson, Sean Penn, and Tom Green to name-drop a few.)

The low cost of filming in Canada has made it attractive to budget-conscious (read, all) movie studios, so a number of movies are being filmed there now. Someone said 46 films so far that year. It has become the “New Hollywood.” Sort of.

On location at the golf course.

By shooting in Canada, the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) ironically forced us to save tens of thousands of dollars in talent and production costs. Normally, creatives, account services, and clients fly down and shoot in Los Angeles with some expensive production company, eat at some expensive LA restaurants, and patronize some expensive local hookers. By picketing TV commercial sets, SAG just made companies take their business to places like Canada and Prague. That’s a lot of money that won’t be filling the GNP of the City of Angels. An unintended, yet very real result of the strike was to open the floodgate.

Me and Geordie.

Now that companies know they can save money, they’re not going back (and you think NAFTA caused a “sucking sound…”). The only people who got hurt by the strike were the talent themselves and the production companies. Well done, SAG! Way to keep your members’ best interests at heart! I am glad, though, that the strike was settled if for no other reason than MCI can stop airing those lame re-cuts of 1-800-COLLECT commercials.

Jordan Brady, Director; Eagle Eagleson, Cameraman; Lynn Carey, Producer; Me, Copywriter; Geordie Stephens, Art Director; Tom Kelley, Babysitter

During a lull in shooting, we conned our production company into coughing up for a seaplane ride around the lake that was spectacular. The picturesque city is set on a small lake, and across the lake is a smallish mountain range. But the mountain range is overshadowed by a singular peak that rises from sea- (or, at least lake-) level straight up into the clouds. It more closely resembled a volcano but without the hot molten death that bellows from its peak. You couldn’t find a better backdrop for a city. It is simply amazing. The Ski resort Whistler is nearby I’m told, but I’m not a big fan of any sport that takes place outside in the snow.

Aerial view of the valley north of the lake.

In all, we spent two weeks enjoying the hospitality of our northern cousins, and I must confess, I was in no hurry to leave. The city would be eminently livable were it not for the Winter season that loomed only a few months ahead of us. Oh, and all the Canadians. Man, those guys are everywhere. You can’t throw a dead cub seal without hitting one of them.