Finally, our bus arrived approximately a half an hour late, and we filed on and took our seats. Russ was ready to take us to many special places the show had filmed at and wanted to tell us all about it---but he certainly didn't want to use the bus provided microphone to do it! The back of the bus, however, did not agree with that, and Russ had to give in and “swallow the damn thing” as he explained where we were going that morning. He told also told us where we weren't going---and why---the location for the “Sacrifice” church. If we had, we wouldn't have seen much of anything else.
I had my attention divided. My ears were all on Russ, listening and taking in everything he had to share with us about being the Locations Manager and working in TV in general. My eyes darted from him to the city scape going by. Oh sure, I was hoping to spot a filming location to go visit later on, but really it was more than that. I hadn't seen much of the city since I had arrived. I spent all weekend long inside the Sheraton Wall Centre taking in the convention events, so this was my first chance to actually see Vancouver up close and personal more or less.
I come from a small town in Minnesota, and while I've been to New York, New York three times, I'm always amazed by the size and scale of things in cities. Vancouver was no different. Big buildings everywhere, multiple restaurants and businesses, sidewalks bustling with people, and roads congested with traffic all are hallmarks of the city life---and I find it equally parts intimating and invigorating. I may drive a major highway to and from work five days a week, but none of our streets have buildings this tall or roads this busy.
As for Russ, he was telling us all about how the engine works on making a show---and that was fascinating to me. Every single person who works on Supernatural---or any show really---has a particular role, a job they must do and do well for the whole to come together. In Russ's case, he was telling us in detail how it is his job to not just find great places for the show to film, but also take care of those places and the legalities that come with the show using them. He told us all about how he will spend hours on paperwork to deal with these things---which he explained in that colorful way only Russ knows how.
First, he will take the script and look it over to figure out what types of locations they may require. He has approximately 20 people working under him that he disperses scouting and other duties to---and they bring him pictures that fit the descriptions for the various places in the scripts. He told us that after a location is chosen, it is up to him to secure it, take care of it, and be in charge of any emergency that may arise while they use it. His big phrase about filming on location especially was “Making your day,” which means you only have so many hours to film in a day at a particular place and you must get your shots in to make the episode scenes flow well. Russ told us all how much work it takes to make a single episode with just these explanations---and yet what really gripped me was just how much he loved doing it!
Finally, we arrived to our first location. I was thrumming with excitement by now, waiting with camera in hand to photograph a location site. It made me feel almost like I was one of Russ's scouts! On our way off the bus, Russ handed us a map of the first location---none other than Moondoor itself. He led us to the spot the Queen's tent would have occupied, and told us how this location was exactly what the script had been looking for---all save the frisbee golf course not far away. Russ feels that “frisbee golf isn't a sport,” and he spent some time mocking it to our amusement. As we all know, it's the very thing that interrupts Dean's Braveheart speech!
All of us took our cameras out and started to snap pictures without abandon. Sure, the Moondoor camp was long gone and we were standing in an empty field surrounded by trees, but somehow I could almost see the action, hear the episode playing as I looked around and soaked it all up. I was standing where “LARP and the Real Girl” went from being a script to being alive and fully realized. I allowed that to settle over me and listened to Russ explain more about it.
It was funny when he realized that not all of us had the map in color and insisted that those who didn't return their sad black and whites to get the right map! When we had them out and open (and with the correct colors) he pointed out from his place at the Queen's tent the directions to other places marked on it. In the vast grass and trees, I could see the Tech Tent, the stocks, the various factions---the Elves, the Warriors, and the Queen's Guard---all milling around.
But that doesn't mean Russ spent all his time just talking at us. Oh no. This was an interactive tour! Russ led us away from the Queen's Tent and towards the familiar path we see used in the episode as the battle lines. There, he held up a copy of the actual script used and asked for volunteers to act out a key moment---you guessed it, the Speech itself. Three people were chosen---to play Charlie, Sam, and Dean. Russ told them in his director's voice that they had 30 seconds to prepare and get into character.
The group huddled around the script and looked it over and Russ called for action. With gusto, our Dean stepped forward and began the speech in earnest and with dramatic fashion. Much of us were giggling in delight as we watched the performance come to life. Though, I can never do it the justice it deserves. Thankfully, several there taped it and put it on YouTube and you can watch it here for your enjoyment!
After I made a total ass out of myself, Russ led us to the small grove off the main camp of Moondoor where Sam and Dean encounter the Shadow Orcs. There was a tree stripped of its bark that Russ particularly liked and he welcomed people to take photos with him and it. Russ talked about how they had to set up the camera shots here and how the naked tree had to be masked since it wasn't called for in the script. I think they should have let it expose itself to us all on the show, but we're afraid of nudity---even tree nudity!
Someone slinked through to upstage Russ. Appropriately our party crasher was a black cat that wound its way through the crowd demanding all sorts of attention and pets. He was friendly and smug about his ability to pull the spotlight away from our tour guide. Everyone went from snapping photos of the location site and the naked tree to taking photos of our feline visitor. His tail went up high and waved in defiance, and he made sure to make the rounds to visit all of us in turn as he walked through.
All too soon we were loaded back onto the bus and off to our next location. We did have precious daylight to use and the day was still young with many places yet to see. Our next stop was a wondrous one---one I had hoped on seeing when coming to Supernatural Mecca---THE Men of Letter's Bunker door.
We arrived there, and Russ told us about how the location was a great find---but tricky. Part of the path that leads to the MOL Bunker door is owned by the province and the other the city. So that meant a bit more paperwork and maneuvering. Another issue emerged, too, with the bridge. In “Pac Man Fever,” when we see the Impala meet nose to nose with Charlie's car, that wasn't scripted. It was necessary due to the structure issues with the bridge, and they were not allowed to park the cars directly in front of the Bunker as desired. Russ explained to us that safety is always a must---and while he didn't like the issues, they'd do it that way again.
Someone asked why the show couldn't fix it themselves, and Russ explained that it would cost too much first of all and the other issue was the province and the city would also need to be involved. The city is responsible to fix it---and that could take years to make happen. That's the issue with working on a location heavy show. Each location is different with its own sets of issues that may change some of the episode in filming to make it feasible. I found it utterly fascinating.
Russ explained to us why this location was perfect, though, despite some of its issues. He loved talking about how things light at night---and for him that means bridges and structures like them. He said this shot well at night like they want, was unique enough to be eye catching, and had the feel and mood for the show that worked for the concept of the Bunker. The railings that we see in front of it are removed for shooting and replaced once they are done. Russ said that this was picked largely before the set version was built---and that his only real direction was to find something cool. He really has having seen it in person, up close no less!
Once Russ let us loose to take photos and take in the scene, I imagined Sam and Dean emerging from the door. I pictured Baby sitting down the road, past the bridge. I could almost see Charlie being lead through the door or Kevin entering it in “Sacrifice.” The area had a strange fusion of urban and natural all together that made it really seem like the ultimate perfect find. The spray painted symbols and graffiti didn't seem out of place. I could almost sense the vast resource and sanctuary that lie behind the door---even if that's on a set and not at the physical location itself.
I had my picture taken in front of it---because as Charlie says, “Pictures or it didn't happen.” So did so many others. This was a special place to visit---and I dare say almost topped Moondoor. We weren't the only ones there to visit, though. Mitch Kosterman---Clif's brother---was there to film us and talk with a few of us about Supernatural and being fans. I asked him about the fandom filming project that started with the letter campaign. He said that they were still going through the letters submitted and choosing those that were the most interesting to interview. I told him I had sent one in and that I was hopeful they would find it worthy.
By this time, however, we had found that we had worked up quite the appetite. Good thing our next stop would be lunch. We loaded back on the bus and made our way to the lunch tent awaiting. There, we were treated with a catered meal by a food truck known to serve the show itself---the Guanaco Food truck. We were divided by what we wanted---chicken, pork, vegetarian, and spicy. As we acquired our food, we entered the lunch tent---those just like the ones used on the locations during filming---and sat down to eat our fill. I went with spicy because I love to eat super spicy food. My poison is usually of the Chinese/Thai variety, but Salvadorian food was good, too.
After lunch, Russ took us to our first unrecognizable location----well not recognizable just yet. It's a spot in an episode for season 9. You know how much of a spoilerphobe I am---but no, I didn't stick my fingers in my ears and close my eyes. Russ was really good at not spoiling anything. He simply told us that the big bridge we were standing by and under would be in episode 3 of season 9, featuring a now human Castiel coping with his humanity. He will need to cope with eating, sleeping, feeling like crap, and emotions. The most spoiling news that Russ let out was about Castiel living in a homeless camp under the bridge. I was left wanting to see the episode, but not aware of too much.
Russ told us that this location was tricky. While they were putting a fictional homeless camp there, under the bridge was an actual homeless camp. I found that to be heartbreaking, but not unsurprising. He told us that they did take care of those who do call this area their “home” by giving them vouchers for food shelves and soup kitchens.
Russ explained to us that, yet again, the big reason for choosing this spot is because it fit the script and director vision---but it also lit well at night. He also explained to us here that the reason we were smelling beer in the air is because the building next to it was an actual brewery. I found that appropriate---considering Dean and other characters on the show.
We quickly dispersed then to wander the place and take photos from different angles to capture it so we could match up when the episode airs. It was hard to choose any particular place in the location as we're not as sure what to look for yet. Everyone snapped as many pictures as they possibly could---and as we started to stagger back in, Russ had fun with us. He told those of us standing by him to wait for it, and then he raised his voice extra loud to say, “And that's Jared Padalecki's home phone number!” He wanted to see how many of those just filtering in would react. Sadly, most were just stunned by his statement that they didn't get too excited and I didn't catch anyone exclaiming, “What?”
We boarded the bus after that to go to our next location. Ritchie Bro Auctioneers---I mean Richard Roman Enterprises. We pulled up to the building and exited the bus. The site was instantly recognizable, and I saw Charlie on her bike pulling up, Rebel shirt on display, helmet coming off, and walking through the glass doors inside. When we stepped inside, we saw the infamous glass elevators---aka “Walking on Sunshine” dance---and the balcony upstairs where Charlie would have been working away on Frank's drive.
The place looked so familiar---and yet different. Russ explained to us that this place was filmed at night---usually an overnight between 10 PM to 5AM---in which they had to set up, film, and put everything back in that time. Ritchie Bros was still running its business during the day, and so the show had to make sure they were in, out, and out of sight/mind each day. They stored the props and decals and such in another area of the building while on location---but always out of sight of Ritchie Bros's clients. It seemed like a monumental task to film “The Girl with the Dungeon and Dragons Tattoo,” indeed.
The doors we entered were not the same doors we see on the show. Russ told us that what they did here was unhook the doors from their hinges, set them in a safe location, put up their own doors complete with candy glass and the Richard Roman Enterprises logo, and then film. Those were the doors we see Bobby freeze until they crack and then Sam and Dean smash through on their way to save Charlie. I imagined how difficult this stunt must have been, and wondered how many chances they had at getting the right shot.
There was a woman that worked there that talked to us about the building, too. She explained that they were thrilled to have had Supernatural film in their building and were very pleased with how they went about their business. She said that it was fun watching Felicia Day run down the hall or ride the elevator for multiple takes. And she really liked James Patrick Stuart and his performance as Dick Roman. She said the show wasn't the only place to film in their building, either. Overall, she said the whole cast and crew never let their energy lag and were very accommodating and nice to work with.
Intrigued, I asked what other show, and she answered that Psych had used the building and would feature in an upcoming episode for the coming season. I felt giddy, as Psych is my other favorite show. She told me that I would know it was their building again because it was an episode with a giant fish tank that they had put in for the episode. I am so excited to say I've been at this location not just for one show but two!
Russ said that we had to keep going and we quickly took our last photos and thanked our Ritchie Bros host before reboarding the bus onto our next stop: Russ's first location on the show: the “Hookman” bridge. It was a very awesome sight to see the spot where the Hookman makes his first attack, the creepy hook almost swinging down in my mind to scrap the top of the car. Russ showed us the other side of the river where this scene was shot and explained to us that on the opposite bank they set up their spot light on a crane. It seemed like an awful lot of work to get the right shot, but I think it turned out creepy and frightening.
Russ was very attached to this location as it was his first with the show. As he had the whole trip, he had his Locations binder tucked under his arm---the one with the extra special no touchy warning. This was the very first one in that binder. I looked around at the bridge in the daylight---trying to imagine how Russ viewed it when he chose it for that first of many locations in the show's history. Through the wood and the negative spaces surrounding the bridge, I could see how lighting would make it stand as an eerie figure in the scene.
Russ talked about this bridge and how this location was huge for him---and how bridges have largely become a hallmark for locations he uses. With their size and scale it is easy to see how bridges would make for good spots to set tone and style for the show. This bridge had a lot of things some other bridges didn't have. Being wood, it seemed to have even more character. The structure seemed unique, utterly recognizable, and unforgettable. For a location seen mostly in the dark, this bridge took on an iconic image just by being in the scene.
The next location was one of the most iconic the show has ever had: Dean's grave in “Lazarus Rising.” Even without the cross, it wasn't hard to imagine Dean's hand shoving through the soil and his emergence from Hell and death to life. There was something very different in the scene, however. One that wasn't on screen that we saw all around us: upright trees. Russ told us that the VFX crew had to get rid of those trees and then replace them with the blown down ones we see surrounding the grave.
To film Dean under ground, Russ explained that they had to get a camera to line up underground to a small slat they had cut into the earth and braced for Jensen to do the scene with the lighter and push on the pine box. He also told us the tidbit about Kim Manners having requested that Oreo cookie crumbs be strewn about to make up the dirt---a tidbit you'll recall that led to a cupcake of mine. Hearing it from Russ made me want one of those cupcakes there with me!
Over the top of the hill where we were was part of the landscape Dean stares out over as he catches his bearings and realizes the trees are all down around him. This was one of the most awesome locations to visit, and I had a picture taken with Russ standing right on Dean's grave. Considering he crawled out of it, I don't consider it disrespectful! I then took in the surroundings and snapped many photos. It was an amazing sight---and not just for the show connections. The spot was serene and natural.
We weren't the only actors on the Tour that day. Russ did some acting, too---as a house. The old lady's house in “Bedtime Stories” to be exact. He stood in a spot and pretended first to be the house and then held the Locations Binder on his palm to represent the house---all with the quip that he was glad he could “make a jackass of myself for your entertainment.” I glanced around the area, picturing the house in the tranquil setting. It was really in the middle of nowhere, tucked inside the forest.
The bus took an interesting path after we got back on and took us passed a very special place: the Studio Supernatural calls home! And then we passed the familiar motels seen on the show with the colored doors. Sadly, we were then on our way back to the Sheraton and our Tour was over. Russ gave us a decal used by those who work at the Studio as parking passes---so we too could at home feel like we're part of the crew! As we arrived back at the hotel, we each exited the bus to a hug from Russ and he gladly signed our Moondoor maps, thanking us for joining him on a fun day. The thanks were returned by all the fans, and we left with a bittersweet happiness in our hearts. It was sad to have it over, but awesome that it had happened!
But that's not the end of my story in Supernatural Mecca. There's still MORE to tell!