VANCOUVER — Hollywood North is on the verge of losing its reputation for cool.
Vancouver has seen stars aplenty since the city graduated into one of North America’s film and television centres. A-listers such as Sean Penn and Robert De Niro are seen walking down the street and dining without bodyguards. Heck, Goldie and Kurt felt so comfortable they bought a house here some years ago.
Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner were molested by paparazzi, but they had a new baby and the public had a right to know what the little tyke looks like. They weren’t mobbed by fans, only the working press.
“Celebrities have always felt quite comfortable in Vancouver and that’s part of our charm and our competitive advantage,” said B.C. Film Commissioner Susan Croome.
History will record that 2009 was the year that everything changed. When filming started last spring on New Moon, the second story in the Twilight saga by author Stephenie Meyer, fans flocked to filming locations in the hundreds, creating unprecedented security headaches for the producers.
Twilight stars Rob Pattinson, Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart are back in Vancouver making the third film, Eclipse, until the end of October and the hysteria shows no sign of letting up. The young stars are tracked by fans to their hotel and favourite restaurants and any bars and clubs where they might try to sneak a drink or see a band.
Fans travel from all over North America and as far away as New Zealand to track their vampire heroes in the hope of getting a picture or an autograph. Some have succeeded, many more failed.
Maybe it’s a virus. Even little Gibsons Landing goes ga-ga over a Zac Efron sighting. The High School Musical star is filming The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud on the Sunshine Coast and attracting some Twilightesque fan attention of his own.
When Zac Efron stopped by the shopping mall on the town’s main drag, he probably didn’t know the local high school was right next door. He was mobbed.
Girls from Elphinstone Secondary gather daily near the waterfront after school and on evenings and weekends for a chance to see Efron. The camera crane on the pier is a clear indication that filming will eventually take place here, but today’s crowd doesn’t know when.
Holly Carter and Courtney Dionne are back after spending three hours waiting for something to happen the day before.
“Today I saw [Efron] drive by me and I was having a freak-out, I was screaming,” said Carter.
“I wasn’t there,” said a dejected Dionne.
Carter’s Facebook status that day read “ZAC EFRON LOOKED AT ME, LIFE = COMPLETE.”
“It’s all anyone at school is talking about,” said Grace Burns. “He’s a big celebrity in a small town and you don’t see that very often.
“You look around and you see younger girls prowling the street,” said Burns, who was sitting with three friends outside The Beachcombers’ iconic cafe Molly’s Reach hoping for a Zac sighting. “I heard a dad ask his kids if they had seen Zac yet, so even the parents know.”
The Facebook status of nearly every girl in school reads “Out prowling for Zac” or words to that effect, Burns said.
The sets for Charlie St. Cloud and Eclipse are closed to the media, so little information is available for fans. The demand for pictures of the stars and any little tidbits of information that can be gleaned by stealth is substantial. Twilight-related stories are huge traffic booster for news and entertainment websites.
Eclipse producers are begging newspaper websites and radio stations outlets in Vancouver not to disclose the filming locations, citing security and safety concerns for both the cast and crew and the fans. For the most part, New Moon and Eclipse have used locations on dead-end streets or remote single access properties that are easily defended. But when urban locations are required, fans are quick to pounce.
Twitter, Facebook and Twilight fansites are constantly updating every rumoured location and star sighting to thousands of hungry Twi-hards at a pace the mainstream media cannot match.
Croome isn’t convinced Hollywood North has completely lost its cool.
“I’m not sure that Charlie St. Cloud is quite the same thing as Twilight, not to the point that they have real safety concerns,” said Croome. “Twilight is the phenomenon the like of which we have never seen before.”
“People aren’t flying in to see a star like Zac Efron,” she said.