Seattle Times editorial columnist Bruce Ramsey laments the "runaway production" of Hollywood movies, in which Seattle becomes Vancouver.
Vampires roam Seattle in “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” which opened in theaters three weeks ago. Yet another Hollywood movie is set in Washington — and filmed in British Columbia.
The previous “Twilight” movie, “New Moon” (2008), was set in Forks, on the Olympic Peninsula, and filmed in British Columbia.
Lots of movies have been set here and filmed there. In “Firewall” (2006), Harrison Ford plays a Seattle bank executive. The movie tricks you with a shot of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. But you are not in Seattle. You are in Vancouver.
Late in the movie, Ford sets out on U.S. 2 (which a character calls “the two,” in California dialect). Highway 2 cuts through green forests, but the movie, shot near Kamloops, B.C., shows brown hills with sagebrush. Harrison Ford stops for a train — the Canadian Pacific.
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Another film set in Seattle and shot in Vancouver was “88 Minutes” (2007), a thriller starring Al Pacino. Even the makers of “Battle in Seattle” (2007), about the World Trade Organization protests, filmed for two days in Seattle and moved to Vancouver.
British Columbia does duty for other U.S. locations. The homeland scenes from the Iraq war movie “The Hurt Locker” (2008) were filmed in British Columbia, as was the Marine sniper’s cabin in “Shooter” (2007).
“Most movies can be made anywhere,” says Amy Dee, director of Washington Filmworks, a state-funded nonprofit that promotes moviemaking here. Where movies are made, she says, often depends on government subsidies.
British Columbia is especially generous. It offers five separate tax credits that have swelled in the past decade as the spread between the U.S. and Canadian dollars has shrunk. The province’s incentives now start at 35 percent of production costs and top out at 60 percent. B.C. targets a full range of TV and movie production, and feeds a substantial industry.
Washington Filmworks is a smaller effort. It offers 30 percent of the money spent in the state. It aims at films costing $2 million to $10 million. Since 2007, it has committed to pay $11.6 million in taxpayers’ money to moviemakers — an expenditure that will be fought over next year, as the Legislature decides whether to continue the program.
“It creates jobs,” Dee says.
It does bring them here, but by a kind of economic cheating. Under the WTO, governments have promised each other not to offer subsidies that distort trade. But they make exceptions for themselves, and Canada has made an exception for movies. And so have 44 U.S. states.
There is also the issue of artistic honesty. You have to make allowances, of course; “Black Hawk Down” (2001) which was filmed in Morocco, probably could not have been done in Somalia. And maybe it didn’t make any difference that “Cold Mountain” (2003) was filmed in Romania instead of North Carolina. But when a movie says it’s Seattle, it should show Seattle. At least “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993) did that, and it was one of that film’s delights.
Not so the original “Twilight” (2007), which was set in Forks but largely shot in Oregon. One scene is set at the ocean at La Push. Probably this was La Push’s one chance to be in a Hollywood movie — and the film gives you Cannon Beach, Oregon.
No doubt to a Hollywood moviemaker, Washington, Oregon and British Columbia are all pretty much the same. But not to us.
Bruce Ramsey’s column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org