A scene opens in Dragon Boys, the explosive 2007 CBC TV miniseries about Asian gang warfare.
Simon Wong—who plays Jason Wah, an insecure teen being preyed upon by gang members—is sweeping up shards of glass. The gang has smashed one of the windows of his family’s Chinese restaurant. In real life, the location is Flourishing Chinese Seafood Restaurant in Langley, one of many dining establishments used in local filming.
Dragon Boys producer Howard Dancyger explains by phone that Flourishing appears in the series roughly six times, and that it was the ideal site because they were filming in Langley and needed a midsize Chinese restaurant.
In general, before a decision is made, location managers will take photos of a restaurant and show them to directors and producers. “We run off and find places that work,” location manager Hans Dayal says by phone. Sometimes they just need a door: Dayal chose the back door of Gastown’s Water Street Café for a computer-generated scene in I, Robot.
The legendary Ovaltine Cafe on East Hastings Street has been used “oodles and oodles of times”, Dayal says, because of its distinctive old-time-diner feel. Da Vinci’s Inquest used to film there weekly, and Dayal used it in I, Robot as a coffee hangout for Will Smith’s Det. Del Spooner.
La Terrazza co-owner Iqbal Grewal describes his Yaletown spot as being perfect for a romantic on-screen tíªte-í -tíªte. “The whole aesthetics of the restaurant is very theatrical. We have very, very high ceilings. It is very classical,” he says by phone. The restaurant’s film credits include The L Word, Smallville, and The Wayans Bros. “We used to call it Studio 3, because we shot in there 13 or 14 times in two years,” says Lorne Davidson, a location manager, during a phone chat.
Two of the more involved shoots were for John Woo’s Paycheck, which starred Uma Thurman and Ben Affleck, and Beggars and Choosers, a TV series about a TV network exec. Grewal recalls that in Paycheck, stunt-glass doors had to be detonated in a scene in which gunshots were fired from outside. For Beggars and Choosers, tropical plants were placed outside to make it seem like the characters were in balmy L.A. instead of chilly Vancouver.
Depending on the requirements of the production, furniture may be taken out, paintings changed, and even portable dividers installed to make the room seem smaller. “They’ll have their set decorators go crazy,” says David Hannay, co-owner of Brix Restaurant downtown, which has appeared in Good Luck Chuck, as well as the TV shows Reaper, Dark Angel, and The X Files.
Location managers Dayal and Davidson point out that changes are usually cosmetic, since they select locations that are as close to what they want as possible. “They [film crews] may take down a piece of art, but their set decorating has never taken more than 45 minutes,” says Wild Rice’s Andrew Wong. His restaurant has been used for TV series such as Millennium, Da Vinci’s Inquest, and The L Word.
In order not to be too much of an inconvenience, crews try to shoot when a restaurant is closed. On occasions when they do shut places down, they compensate owners for lost business and customer goodwill. Dayal says that daily rates can range from $5,000 all the way to a whopping $100,000 for some places.
When filming gets lengthy, shows tend to look for a warehouse space they can dress up like a restaurant. Davidson encountered an even better situation when he was looking for a restaurant for Jet Li’s action flick War: a Japanese restaurant in Richmond had closed down. “We were able to pretty much destroy the place, as they were going to get rid of it anyway,” he says.
With all this activity in their restaurants, owners (or their liaisons) need to be around to make sure everything runs smoothly. By phone, Wong explains that during filming, someone needs to stand by to turn off anything that makes a noise, like a fridge or a generator. Dominique Sabatino, owner-manager of the Water Street Café—which appeared in Excess Baggage—mentions during a phone chat that the hardest part is the time spent standing and waiting during shoots.
With all that standing around, there’s always the potential for fame (or a few seconds of it). Dayal says he has to employ union actors, but the odd time restaurant staff will get used if they have union membership. Wong recalls one of the cooks at Wild Rice having to chop away while a character in Millennium escaped out the kitchen door. After hours of monotonous chopping during the filming, restaurant work seemed like a breeze.