Bardicvoice Vancon Reports, Part 4: Russ Hamilton
Photo courtesy of sweetondean
Location photos courtesy of Bardicvoice
Describing his job, he said that it starts with breaking down the script to find the locations described in it – mansion, street, gas station, warehouse, restaurant, ordinary house. Russ's crew takes 5,000 detail photos a week of places around Vancouver that might fit the bill for various different scripted locations. He said they have a library of over 10,000 potential locations investigated over the years.
Because the show's episodes are supposed to be in a different place every week, Russ said his crew researches the town[s] the episode is supposed to take place in, and then tries to find similar-looking places or buildings in the Vancouver vicinity. He said the hardest thing to match has been New York, because the brownstone look just doesn't exist anywhere around Vancouver.
Asked how he got involved with the show, he said it was because of word of mouth, conveyed through producer Cyrus Yavneh. He said he'd been working on another show, and when the folks from "Supernatural" called around, looking for a location coordinator, he was recommended. During the first season, "Supernatural" actually used two location managers, so Russ doesn't have all the records for the season one episodes, but he became the single coordinator at the beginning of season two and has served in that role ever since. He explained that the production employs him as a contractor, and he in turn picks and hires the members of his location team.
Asked about his most memorable location, whether good or bad, Russ laughed that the show has shot at over 900 distinct locations, with 5 or 6 sets in each. If he had to pick one as his favorite, he would choose the Fantasy World amusement park that was used in "Monster Movie" during season four. Located in Richmond, it was already closed when they shot there, and has since been torn down.
Asked about the creepiest location, he said that was a hard one because the "Supernatural" crew builds the best sets wherever they are. He finally went with the place they were using as Purgatory right now, because of its awesome creepy trees. [More on this in my later location tour report – he wasn't kidding about the creepy trees!]
Asked the location he wished he would never see again because it had been used it so much, he said Riverview. He explained that in the first years of the show, they had other hospitals to use, but then they lost those locations and had to go back to Riverview every time they needed a hospital or morgue. He reported they now had new buildings becoming available, so they had access to different places to use as hospitals, sheriff stations, and the like.
Asked about the range of locations used, and why "Supernatural" didn't go to other places outside of Vancouver, Russ first joked that the crew actually had a "Supernatural" time machine, loaded their trucks into it, popped to the real location, shot the scenes, and then came back, and the studio never knew! Then he got serious and explained that the prescribed studio zone covered all locations within half an hour's travel outside Vancouver in any direction. Outside that 30-minute zone, the studio had to pay travel expenses in 6-minute increments, and the travel time counted against the shooting day. In other words, if they were an hour outside of town, they would lose 2 hours of shooting from each day, and would also have to pay a 60-minute travel premium on top of their standard costs. To meet a 12-hour shooting day at that distance, the director would have to make all his shots within 10 hours, to allow for the travel time. The only way to avoid the travel cost would be to put up the entire production crew in hotels overnight at the remote location, a choice with its own additional expenses that they chose to make when they decided to shoot "Wishful Thinking" up in Squamish, which was well beyond the studio zone. The only other episode shot significantly beyond the studio zone was "Good God, Y'All" – and all the scenes actually shot in Abbotsford had to be nailed down in one day.
Asked if any of the Supernatural locations were haunted, Russ responded that at least four of them were, including Riverview. He said he had read Riverview security logs from the 1950's and 1970's that reported people seen in windows and objects moving when no one was present. He added that he believed in ghosts, and laughed that he knew he was coming back!
When one fan asked how much of what we saw “on location” was actually computer generated and not live at all, Russ responded that the locations were real, but the show doctored them a lot using CGI. His favorite example was the destroyed bridge in "Good God, Y'All"; the bridge they used was very real, but perfectly intact. Seeing it as demolished was accomplished through CGI. He noted that CGI was getting cheaper all the time, and "Supernatural" was CGI-heavy. He said they still needed the real basis, but CGI kept getting better.
Russ laughed that he was engaged in a postcard war with Tara Larsen, and accused her of cheating. As he put it, the postcards sent by fans to the studio went from the production office to Tara to distribute, and he teased that she wasn't delivering the ones addressed to him. He encouraged fans to send postcards anyway, and to send a lot more to him than to Tara!
That was the end of Russ's panel. I will have a lot more information from Russ provided during the Monday location tour, so tune back in for that one. It will take a little time to post, though, because for that one, I've got pictures too – and maybe even a little video …
Next up, Julie McNiven – the angel Anna!