More than a filming location, Vancouver is exporting its own sci-fi

Continuum’s futuristic Vancouver | BCBusiness
Stanley Park in 2077 if the corporations in Continuum get there way

Continuum, a sci-fi hit shot in Vancouver, could be a harbinger of good things to come

The year is 2077. The setting, Vancouver.

No, really. Continuum, a futuristic science fiction show in which corporations run the continent, actually takes place here. While B.C. has a long history of hosting major sci-fi shows—The X-Files, The Outer Limits and Battlestar Galactica, to name only a few—it almost never plays itself. “We set Continuum deliberately in Vancouver because we live here,” explains the show’s executive producer, Tom Rowe, “and nobody decided to knock us off that perch.”

Science fiction and fantasy shows currently being shot in Vancouver
Continuum (Showcase, SyFy)
Arrow (The CW)
The Flash (The CW)
Once Upon A Time (ABC)
Supernatural (The CW)
The 100 (The CW)
Falling Skies (TNT)

Premiering in 2015
Olympus (SyFy)
The Whispers (ABC)
The Returned (A&E)
iZombie (The CW)

Soon there could be several more Canadian-made shows (as opposed to shows simply shot in Canada) joining Continuum on that perch. Simply put: The economics of making unashamedly Canadian content, and exporting it to the world, are finally making sense. There’s the longstanding infrastructure in Vancouver: 25,000 people employed in the local billion-dollar industry, not to mention Vancouver’s acclaimed visual effects studios (which helped create the colossal neon skyline of Continuum’s Vancouver, imagined as it might look 60 years on). There’s the Canadian dollar, which with each passing day makes exporting Canadian-produced shows more attractive to U.S. buyers. And there’s the proximity to L.A., where most of those buyers are.

North Vancouver-based Reunion Pictures, the production company behind Continuum, has managed to attract a lot of buyers for its show, including SyFy, Netflix, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment and Youku (China’s answer to Netflix). “We sold to pretty much every country in the world,” Rowe says. Continuum is now wrapping up its fourth and final season, set to air later this year, and while the show could have lasted longer, it had a good run (and plenty of good reviews). In the end, Rowe says, Continuum “will be a profitable show” for Reunion, which spent $2.4 million an episode to produce it—a far-higher budget than your standard Canadian-made series.

The success of Continuum is also good news for Reunion’s owner, Vancouver-based Thunderbird Films. Thunderbird has big ambitions to grow into a major player in the golden age of television, exporting Canadian TV to an international audience. It may just have the dream team—and capital—to pull it off, having partnered with Lionsgate and mining mogul Frank Giustra (who founded Lionsgate in 1997) just prior to its acquisition of Reunion in 2013.

As for what’s next for locally produced shows, Reunion, for one, has plenty on its plate: first, another show for SyFy, called Olympus, a mythological fantasy series that premiered in April. The studio is also travelling back in time with a historical show on the opium trade. Rowe can’t name-drop interested networks yet, but he says the series will be set in Hong Kong and, get this, Victoria. It turns out that in the 1870s, when opium was legal, the drug was B.C.’s third largest export to the U.S.

Here’s hoping they like our TV as much as they liked our opium.