By IAN BAILEY
Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Six years ago, Greg Berlanti came to Vancouver to make the pilot for one TV show - an adaptation of the DC comics character Green Arrow. As things turned out, he ended up launching six shows, all being shot in the Vancouver region. And he has no intention of leaving any time soon.
In large part, the creative success of each of his series hinges on Vancouver, the veteran Hollywood producer said in a recent interview about Vancouver's role in his production empire. "They wouldn't be as good if they left," Berlanti said. "I just think that the DNA of these shows was built in this place. There's a reservoir of talent that's behind the camera, of women and men, on these shows that have helped build this. I wouldn't do that to them."
As it stands, Berlanti is at the helm of a production powerhouse pumping tens of millions of dollars into the province and employing thousands of workers.
Of 18 series listed as currently being in production in B.C., five list him as executive producer (a sixth Berlanti show has already wrapped filming). One of Hollywood's most prolific TV producers, Berlanti was in town to talk about Love, Simon - his first feature-film directing gig in eight years. But looming over the samesex teen romance is his evergrowing clout in B.C.production.
Berlanti's impact on the city began in 2012, with Toronto-born Stephen Amell playing the lead in Arrow - an archery-inclined vigilante upholding justice in the fictional Star City, played by Vancouver.
Then came The Flash (casting Grant Gustin as the titular highspeed hero), also ripped from the pages of the comics Berlanti adored as a youth, followed in brisk succession by DC's Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl (starring Melissa Benoist as the woman of steel). Berlanti also serves as executive producer on the Vancouver-shot Riverdale, an edgy adaptation of the long-running comic-book series revolving around perpetual teenager Archie Andrews, and holds the same duties on the Riverdale spinoff, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. The shows air in the United States on the CW Network, as well as on Canadian broadcasters.
And just as Hollywood keeps finding new ways to launch lucrative superhero stories on the big screen (Avengers: Infinity War, the 19th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, lands in theatres next month), Berlanti is not ruling out the possibility of more superhero TV shows setting up shop in Vancouver in the near future. "I think that would be everyone's hope, at the studio, the network and, truthfully, at DC - to find ways to keep the universe vital and interesting," he said.
Of course, one benefit of basing a TV series on a comic book is an abundance of source material.
Now in its sixth season, Arrow has taken multiple plotline twists and turns, but loyal viewers have stuck with the show and Berlanti says he has no plans to wrap it up any time soon. "I've got a few tricks up my sleeve," Berlanti said, peacefully sitting in a lotus position on a couch."Things I think could enliven and keep the concept fresh. We'll see. When we started this universe, it wasn't a universe. It was one show. We just wanted to make it good and now we have got multiple shows and we still just want to keep them good."
While Berlanti remains humble about the TV growth industry he's launched in Vancouver, the numbers don't lie. A 2017 industry study on the economic impact of Arrow by Motion Picture Association - Canada reveals that employment figures for the first five seasons of Arrow is equivalent to that supporting the production of more than 3,000 homes in B.C. Season 4 of the series, alone, spent $72-million in the province. Not surprisingly, Vancouver film commissioner David Shepheard is a fan of Berlanti's work and says his shows are calling cards for promoting B.C. as an ideal locale for film and TV production.
"All of his shows are brand names in the North American market," Shepheard said. "When we trot off that list of shows, which we do quite frequently, they are instantly recognized as, 'Oh, wow. Yes. We understand the quality of what you have got.' " For his part, Berlanti simply wants to tell engaging stories.
Back in 2012, finances dictated that B.C. was the optimal place to shoot Arrow, about a billionaire's son discovered on a desert island several years after he vanished in the sinking of his family yacht. Oliver Queen returns to his hometown of Star City with a bow and arrow, a murderous attitude, a list of corrupt figures (provided by his deceased father) and an ominous catchphrase: "You have failed this city." It rarely ends well for those he says it to.
A youthful-looking 45, Berlanti cut his TV teeth as a writer and producer on Dawson's Creek before creating the popular series Everwood and Jack & Bobby for the WB. He followed that by creating and producing the quirky but well-received ABC legal drama Eli Stone and directed the 2010 romantic comedy Life As We Know It.
More recently, Berlanti is holding forth as executive producer on the coming series Black Lightning - about an African-American high-school principal moonlighting as a metahuman vigilante - which is being shot in Atlanta, and Titans, the first live-action adaptation of DC's venerable Teen Titans franchise, which is being filmed in Toronto. In keeping with his affable personality, Berlanti shifts all credit for his TV success to those around him.
"Because I have a lot of great people that work with me, and a lot of tremendous showrunners, we now have a multitude of things happening," he said.
To that end, Berlanti seems completely comfortable with the fact that he may be in Vancouver for some time to come. He says he would resist any studio attempts to relocate any of his shows from Vancouver to another North American production centre, even if there is a shift in provincial tax breaks, or a change in the American dollar that allows Hollywood producers to stretch their budgets further in B.C. "I would certainly lie down in front of the train before I would let something like that happen," Berlanti said.
In many ways, Berlanti is something of an outlier in the superhero-as-entertainment genre: At the same time his DC-inspired TV shows are prospering, there has been no shortage in recent years of big-screen superheromovie flops, such as Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad and Justice League. While there's no guaranteed secret to success, Berlanti says his superhero approach involves keeping it real.
"For us, it's always about the characters," he said. "We always imagine, 'What is the person going through, even if they don't have a supersuit? Even if they don't have a power or ability?' The other part is just casting. If you cast the right actors, they inspire you and they inspire the audience. It's more than 50 per cent of the challenge, I think - casting somebody you just want to watch in those situations."
And should Hollywood ever come knocking on Berlanti's door to oversee one of their epic superhero stories, his response would likely come faster than a speeding bullet.
"I'd be involved in any capacity needed or asked," he said.
"There's a real responsibility that comes with working on these characters and bringing them to life. They're imbued with a sense of everyone's childhood."
Love, Simon opens March 16
Love Simon, a same-sex teen romance, is Greg Berlanti's first feature-film directing gig in eight years. But looming over the release of his film is his ever-growing clout in British Columbia's booming TV production industry.