Burnaby Village seeking movie industry memories
After 25 years working in the local film industry, there's only a few crew jackets that David Epp has kept.
Among them is the red baseball-styled jacket for 21 Jump Street, the TV series that made actor Johnny Depp a star.
"It was a big deal for all of us to have this jacket," said Epp. "We were kind of an elite bunch back then."
Epp is lending the prized garment to Burnaby Village Museum for an upcoming exhibit on the movie industry. Film and TV production has figured prominently in Burnaby's economy, injecting an estimated $408 million in direct and indirect spending.
At 54, the North Vancouver resident is no longer working in films after being sidelined by a car accident. But he's an enthusiastic source of memories from his time working in lighting and sound, especially in the early years of the region's status as Hollywood North.
Epp, originally from Moose Jaw, Sask., started out as a teenager with a business doing lighting work for bands. He parlayed that into a burgeoning career working lighting and sound for rock concerts and theatre productions at venues on the Prairies before arriving in Vancouver to work at Expo 86.
Co-workers suggested he apply to IATSE, the union representing workers in the entertainment industry. Epp recalls bringing his resume to a tiny office.
"Seven-and-a-half hours later they phoned me to go to work."
At the time, he estimates there were about 50 people working for IATSE in lighting when he was starting out. Today, there's about 600.
That was in the days when there were few places to get formal training.
"Everyone was learning on the job. It was like organized chaos."
Many people believe the industry is all about glamour and big dollar signs, Epp said. But those who did make a lot of money were also working long hours.
A 60 to 80-hour work week was not unusual. He remembers starting his work week at 7 a.m. on Monday and leaving at 7 a.m. on Saturday and having to return on Monday again.
"The rest of the time was like a blur."
Even on his time off he'd be calling co-workers to ensure everything would be ready when he got back to the set. He noted with a laugh he'd be making those calls on a phone with a cord.
After all, these were the days before Internet and the only cellphones around were expensive and the size of bricks.
Shooting often took place in Burnaby. Epp showed off a photo taken outside Hart House of the cast and crew of Intimate Betrayal, a little-known 1987 feature starring James Brolin. For 21 Jump Street, about cops who go undercover in high schools, the shoots were at schools across the Lower Mainland.
And Alive, the 1993 feature film depicting the true story of rugby team members who survived a plane crash in the Andes partly from cannibalism, was shot in B.C. The interiors were filmed at Burnaby's Bridge Studios, where Epp helped create the lighting effects for the crash scene.
The hit TV series X-Files was a game-changer for the local industry, putting local crews on the map.
"People were working 18-hour days but nobody cared because they were making so much money," he said. He knew crew members with dark hair, "after one season they were all grey."
In the early years, he'd work with the same people again and again because their numbers were so small making it a very tight-knit bunch. "Now I would walk on a set and not know a soul."
Epp was happy to help shed some light on the industry's local history through the museum's exhibit.
"To me it was a really big, heartfelt part of my life. If I asked 95 per cent of the guys I worked with they would say the same."
The museum is seeking people to lend their memorabilia, such as props, photos and costumes from films and TV shows shot in Burnaby. It's also hoping to find people to demonstrate their skills and share their stories on site for short stints.
While industry groups have been helpful, the recent upswing in the local film industry has resulted in many crew members being busy working and less available, said Codd. But she's hopeful she'll be able to find people to participate, even through their memorabilia.
"There's not a formal way to get these things out of the closet," she said, but it's a story worth telling.
"I think it's important that people know what we did," added Epp.
For information on contributing to the exhibit, call Lisa Codd at 604-297-4542 or firstname.lastname@example.org.