Posted in Features

SFU’s storied past with the film industry

Filming at SFU has never been harder, but we've been home to some great film productions


Most of us have had the moment of surprise while watching a TV show or movie, where all of a sudden we see our university being used a backdrop. From The X-Files, to Most Valuable Primate, SFU has had some crazy run-ins with Vancouver’s film industry.

Lights, Camera, Action?

In its years, SFU has gained a reputation as a difficult organization at which to work. As The Tartan reported in January 2016, the university became obsessed with protecting its reputation in films after an incident in the 1970s (the rumour is that a production the then-administration assumed to be legitimate was actually a porno).

As a result, producers now have to sign a contract agreeing that their film will portray the university in a positive light. The movie can call the location by a fake name and other typical movie exploits, but if the content of the film is in anyway unsavoury the university can pull out of the agreement with barely any notice.

They also reserve the right to check in on the set at any time and leave the film company liable for any damages or other costs the university may incur. There is even a clause that the movie must protect SFU in a legal battle at all costs.

Those interested in filming on campus have to fill out a form containing information like which areas will be used for filming, the maximum number of people who will be on set at one time, the name of the film, a synopsis of the film, and all outside property being brought onto campus. This signed contract must be delivered to administration — along with a deposit form and the deposit — at least seven days before filming begins.

Despite this, SFU was still a favourite of filmmakers up until 2000. While filming The Sixth Day ­— an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie —  the university, the students, and the film crew ran into a world of issues.

Filming took weeks longer than expected (10 days turned into over two months) thanks to the amount of construction needed for a single stunt. Plus, a university strike meant a change in SFU’s film representative, leading to irreversible changes to SFU’s original structure (the AQ steps) and an exhaust fume leak that led to the library closing early.

Since then, SFU’s filming process has turned into a bureaucratic nightmare. While nothing in writing has changed, in an interview provided to The Tartan, the location manager for both Agent Cody Banks and The Anti-Trust, Bruce Brownstein, said that filming became much more difficult following The Sixth Day incident.

One movie that faced many difficulties was Seth Rogen’s The Interview. As The Peak reported in February 2015, the Canadian-born actor had his heart set on SFU acting as North Korea in his 2015 comedy.

However, when SFU refused to change their filming agreement after a long back-and-forth between the two groups, Rogen and his team decided to film elsewhere; probably a good thing for the university’s reputation considering how upset the film made Kim Jong-un.

Despite all the problems filmmakers seem to have, SFU still receives dozens of filming requests every year with one or two of them getting to shoot on campus. Whether the university really is difficult to work with, or just seems that way compared to UBC’s far more easy-going filming policy, SFU seems destined to be a part of Hollywood North for a long time to come.

A timeline of filming

Fall 2015 – A&W filmed one of their famous commercials at SFU with students taste-testing their burgers.

2014 – Blusson Hall acted as the medical centre Liv Moore (Rose McIver) works at in the pilot of iZombie. She later starts working at King County morgue when she is turned into a zombie.

2014 – SFU Segal Graduate School of Business was used as the exterior of a bank in the pilot of The Flash (which makes sense, considering the Segal building was originally built in 1916 as the headquarters of the Bank of Montreal). The Flash also filmed at the Surrey campus this same year.

2012 – The majority of SFU Burnaby was turned into the Halo Academy for the web-series-turned movie Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn. Fun Fact: The Peak was one of the first groups on campus to guess what was being filmed (at the time, no one was told the name of the production).

2010/2011 – Underworld 4: Awakening was filmed in the dead of winter at Burnaby campus. SFU was the headquarters of the villainous corporation Antigen.

2010 – The CW’s cheerleading drama Hellcats (starring Aly Michalka and Ashley Tisdale) was filmed in SFU’s West Gym.

2009 – Blusson Hall was used for the pilot episode of The Good Wife.

2008 – A remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still turned the campus into a military academy (Fort Linwood) where Keanu Reeves’ character is taken for questioning.

2007 – The Halpern Centre became a courtroom for a murder case in Personal Effects, which was only filmed in the Lower Mainland.

2007 – The ABC/Disney miniseries Fallen filmed at SFU featuring Paul Wesley of Vampire Diaries as the show’s lead character: a half-angel.

2006 – Kyle X/Y used the west campus areas as fitness centres and a high school gym.

2004 – West Mall Centre was used by Battlestar Galactica as the Delphi Museum of Colonial History after it was destroyed by Cylons.

Summer 2002 – Only true ‘90s kids will remember Frankie Muniz as Agent Cody Banks, but not everyone realizes SFU’s Transportation Centre was used as the CIA headquarters.

2001 – Arnold Schwarzenegger drove a 1957 Cadillac into the AQ pond, down the stairs, through Convocation Mall, and out via the Transportation Centre stairs. The whole thing took months to film, including building platforms and reinforcements to allow the car to complete the stunt without destroying the campus. In the movie, the ride takes all of six seconds.

2001 – Anti-Trust, a movie following a computer wiz as his life unravels and he tries to decide whom to trust, used SFU as the headquarters for the main character’s workplace.

2000 – SFU is the planet Tollana in Stargate SG-1. The campus is used as the same planet again two seasons later in 2001.

Filming at SFU Burnaby by the numbers

While students and faculty might be able to film for free, the same cannot be said for professional production companies. Fees can include, but are not limited to:

1 free hour of scouting with help from an SFU film liaison

$5,000 deposit

A security deposit based off the cost of filming

Must purchase an insurance policy with at least a $10,000,000 limit

$2,500 a day to film

$500 a day to park

All the money SFU may lose if you film there, plus 30%

Any money specific departments demand for using their space

$104.50–$117.00 an hour for a film liaison

$65.00–$84.50 an hour for any SFU tradesman.


With files from Brad McLeod