Cast and crew of TV movie Rufus 2 prepare for a scene in the 17500-block of 56A Avenue in Cloverdale last week.

Cast and crew of TV movie Rufus 2 prepare for a scene in the 17500-block of 56A Avenue in Cloverdale last week.

Welcome back to Cloverwood

B.C.’s booming TV and film industry rediscovers Surrey's historic town centre, welcoming a record number of productions this summer

Cloverdale’s unofficial designation as the Centre of the Universe certainly seems to be holding true lately, if the number of TV and film productions choosing to come here is an indication.

In the past two months, as many as six productions have shot scenes in Cloverdale, which may want to consider a new nickname: Cloverwood.

“There’s been a huge influx,” says  Paul Orazietti, executive director of the Cloverdale Business Improvement Association, which acts as a local liaison.

“It’s a record because of the amount of productions coming through. We’ve never had this many.”

A cursory list includes Canadian and American titles such as the Comedy Network’s TV series, Impastor (which has been to the town centre twice) and Fox TV’s Prison Break, which involved elaborate rooftop chase scenes.

Surrey’s historic heart – rich in heritage buildings, a defined downtown, and a cosy, small-town vibe – also recently hosted not one but two Christmas-themed Hallmark Holiday TV movies.

And last week, Nickelodeon’s Rufus 2, a TV movie sequel aimed at younger viewers, took over several locations in Cloverdale, where a handful of businesses welcomed the production for extensive interior and exterior scenes, or functioned as green rooms.

More productions are on their way. Next up is criminal-police drama Rogue (Season Four), which will spend two days in Cloverdale July 20-21.

But so far, the biggest news of the summer is the arrival of the celebrity-infused Why We’re Killing Gunther, a comedy written and directed by Saturday Night Live’s Taran Killam (The Heat, 12 Years a Slave) and starring Vancouver’s Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother), Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) and a certain former California governor and action film star, Arnold “I’ll Be Back” Schwarzenegger.

Fo the most part, the productions are being welcomed with open arms.

The secret is short-duration shoots – days, not weeks – a little advance notice and a generous dose of careful diplomacy, according to Orazietti.

He also credits the City of Surrey’s current film liaison – James Monk – for demonstrating a savvy understanding of the needs of local small business operators and the needs of B.C.’s booming film industry.

Orazietti does, however, see room for improvement. For instance, he says the City of Surrey requires 78-hour posted notice of parking disruption. He believes that’s too long for small businesses that depend on reliable access to their establishments and that 24 hours is sufficient.

“The majority of people driving by are only going to see the No Parking sign” and not the dates and hours, so there’s a greater risk shoppers will simply drive away rather than find alternate parking, he explains.

Long memories

Some business owners still feel burned by their experience with Deck The Halls (2006), which was to spend eight weeks in Cloverdale but the shoot ballooned to 11 weeks.

“It was a nightmare,” Orazietti says.

No one here has forgotten, meaning Hollywood North has to be mindful of not wearing out its welcome, as is increasingly the case with Cloverdale-like location favourites Ladner and Fort Langley.

“Everybody has a threshold level,” he says, adding it’s easier to accept short productions and those with deeper budgets that adequately compensate for lost business.

The feeling is, “When you come here, you’re costing me money,” he explains. “I think the city is recognizing that.”

He says tying up a street for weeks creates hard feelings and compromised bottom lines for businesses that depend on walk-in street traffic and ease of access, such as the restaurants, services and retail stores that make up Cloverdale’s core downtown businesses.

Orazietti says last week’s production, Rufus 2, was asked to film later in the day to minimize disruption for local businesses.

Not scheduling overlapping or back-to-back productions is another key to keeping local businesses happy: For example, not scheduling productions that would impede Cloverdale Market Days, slated for the last Saturday of the month this summer, Orazietti said.

There was a time when Cloverdale was known as the Home of Smallville because of its connections to the long-running, filmed-in-B.C. TV series, which ended its run in 2011.

The show was Cloverdale’s number-one tourist draw, an association that produced spin offs for years as fans made pilgrimages to such landmarks as the Clova Cinema, which retains its Smallville era makeover and paint job to this day.

In 2016, his advice to businesses is embrace the trend and roll with it, such as by capitalizing on connections to particular episodes of old shows to blow away “superfans.”

He points out the city received in the neighbourhood of $5,000 in filming permits and fees for Rufus 2’s three-day shoot in Cloverdale July 6-8. It’s not known how much local businesses were compensated, but the production earned rave reviews up and down 176 Street, providing a lift during a normally slow time of year..

In his view, when managed properly, welcoming instead of shooing away the film sector can be an important component of a multi-faceted strategy of attracting new business to the historic centre.

Orazietti hopes BIA members will recognize that in the short term – and in the long run – “Cloverwood” is good for business.

“We’ve seen people come back here years later because of Smallville. They stopped filming [here] in 2006,” he says. “There’s a coolness that comes from all these people coming here.”

Related: ‘Ready for prime time: Surrey’s oldest businessman appears in TV’s Fringe’ Sept. 20, 2011

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