For TV director John MacCarthy, the series Supernatural is more than just another gig in the province’s booming production sector. It’s the sole gig he says has paid for his house.
MacCarthy has been associated with the Warner Brothers series for a decade, but the show has been around longer than that. Supernatural, about a pair of brothers roaming the United States to fight demons, monsters and other hazards of the paranormal, is now in its 12th season of production in British Columbia.
And there’s no end in sight.
“We’ve all won the lottery with this show,” says MacCarthy, who has worked as a first-assistant director and director on the series.
He’s not alone. Dozens of British Columbians have been along for much of the ride, working behind the scenes on what appears to one of most secure sets in the province. About 125 to 150 people work on the series, about 50 of them in Los Angeles. Many B.C. workers have been on the set since the beginning in 2005, when Paul Martin was prime minister, George Bush was U.S. president and Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith was one of the big films of the year.
The norm in British Columbia’s bustling production sector is to go from gig to gig, TV series to series or film to film. But the Supernatural team have been able to hunker down for more than a decade.
“That is very unusual in this business. We’re not really built to be together this long,” MacCarthy says. “We’re a bit like gypsies or carnies in a lot of ways.”
But he calls Supernatural the best job he’s ever had. “They made me a director. It paid off my house,” MacCarthy says.
Supernatural was created by Eric Kripke, who worked five seasons as a showrunner for his creation, and is now back in British Columbia at the helm of a new series, Timeless.
Supernatural may not a critical darling, one of those shows that causes a chorus of reverential water-cooler discussion. It doesn’t get the attention of Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones or Westworld. But it has hummed along like the 1967 Impala series heroes Sam and Dean Winchester, played by Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, drive across an America created on B.C. locations.
“I think we are certainly below the radar. I think, in some sense, that’s okay,” says executive producer Robert Singer, who signed on from the start, in an interview.
“Expectations, when you are below the radar, are probably a little different than for Westworld. That said, I feel bad that the show hasn’t been recognized more.”
The Canadian series The Beachcombers had a marathon run, lasting 18 years that saw the production of 387 episodes, largely filmed around the Sunshine Coast.
But Supernatural stands out among U.S. series made in B.C. The X-Files is durably associated with Vancouver, but, by comparison, only shot in the province for five seasons, plus a handful of new episodes for a revival earlier in 2016. Smallville, about a young Clark Kent, was also produced in British Columbia and ran 10 seasons. Stargate SG-1 also lasted 10 seasons.
Twelve years on, Supernatural has steamed on through ups and downs in the production sector. MacCarthy notes it provided employment security while peers bailed on British Columbia for opportunities elsewhere.
By season 10, the series was responsible for $509.2-million in direct production spending in British Columbia, according to a study prepared for the Motion Picture Association – Canada and released in May, 2016. For every dollar in provincial tax breaks the series received, production activity generated $8.36 in economic output.
Although largely filmed in the Vancouver region, the series has also shot on Vancouver Island, in the Thompson/Okanagan, Kootenay area and elsewhere – a total of 18 communities.
Assistant director Kevin Parks has been with the series since the beginning. Supernatural’s pilot was shot in Los Angeles, then production was shifted to Vancouver.
He cherishes his job security. “It’s great,” he said in an interview. “I’m more corporate than my brother who is actually in the corporate world. In 11 1/2 years, I have been on the same show. My brother, who sells computer hardware, has had five jobs. It’s a nice feeling.”
Singer says no one thought the series would make it beyond five years. “Five years would have been a raging success.”
But he and others say the chemistry between the two leads has been key to its success. “I’ve done shows where I have thought I had a couple of really good actors, but for whatever reason, that special thing wasn’t there. In this case, it’s absolutely there,” Singer says. “We got tremendously lucky with these guys.”
The leads, say members of the production team, have been diligent about promoting the series on a robust convention circuit. And viewers who were too young for the show when it first began are discovering the series on such platforms as Netflix, bolstering the audience.
Executive producer Andrew Dabb, who has been with the show since season four, says Vancouver has been vital. “Vancouver gives us everything we need in terms of locations, in terms of actors, in terms of visuals,” he says.
“We’re not a show that lives in big cities. The parts of Vancouver we’re using are not parts that some other metropolitan-oriented shows are using. Even now, 12 years in, we’re still finding little nooks and crannies and locations that either didn’t exist when we first started, or weren’t available.”
Singer says there have been talks about ending things at 300 episodes, midway through season 14.
“Right now, we’re just putting one foot in front of the other, trying to get the next good script out, so who knows?”Report Typo/Error