There may be no other Canadian city getting as much superhero attention as Vancouver. The city and its surrounding region are now home to the TV iterations of two of the comics' most classic characters with filming under way on the TV series Arrow and The Flash.
The series are among 17 now filming in British Columbia, and also part of a play by Warner Bros. to exploit the live-action potential of their DC Comics properties. Arrow has been on the air since 2012, the forerunner of varied DC-based characters now on the small screen or coming soon. There's The Flash, Gotham and the soon-to-air Constantine. Supergirl is in development.
Arrow, which has been on the air since 2012, is about vigilante Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), who uses his pointed archery skills to fight crime in the fictional Starling City. It launches its third season this week. The Flash features Grant Gustin as police scientist Barry Allen in fictional Central City, who gains the powers of super speed after being struck by lightning. The TV incarnation of the Flash was introduced on Arrow, and had its series debut this week as well. Queen made his first comic-book appearance in 1941 and Allen in 1956.
Both Arrow and The Flash were co-developed by Andrew Kreisberg, now executive producer for both series. He has previously worked on such series as The Simpsons and Boston Legal. He was co-executive producer and a writer on the science-fiction series Fringe, also shot in Vancouver. He spoke to The Globe and Mail from Los Angeles. Warner made it clear in advance that Kreisberg would not discuss financial factors that brought the series to B.C.
The Flash had its series premiere on Oct. 7, and Arrow has its third-season premiere on Oct. 8, both on CTV (and the CW).
What has Vancouver provided for Arrow and The Flash?
I can't imagine another city in which we could have made two such startlingly diverse shows. Arrow is a much more Gothamesque, crime-vigilante story, which required a lot of dark and rainy alleyways and a city somewhat under siege. Arrow also takes place on Lian Yu, an uninhabited South China Sea island. Alternatively, Flash takes place in a bright and sunny city that is a beacon of the Midwest where everyone is happy and everyone is on the move. To be able to tell two such incredibly different stories and be able to utilize the same city is just amazing.
What are your favourite Arrow and The Flash locations in the Vancouver area? What has worked well for the stories you want to tell?
One of the things I love about Vancouver is the skyline. I find it incredibly beautiful. I like just about any rooftop we go on – and having a superhero show we tend to have a lot of scenes on rooftops. I also love City Hall, which we have converted into our police station on The Flash. I love that building.
A lot of Arrow takes place in these flashback locations. I mentioned Lian Yu. In this season, the flashback takes place in Hong Kong. Vancouver is able to provide us with both locations. Oliver has travelled to Russia, a South American island in the third episode this season, and flashbacks take place in Hong Kong. We're able to recreate these environments with everything the city has to offer.
This season on Arrow I think people are going to be pretty surprised to find that a portion of Vancouver will now be Nanda Parbat, the mythical homebase of Ra's al Ghul. It's in the Himlayas in the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy. We wanted to give our interpretation of Ra's al Ghul a distinctive, specific Arrow tilt so it's going to be in a slightly distinct location. I think people will be surprised to see what we can pull off given that we're in British Columbia.
What did you make of Liam Neeson's offer to play Ra's al Ghul in Arrow, another shot at his bad-guy role from the Dark Knight films?
He was being extremely generous and kind. Obviously Liam Neeson is one of our generation's greatest actors. But I don't think there was any serious discussion about him joining Arrow. We are so excited about Matt Nable playing the part. One of the things that's most fun about comic-book interpretations, for me, is you can do them over and over again with different actors who bring different traits and characteristics to the part. Liam Neeson was the ultimate Ra's al Ghul in the cinema. Hopefully Matt Nable will be the defining face and voice of Ra's al Ghul on TV.
Is there anything you can tell us about Nable's approach to the character?
I think Liam Neeson brought a little bit of European class to the part. The Ra's al Ghul that Oliver Queen is going to be facing on Arrow is somewhat a bit more primal, a bit more dangerous, a bit more savage, a bit more of a man out of time. Oliver hasn't faced anybody like that yet.
There are a lot of visual effects in The Flash. Vancouver has a thriving visual-effects community. Are you using some of their services?
So much of the show gets made in VFX. Because of the fact that all of our families live in Los Angeles and this is where the writing and editing takes place, a lot of that happens in Los Angeles. But we work closely with [visual-effects company] Zoic, which has an infrastructure up in Vancouver, on both Flash and Arrow. And we have been working with a company called Encore on Flash. Flash has been a whole new experience for us. Truth be told, there really aren't that many visual effects on Arrow once you get that initial cut from the editors. It's pretty much what it looks like on television. Much of it is stunts and wide vistas. The kinds of visual effects we do on Arrow are wire removal and adding in the arrows in post. But on Flash, we say that one-sixth of the show is animated. The learning curve there has been setting up plate shots and shooting off of storyboards pre-vis. When you get something back, there's a lot of stick figures and plates saying, "Scene to come." That is as labour-intensive and mentally intensive as it is breaking the story in the writers' room with the other writers. To pull off the scale and scope of those effects requires so much co-operation.
How many effects do you have per episode of The Flash?
There are about 200 in the pilot, which is more than there were in the first Star Wars movie. We're really entering a new level of visual effects on television.
The cast of characters has expanded a lot on Arrow. Is there any prospect of a third show spinning off Arrow?
I honestly don't know. Right now, we are trying to get a brand-new series launched that we are incredibly proud of and we're trying to top ourselves from a very successful second season on Arrow.
Is there any prospect of a crossover with the shows in the DC universe such as Gotham and Constantine outside the Flash/Arrow universe?Not right now. We often sit around and say how cool stuff like that would be. There's obviously legal and political ramifications to that. For right now, we're so happy to have what we call the "Arrowverse." We get asked a lot, "What other characters do you wish you could have?" and the truth of the matter is there really aren't any. Between Arrow and Flash, we have Green Arrow, Atom, Katana, Deadshot, Black Canary, the Huntress. We've got a pretty good chunk of the original Justice League on our shows. We're very happy with that.
What have you learned is the secret of transferring this material from the page to the screen?
The biggest key is performing alchemy on the source material. Too many times there's such a slavish attitude toward the material that it sort of handcuffs you. Or you diverge so far away from the original source material that there's nothing left. The best adaptations are the ones that get at the heart and DNA of what the character is, and embrace what it is that's successful about the comic book and why people have enjoyed it and the character. Also, there's adding enough of yourself and enough of what you like. We've been so fortunate on Arrow. It was a little bumpy in the beginning, but we found that right mixture of comic book and soap opera and Shakespearean tragedy and action and adventure. The show became pretty consistent in the back half of its first season. We've taken a lot of lessons we learned from Arrow and applied them to Flash. Hopefully Flash will be a – pun intended – smoother run.
What's Oliver Queen's character arc this coming season? What can viewers expect to see in terms of what's going to happen to Oliver?
As Marc Guggenheim, the other creator on Arrow, says, when we open up Season 3 everything is coming up Arrow. He defeated [antagonist] Slade Wilson in the Season 2 finale and crime is down. He's been putting away bad guys and he begins to wonder if there is a life for him beyond putting away the Arrow. The events of the first episode really make him question that. In Season 2, his arc was "Am I a hero or am I a killer?" In Season 3 he's asking, "Am I Oliver Queen or am I the Arrow?"
What about Barry Allen?
Barry's very different. When we first meet Oliver in the pilot of Arrow, he's as much the Arrow skill-wise as he's ever going to be. He's come back to Starling City as this pretty lethal dispatcher of violence. Arrow is an exploration of a man who lost his humanity and is slowly getting it back. Barry has his humanity. It's really the Day One story of what happens when an ordinary person becomes extraordinary, and everything that goes along with that. There's the excitement and joy of having this power. There's the fear of what it means. There's the weight of the responsibility to help other people and also solve his mother's murder, a crime for which his father is serving a life sentence in prison. Freeing his father is always on Barry's mind. He's wrestling with everything that comes with having this possible gift. Fortunately he has a great support system of family and friends. He has a great line in the second episode where he says, "I realized we were all struck by that lightning."
How many more seasons of Arrow?
We've had this very bold vision for what the last moment could be. Hopefully a few years from now, we'll get to see if we were right.
This interview has been edited and condensed.