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Inside Wayward Pines: exploring the eerie Canadian setting of Matt Dillon's TV series

British Columbia provides the glorious backdrop for Fox's new thriller. Here's what to expect...

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Published: Monday, 11th May 2015 at 9:34 am

Matt Dillon’s new series Wayward Pines is set in the Pacific Northwest of the USA, but it’s actually filmed among the glorious scenery of British Columbia. Surrounded by sea and mountains, the city of Vancouver, on Canada’s west coast, makes a dramatic backdrop and is loved by the film and television industry so much that it’s been dubbed “Hollywood North”.

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“It’s a beautiful part of the world,” says Dillon, who spent several months in the city and the province of British Columbia filming the psychological thriller set in a fictional Idaho town. “It’s the right setting for this story because it mimics the Northwest of the United States well enough, with the same kinds of mountains and pine trees.”

The drama is based on Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines trilogy of novels that were in turn inspired by another place in the Pacific Northwest with a similar eerie, claustrophobic feel – Twin Peaks, the setting for David Lynch’s ground-breaking 1990s TV drama.

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In Wayward Pines, Dillon plays Ethan Burke, a secret service agent who is searching for two missing colleagues, one of whom is his partner and former lover, Kate Hewson (Carla Gugino). The first episode is directed by M Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense), who is also an executive producer on the show and a proponent of unsettling mystery and plot twists. Wayward Pines is his first shot at TV – and Dillon’s, too.

“Night was one of the reasons I said, ‘OK I’m gonna do this,’” reveals Dillon. “He set the tone and that’s a tricky one. On one hand it appears to be a moody crime drama set in this small town in the Northwest. Then it gets into this realm of surrealism…”

Disoriented, bruised and battered after surviving a car accident, Ethan begins the first episode deep in the woods, semi-conscious, stumbling over fallen moss-covered trees, of which there are plenty in the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve in North Vancouver. There are wild animals, too. It’s an awe-inspiring wilderness but, at this location, Dillon’s stunt double was stalked by a cougar – and a 500-pound bear turned up right next to Gugino’s trailer.

It all added a little extra tension to the peculiar atmosphere of Wayward Pines. Ethan finds Kate just a few weeks after she goes missing only to discover that she has been living there for 12 years and is apparently happily married. Confused, Ethan’s having trouble contacting home and bartender Beverly (Juliette Lewis) is about the only friendly face in town.

Much of the action takes place an hour east of Vancouver in Coquitlam, the white picket fence residential area of Wayward Pines. “It just had that right kind of look where all the houses were built roughly around the same time, but it’s not Stepford Wives – something we tried to avoid,” says location manager Dave Tamkin.

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Halfway between Coquitlam and Vancouver, the sound stages and most interiors were built in Burnaby. But the crew’s biggest challenge was pinpointing the right small town to double as Wayward Pines, a seemingly picture-perfect but isolated place surrounded by mountains, with the slogan: “Where Paradise is Home”. They found it in Agassiz, British Columbia, a two-hour drive east of Vancouver. The production team transformed Agassiz’s main street, Pioneer Avenue, adding a new fake side of store facades while keeping existing shop owners happy.

“It was the biggest project our construction coordinator had ever been involved in,” says production designer Curt Beech.

Wayward Pines has a timeless quality, with vintage-style shops and an absence of mobile phones and computers. Costume and set design took their cues from the muted colours of Edward Hopper’s 1942 painting Nighthawks and the work of artist Norman Rockwell. Agassiz is surrounded by cliffs on three sides, but although it’s a dramatic setting, the snow-capped peaks fell short of what was required. What nature failed to provide, the visual effects team created in post-production.

A different kind of visual trickery was used to turn harbour views and other locations in Vancouver into Seattle, Ethan’s home, where his wife Theresa (Shannyn Sossamon) and son Ben (Charlie Tahan) live. “If you are not from either place, the Vancouver skyline and the Seattle skyline are relatively decent matches,” explains Tamkin. “We do Seattle really well here!”

Ever since The X-Files started the trend in the mid 1990s, Vancouver and its surroundings have been used for many film and TV productions including the Twilight movie franchise, Battlestar Galactica, Smallville, Arrow and Once Upon a Time. But there’s a price to pay when filming in this scenic region: the frequent rainfall has earned Vancouver the nickname of “Brollywood”.

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“It rains so much here in Vancouver that they don’t go to cover sets. They say, ‘Oh well, it’s raining, just shoot it in the rain!’” says Dillon, who’s more used to working in the sunshine of California. “Toby Jones and I were doing a scene in pouring rain, but it gives it a real mood.”

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