Visiting a Film Set Properly: Steveston and ‘Once Upon a Time’

Going to a film shoot is not what you might expect. Here’s the safe and smart way to do it.


So you’re thinking of booking a trip to Vancouver, Canada? Wonderful! Are you also aware that many television shows and films are shot in and around Vancouver? This long list includes shows like “Once Upon a Time,” “Gracepoint,” and “Arrow” just to name a few. I had the pleasure of visiting Vancouver last month. During my visit, I was pleasantly surprised to find that “Once Upon a Time” would be filming in Steveston, which is part of Richmond, British Columbia. Here are a few tips about things to keep in mind, should you decide to venture out and watch the action. These tips may not hold true for all set locations, but I think I have the general points:

Go Sightseeing Another Day

If you’re in Vancouver for a few days (to have a full vacation, like I was), then try not to schedule your museums and tours on the same day as the filming. Make a day of it, because you never know who might pop up on set. The production crew may not divulge all the details to you (or some genuinely may not know because they are on the front line). It’s such a great surprise when those actors do arrive!

Steveston offers a variety of tourist attractions such as the Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society as well as the Brittania Heritage Shipyard. These places are definitely worth a visit on another day. The staff are all friendly and can give you a map of the area. It’ll help you get the lay of the land. Generally, Storybrooke action is centered on Moncton Street. A number of buses stop right by Moncton, so there’s no need to rent a car and risk a parking ticket. Public transportation on the buses and the SkyTrain is usually reliable. I say “usually” because there was a massive delay recently. (It’s still a major improvement over the DC Metro, where delays are almost a daily occurrence.)

Mr. Gold's Cadillac in Storybrooke (Steveston, BC) Photo by Pat Cuadros
Mr. Gold’s Cadillac in Storybrooke (Steveston, BC) – Photo by Pat Cuadros

Follow the Instructions of the Production Crew

This rule seems rather obvious. They’re excited that you love their show, but they’re operating on a tight schedule. It’s pretty expensive to rent out parts of a city or town. Businesses usually remain open as well, which presents the challenge of controlling foot and vehicular traffic efficiently. Team members on traffic duty are generally sporting the bright orange vests. The day I went to Steveston, a few enthusiastic young people nearly got hit by a car when they were crossing the street for the chance at an autograph. If the production team can’t carry out their jobs properly they could get in trouble, leading to more rules (more barricades) or worse, picking different shooting locations.

Understand when you can and cannot take photos. It’s pretty self explanatory. Put your phone away when they say they’re about to roll, but snap away as much as you like during rehearsals. If you see Mr. Gold’s car on the other end of the street, ask a team member if it’s okay to move closer and take a picture. Earlier in the morning or the day before is the best time to take pictures of and next to signs and cars because the crews are busy setting up equipment and transforming buildings into Storybrooke businesses.

It’s up to the discretion of the actors to come over and sign autographs. They’re more likely to do so when the weather is nicer.

Emilie de Ravin and Josh Dallas Walking with Set Crew, Photo by Pat Cuadros
Emilie de Ravin and Josh Dallas Walking with Set Crew Members – Photo by Pat Cuadros

Mind the Weather

Be sure to bring a sweater and an umbrella, particularly if it’s likely to rain. The coastal weather in Vancouver can change drastically in the course of a single day. The crews will continue to film in rainy and cold weather. So come prepared or you’ll end up hoping that the person next to you will share an umbrella. There are no tents for the fans.

The Crowd

A wide variety of people seem to show up at these sets. Firstly, there are the television bloggers. They have expensive cameras with longer lenses and they are bent on getting the scoop for the spoiler blogs. Secondly, there are the locals and frequent visitors, which could consist of college students in the area. Then there are the long distance visitors, which can also be subdivided: those who only came for the filming and those who are also around for a vacation.

It may feel like a competition when everyone is trying to take photos, particularly when the blogger-photographers and the recurrent fans have their larger cameras. Try to be sensitive in your conversations. It’s not fun when you’re at the beginning of season three and someone just walks up to you with a big spoiler that you weren’t expecting. With respect to common courtesy, most people are exemplary, but others are not as with any place.

How to Find Out About Filming

Look at Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites. As I’ve mentioned previously, there are quite a few blogs devoted to posting photos from the production sets. Be aware that these notices are from entities outside of the production companies. For instance, the city of Richmond publishes posts to advertise when “Once Upon a Time” will be returning for a day in Steveston (Storybrooke). These tweets are targeted at getting people to come out to the city, in order to generate business for the area. They’ll also promote contests, which again, are not directly linked to the production companies.

You’re on your own when you arrive to watch the filming. As I’ve already alluded, just because you saw a tweet does not mean you will get that photo you wanted with Prince Charming or Snow White.

Follow the Rules, Have Fun!

Try not to feel overwhelmed by all of the information you read when you’re planning a vacation to Vancouver. Again, the basic rules to observe are common courtesy and safety. It’s time to carve out your own adventure in Storybrooke!

Catch “Once Upon a Time” Sunday evenings on ABC at 8|7c.

Note: The tips listed above are my own opinion and are not meant to offend any parties, whether directly or indirectly mentioned.

Author: Pat Cuadros

TV & Film Blogger @blogcritics

6 thoughts on “Visiting a Film Set Properly: Steveston and ‘Once Upon a Time’”

  1. Do you happen to know if Once Upon A Time is filming this week? My family and I are trying to plan a trip this week and I’ve been looking everywhere to find out if there might be any filming to witness during our stay. I’ve already looked at Facebook for OUAT and Steveston and twitter for both and tumblr and EVERYTHING!!!!!! Please help me! you seem to have a lot of experience with this stuff, please if you have a relpy check out my wordpress website: then leave me a comment PLEASE help!!!!1

    1. Those are all the major sites to get information, I’m afraid. You seem to be on the right track. Some weeks, they take breaks or resort to only in-studio filming. In-studio days are off limits, of course; it’s not likely you’ll get anyone’s autograph if you wait by the gate, I wouldn’t recommend it. Schedules get reworked all the time due to weather and other issues. For instance, the police station scenes I saw had already been rescheduled a few times, so they were particularly eager to get those done despite the cold and rain.
      If you happen to catch something in Steveston and you’re nice enough to the crew, you can learn from them where non-Steveston filming is going to occur. There’s filming out in the parks, particularly out at Lynn Canyon Park. Good luck and thanks for your question! I was out in Chicago to cover Wizard World, so I apologize for the delay in answering.

  2. Traveling fom Israel to Arizona to visit family. Visiting Vancouver on July 14 to 22nd. I hope to see actors. I have been following the series via dvd. Metzuyan! Excellent series! Love Lana-the Evil Queen.
    I am triple national, Us, canada, and Canadian citizen. Writing a script for the show. Hope to see the Queen most of all but everyone is a treet.

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