VANCOUVER–Once Upon a Time, it was easier to get on to a sound stage in Vancouver–and then along came Once Upon a Time.
The Sunday night ABC/CTV drama shoots next to the upcoming CTV “howdunnit” Motive, so the CTV publicity team went knocking on doors to see if a gaggle of Canadian journos could bust into Vault Disney.
Before you could say “corporate synergy” we were in, although–as clearly stated outside–no photography was allowed. (Fortunately, ABC provides plenty of art on their media site, with Autumn de Wilde credited as photographer.)
One of the executive producers, Steve Pearlman (V), led the way, giving a walking tour of four standing sets inside one of the large sound stages at Bridge Studios. None of the stars were on set on this day.
This is the same lot where Endgame shot a few years ago. Motive and OUAT are in neighbouring stages. Across the street, Fringe is in its final days at another Studio. The TV biz is coming back in and around Vancouver, also home to such scripted shows as Continuum, Rogue, Cult, Emily Owens, M.D., Supernatural, Arrow, the upcoming Citytv comedy Package Deal and Arctic Air.

Lee Arenberg and Josh Dallas (Prince Charming) inside the mine shaft

The Once Upon a Time set, thanks to its fantasy theme, is one of the more spectacular in Vancouver. Pearlman walked us through a large, fibreglass and foam mine shaft set where the Seven Dwarfs go chopping for diamonds. The floor was sprinkled with cork chips that looked like cave clutter. A track had previously been set up, said Pearlman, allowing a mining car to roll through the set, turning it into a mini-midway ride. A green screen was draped over the top at one end to allow a view looking up to be digitally inserted later.
Even larger was a two story house interior built right onto the sound stage, raised to allow a staircase to descend a level and also to raise the perspective out the windows.

The Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) should not be so bored with her office set

More stylish was the mayor’s office lair of the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla), all monochrome black and white except for a big bowl of red delicious apples. It was very Mad Men meets Edward Gorey. The white birch bark wallpaper was a nice touch. The black pillars and star pattern floor looked convincingly marble-y.

Emilie de Ravin (Belle) on the diner set, where nothing is over five bucks

The cafe diner set was quite large and detailed. The prices posted on the wall behind the large curved counter were quite cheap, with a milkshake going for less than a buck-and-a-quarter. The place was muted and dark, with grey patterned wall paper and dowdy, ’50s-era stall furniture. Facades of town buildings, built three-quarter scale, could be seen outside the front windows. Stoves and sinks were fully operational, according to Pearlman. There was even a few wear marks in the Formica counter, a nice touch of diner verite.

Robert Carlyle (Rumpelstiltskin) behind the shop spinning wheel

An old antique shop would have made the guys on American Pickers jealous. It even smelled old and leathery inside. The place is crammed with old cameras, lanterns, metal typewriters and, of course, a gigantic old spinning wheel. Pearlman says the set was built in a week and crammed with antiques in a day.
We saw another set that will be featured in episode 11 this season that we’re not supposed to talk about yet. It’s a living room interior, and it belongs to one of the fantasy characters. It was creepy-cool, sort of Graceland meets The Addams Family.
Exteriors for the fictional town of Storybrooke, Maine, are shot in B.C.’s Steveston, mainly on Moncton Street. Pearlman says shooting there usually draws a crowd.
Hats off to the design team who pull this all together.


  1. Amy (Haley) Nixon Reply

    Hello and good day. My daughter and I have been here for two weeks hoping to see someone that she could give a gift and a letter to. This is our last chance before she has to go away for college. We have to leave Vancouver on Wednesday (8/24). I know you are very busy and we understand. But, if we could somehow get her gift and letter to Mr. Carlyle that would be a dream come true for my daughter, Haley. Your show and Mr. Carlyle as both a person and the character her portrays helped my daughter get through a difficult time in her life. Thank you so much for your time. I can be reached at (509)851-0659. Have a great day! 🙂

    • Bill Brioux Reply

      So sorry to have taken so long to reply to this message. I am not actually based in Vancouver (I’m in Ontario) and was just visiting the set of Once Upon a Time when I wrote that piece. Hopefully you found someone to deliver that message to Mr. Carlyle.

  2. Hi to all,
    I’m visiting Canada at the begining of July for caple of days and I really want to visit the set of Once Upon A Time. So, how do I do that? With whom can I speak/ write and ask that?
    I will very appreciate if someone answer me.

    • Bill Brioux Reply

      Bad news, Yael. That is a closed set and Disney polices it very carefully. It takes a while even for reporters to get permission and it is rarely granted. In any event, the series will not be in production in July as the series will be on hiatus.

  3. Pingback: Building Once Upon A Time's fairytale world |

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