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Dispatches from the Twilight zone

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

Twilight Saga: New Moon Movie Poster Print - Style A

To understand just how Twilight-obsessed Stephanie Meiza is, you need only know this: she is 25, has three children under seven and two jobs, and is so taken by the vampire saga that “I almost got a divorce.

“And my husband hid the third book from me.”

Oh, and last weekend, she left the family behind in Colorado to fly to Vancouver and hit the streets looking for Edward Cullen.

“Meet at Blenz Coffee at 8:45 a.m. with your to-go mug, a camera and New Moon knowledge.”

With those orders from Christine Kilpatrick, we were off Saturday morning on a six-hour 220-kilometre Metro Vancouver vampire hunt.

Kilpatrick is owner of Twilight Tours Vancouver and is one busy operator these days, squiring fans about town in search of the bricks and mortar cinematic trail left in the wake of, among others, Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, the young marquee actors who play Edward Cullen and Bella Swan, the dreamy-eyed star-crossed protagonists of Stephenie Meyer’s blockbuster Twilight series.

As young adult sensations go, Twilight is the top dog du jour, and Meyer is this generation’s Anne Rice, her ghoulish literary empire – Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn – having sold more than 40 million copies worldwide, with Twilight the movie earning boffo box office in 2008 and New Moon, shot in Vancouver earlier this year, expected to do the same with its release Nov. 20.

And now the whole gang is back in town for the next two months, shooting series sequel Eclipse.

The tale is age-old: Edward is a vampire, Bella a mortal, and they are hopelessly entwined in a doomed yet everlasting love, enduring much tender bodice-ripping Romeo and Juliet tension as they battle outside forces along with their own demons.

If Meyer’s fertile literary imagination lit the Twilight fan fuse, and it did, it was the films – propelled by the brooding good looks of 23-year-old British actor Pattinson – that caused the pop culture explosion that is Twilight today.

And the whole thing, at least on the big screen, takes place right here in our own backyard, our dark rainy B.C. days and our lush damp verdancy the perfect stand-in for a teen thriller romance about blood and lust in small-town Forks, Wash.

Twilight Edward and Bella Pic

Four Twi-hards – who’ve paid $139 each for the chance to be touched by magic movie dust – have joined Kilpatrick and myself on the Twilight trail.

There’s Karen Hadac, 46, and her 14-year-old daughter Robin from Seattle, along with Johnstown, Colo. best buddies Stephanie Meiza and Stephanie Hildreth, a 24-year-old newbie Twi-hard doing her best to support her crazed friend.

Kilpatrick, a mother of teens and a freelance journalist, is a veritable fount of Twi-knowledge, having visited the sets and worked the phone and the Internet and her close network of local contacts so well these past months that her impressive whirlwind tour of Twilight landmarks and locations takes us from Yaletown to the British Properties, south Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster, Coquitlam, Langley, Surrey and back to Yaletown.

She’s been doing this tour pretty much every day since June, enthralling fans from as far away as Spain, South Africa, Japan, Scotland, Australia and the Czech Republic with her behind-the-scenes stories, photo albums of the stars and the sets, and her intimate detail of all things vampiral.

We start in Yaletown, wandering by the restaurants and pubs frequented by the Twilight stars: Glowbal, where Pattinson celebrated his 23rd birthday, and the Blue Water Cafe, where the New Moon wrap party was held.

Then it’s off to the British Properties, where we pull up alongside the “Edward Cullen” house, a modern home set in a quiet wooded ravine.

Robin, who’s seen the Twilight movie 10 times, is thrilled, even though werewolf Jacob Black, played by hunky Taylor Lautner, is her favourite character, and she happily poses for photos on the street in the front of the house.

She began reading the books three years ago and got all her friends hooked.

“And their mothers,” laughs mom Karen.

On the long jags between the more than a dozen stops on the tour, Kilpatrick fills the time with tales about overzealous set containment security, about the “fan girls” who stalk the stars and try to crash the sets, about the professional autograph hounds and the dozen out-of-town paparazzi jostling with local freelancers, all hoping to catch a lucrative snapshot, like that taken recently of Pattinson and Stewart tete-a-tete at the Kings of Leon concert at GM Place.

This tour, though, is more about being discreet and less about stalking or “creepin'”, which is what some Twi-hards do, young girls mostly, using Tweets and blogs and social networking in a frantic daily scramble to track down set locations, hoping to catch of glimpse of Pattinson’s unwashed locks or Stewart’s grunge vibe or, omigod, maybe get a wave from Lautner behind a bodyguard phalanx.

We swing by the Vancouver Film Studios compound off Boundary, where the Twilight sets are made and where the trucks for wardrobe, cast and crew are stored, and Kilpatrick’s cellphone rings with the news that Pattinson and the gang (minus Stewart) were spotted having dinner Friday night at Boneta in Gastown.

“They’ve migrated,” says Kilpatrick, “from Yaletown to Gastown.”

On to the Central Park outdoor swimming pool, scene of Bella’s cliff jump, and then David Thompson secondary in South Vancouver to peek in the cafeteria windows, where much of the set decoration from last week’s Eclipse shoot is still up, including posters that say Time of Your Life Graduation and Forks High School.

From there it’s on to the Canadian Motion Picture Park in Burnaby, and the Paramount Theatre in New West, where Bella and her friends went to a movie, and where the “tourists” share favourite storylines of Newborns and Humans and Nomads and the Volturi and the wolf pack.

If there was a Twilight trivia contest, they’d be in the blue ribbons.

Kilpatrick is something of an entrepreneur and rightly sensed a demand for a Twilight tour, and today she takes out up to 12 fans at a time by van, as well as two-person private tours, like the mother and her daughter with cerebral palsy, who came up from Seattle last week and lucked out when they caught some Eclipse set action.

And while the tour is as much about Metro Vancouver sights, it’s Kilpatrick’s tips about celebrity spotting, and her news that “Robsten” is staying at the Sheraton Wall Centre that has them, literally, hanging on her every word.

We’re in Coquitlam, standing on a rural road in front of a ramshackle homestead, which is where the character Jacob Black, who is a werewolf and also loves Bella, lived with his dad in New Moon. Word is the cast will be back on site in a few weeks shooting for Eclipse, but for now it’s just a little red house and a red barn in a field.

More photos, and more excited chatter and then we’re back in the van because, in true cinematic style, Kilpatrick has saved the best for last.

It’s the Bella house, a two-storey white clapboard movie-set home built to match exactly the real Portland house used in the first movie.

It’s perched, Styrofoam chimney and all, on the edge of a forested Surrey park, most of it shrink-wrapped, and all of it behind a high barbed wire fence, alarms and surveillance cameras blinking.

It was used in the New Moon shoot, and Kilpatrick found it after hearing a vague reference to its location on the radio. She did a three-hour, street-by-street grid search until she finally turned a corner and there it was.

Someone has been watering the lawn at the house, and Kilpatrick thinks that means they’re getting ready for Eclipse filming, and she’ll be the first to know, because she brings fans out here most every day.

We get out to take pictures, and set off the alarms, but there is no one around, and so we go into the nearby forest, to what looks like the exact spot where they filmed Edward, in a wrenching farewell scene, abandoning a heartbroken Bella.

The Twilight tourists are spellbound. It’s this stop that, they say in unison, that “makes it all seem so real.”

So, what’s with Twilight, you ask.

“I’m just flat-out obsessed,” says Meiza.”

“I just like seeing Stephanie flip out,” says Hildreth.

“It’s not the vampires so much,” says Robin. “I just like the dark love story, and I like action.”

And, finally, from mom Karen, a Twilight fan but also a grateful parent:
“Stephenie Meyer got my daughter to read.”

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