Students at Vancouver Technical secondary are going bowling this week and some teachers aren't happy about it. The school's main gymnasium is off-limits this week because an episode of the American TV series The Secret Circle is being shot there. Students are being asked to go to a nearby bowling lane for gym class instead.
Rory Brown, the school's head of technology education, says this is the last strike. "Students are expected to travel to the bowling facility unsupervised on public transit," said Brown. "This seems to fly in the face of regulations for supervision in the Vancouver School Board field studies resource book. "
It's been nearly a quarter century since a young Johnny Depp played an undercover narc at the school in the police drama 21 Jump Street, a television series that helped kickstart Vancouver's current booming film industry. Dozens of productions ranging from big budget Hollywood blockbusters to little-seen movies of the week have since been shot at the nearly century-old building, providing a substantial source of revenue for the cash-strapped East Side school.
Brown doesn't want to kill the moviemaking business at Van Tech, but he says more needs to be done to ensure filming doesn't have a negative impact on the students and that their safety isn't compromised. "I know my program in particular has really been able to use the money but I don't want to see the regulations we have for safety or the educational value start to disappear just because we have such a funding crisis and where we become so addicted to the money it brings in."
Liam Coughlan, the VSB's rentals and leases supervisor, said the school board earned a total of $381,000 from renting out schools to film companies since July of last year. Of the district's 109 schools, Van Tech brought in $93,266, roughly half of which went directly into school coffers.
Coughlan acknowledges it can be hard for principals to say no to the easy money.
"The board policy is filming is not supposed to come between students learning, so they have to make an evaluation," he said. "In general, films are very welcomed by pretty much every school. I can't think of a single principal I've been involved with that's ever been flatly opposed."
Van Tech principal Brenda Burroughs said she thinks the inconvenience to students is being blown out of proportion. "Students can still access some of the other gyms and the weight room and it is also an opportunity for students to go on field trips," she said. "I don't know if it is true that we are in fact responsible for nearly a quarter of all [district school film locations] but we are within school board guidelines to allow film companies to film here and it is a valuable source of revenue for the school- It's also a positive in the sense that it exposes students who might be interested in pursuing a career in film to the industry."
But the difference, according to science department head Amy Hurn, is that schools in wealthier neighbourhoods aren't being asked to put up with filming during school hours.
"We get a lot of revenue because our administrators accommodate them," she said. "Some schools won't allow filming during the day because the parents protest and say, 'You're not going to take my kid out of math class so you can film all day.' They can only come in on weekends and so the film companies like us better. Those schools are often on the West Side, so they have more funding from PAC [parent advisory councils] and things like that."
Van Tech math department head Terry Stanway says it all comes down to numbers. "They start the year with nowhere near the money necessary to run their courses and so they are depending on this school-generated filming revenue over the course of the year to sort of enact their budget as the year progresses," said Stanway, who was told last year that his department wouldn't be getting new textbooks unless more film shoots were booked. "When you think about it, it is just a crazy way to finance education."