Translink Buzzer Blog

Transit on film: Seat Ibiza car commercial

Here’s a commercial for a Spanish compact car Seat Ibiza, shot partly on a Mark I SkyTrain at Waterfront Station in 2006.

First, I don’t speak Spanish so I’m wondering how the polar bear concept relates to the car in question. Could anyone enlighten us on what they’re saying in the ad?

Second: why yes, that is a polar bear in Waterfront Station! Bill Knight, whose many duties include managing film requests and supervising film shoots on our property, has a story to tell about that.

We were approached by a production company based in Toronto that was planning on shooting some scenes for a commercial in a “subway type station.” Nothing unusual there. At the
end of their first email they asked “We are looking to bring a polar bear onto the platform. Has this been done before? Is it even allowed?” OK—this is different.

The commercial was for a European car manufacturer. The concept was someone dealing with an obsession; in this case seeing a white bear wherever he went. After gathering some more information from the production company, I approached SkyTrain to see whether we would even “entertain” the possibility. The subject line for my email said it all “Just when you thought you had heard it all…Filming Request” They were not talking about a guy in a suit, but a real live 800 lb polar bear. Lots of safety precautions were discussed for us and for the bear. We certainly didn’t want to put anyone, bear included, at risk and felt it would be rather hard to explain to our riders, should something occur, that SkyTrain was not operating that morning because there was a polar bear stuck in the station.

Not only did they wish to get the bear into the station, they wanted it to board the train. We discussed possible damage to the interior, just by having an 800 lb object bumping into things. Safety, for staff and crew was a primary consideration, however, we were also very aware of the welfare of the bear itself; something that was written into the final contract. There was also the challenge of how do you get the bear down into the station? Stairs, escalator, elevator?

After much discussion, including nixing the idea of the bear boarding the train, we were able to come to agreement with the production company.

Filming was set for the Easter weekend 2006, after the end of service. The production company brought their vehicles and a large crew close to midnight to start setup. As with any large production, the actors normally have their own portable dressing rooms. The bear was no exception. A very large trailer was pulled up adjacent to the Howe Street entrance (complete with private pool) which was the temporary home for our star. This was not the first acting job for our bear, she also had also had a starring role, as a polar bear cub, in a motion picture a few years before.

Filming proceeded without our star for the first couple of hours. Then, setup commenced for her big scene. A containment fence was setup around the perimeter of the platform and handlers assigned. Any food that might have been brought into the station was removed, including any crumbs dumped in the garbage cans. Safety was foremost in mind. With the exception of key personnel, everyone was located to a safe place on the train, away from the planned shoot. We now just had to wait for our star to make her way down into the station… Anticipation, waiting, waiting…

And then. Nothing. It seemed that our star had been at another shoot earlier in the day (the Laundromat) and was a little tired. That coupled with a fact the production company had wrestled with during a site visit earlier that week. It seems that polar bear paws are much bigger than human feet and she simply had problems with the stairs. After a few steps she decided she didn’t want to go down into the station. Everyone was fine with that (although we were all disappointed not to meet her).

A green screen was eventually used to put the polar bear in Waterfront Station.

A green screen was eventually used to put the polar bear in Waterfront Station.

Plan B then swung into action. A “green screen” was quickly assembled on the station platform and a guy dressed in a very bad bear costume was positioned in front of the screen. The last few shots were made and the production wrapped. Of course, the green screen was for a digital composite to be made of either the real bear, or a computer-generated version, inserted in post production.

I did get to meet the star briefly as the crew were wrapping; she was enjoying a few healthy snacks and ready for a swim in her pool. Ahhhhh the life of a star!


1 Comment

  • By Ken Campbell, May 11, 2009 @ 11:25 pm

    The star appears at the Homer Cafe, too! No longer operating, alas. Used to be in the Homer Building at Homer and Smithe.

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