My Vancouver – Then & Now Series
As one of the most desirable cities in the world in which to live, Vancouver has played a pivotal role in the destinies of many athletes, performers and creative minds. Whether as a stepping stone at the beginning of their long careers (Academy Award –winner Jim Erickson); a safe harbour for immigrants to start again (Prima Ballerina, Chan Hon Goh ) or reaching the pinnacle of their life’s work here ( NHL’s ‘Captain Canuck’, Trevor Linden, ) the celebrated personalities of this new Inside Vancouver Series by Laura Goldstein, all have one thing in common: MY VANCOUVER THEN & NOW is immeasurably in their hearts.
When Canadian and Oscar-nominated set decorator, Jim Erickson was laid low by the flu and not able to attend the 2013 ceremony in Hollywood, he sat with friends and family in his Salt Spring Island home to watch the 85th Academy Awards. “ I didn’t believe it at first when they announced my name,” admits Erickson. He won the Oscar for Production Design (with Rick Carter) for his historically meticulous work on Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis. “We all threw popcorn and champagne into the air!”
What Vancouverites may not realize is that although Erickson was born in Badger, Minnesota, he began his professional career in Vancouver in the ‘70’s as an in-house props-master in the early years of CBC-TV. That’s when he discovered his passion for set decoration. He officially immigrated to Canada in 1974 and by the late ‘70s feature film scouts started to discover Vancouver’s incredible diversity for movie locations. In fact, you may be living or working in a converted Yaletown warehouse once used as a location for two of Erickson’s set decorated films: Nicholas Roeg’s gold-mining film Eureka (1983) and Disney’s The Journey of Natty Gann (1985) the latter starring the very young John Cusack as the romantic lead.
“I lived in Kits and then bought an Arts & Crafts house in Kerrisdale at 42nd in the early ‘80s” reminisces Erickson over lunch in downtown Vancouver at Bel Café in the Rosewood Hotel Georgia. “There was a gentleness there that really suited me and I lived in that house for 20 years. It was just amazing watching the city grow. I remember fantastic Italian restaurants started to open and a Chinese restaurant at Main and 33rd called Yang’s had the best pot-stickers around and something called ‘exploding chicken’,” he laughs.
“When set decorating for The Journey of Natty Gann, I remember we had to convert
Yaletown into a 1920’s Chicago market but the tricky part was we built the entire set on a Friday, shot all day Saturday then had to clear out everything and leave by Monday morning. We just threw everything into trucks. Then we had to build a ‘30’s
logging camp up in the mountains overlooking Vancouver- it was just a crazy time!” admits Erickson.
His prolific career as set decorator for over 35 feature films and numerous television productions would take him to some of the most exotic and remote locations on earth, often capturing the essence of some of history’s most turbulent moments. They include director Alan Parker’s Mississippi Burning (1985) one of his favourite projects; The Last of The Mohicans (1992) starring Daniel Day -Lewis; sci-fi classic, Independence Day (1995); Seven Years In Tibet (1997) starring Brad Pitt and There Will Be Blood (2007) Erickson’s 2nd film with Day- Lewis and for which Erickson was also nominated for an Academy Award. Ali (2001) director Michael Mann’s boxing biopic with locations in Africa, starring Will Smith and circus drama Water For Elephants (2011), in which Erickson “made the most amazing parade blanket for Tai the beautiful elephant in the film,” were also memorable.
Film Tribute: Courtesy of Set Decorators Society of America
How apropos that the man who would begin his career in Vancouver would retire to British Columbia where it all began. In April 2013 the Set Decorators Society of America honoured Jim Erickson in Hollywood with the Earl Cooperman Lifetime Achievement Award.