October 1-5, 2015, OUAF staff members went to Steveston, BC to host Operation Storybrooke. Here are some of their impressions about the event.
What were your first thoughts and feelings when you heard about Operation Storybrooke?
Joanne: I first heard about Operation Storybrooke last spring when Once Upon a Fan founder Gareth Hughes announced that he was going to be coming to Vancouver with his mom to visit friends. He invited any of the staff members who wanted to come up to Canada to meet him to make arrangements. I was very excited by the possibility of actually getting to meet other staff members I know that they've met with each other before but I came to the staff a little bit later and hadn't had opportunity to meet anyone yet we live all over the US and England so getting a chance to meet each other is rare. I immediately jumped at the chance of being able to go up there again I had visited Steveston the summer before with my friend and I dragged around to the different filming locations we even tried to find some of the filming but weren't very successful.
Gareth said that he will be taking the trip in October which coincided with some in-service days I had at work so I decided to take personal leave and make the trip up to Canada. There was a number of us that had planned on going but over the summer plans change for a few people and they had to drop out we had decided to rent an Airbnb home so that we could all be together in the same location but not at different hotels so Gareth made arrangements for that and found a great house that was really close to the filming locations in Richmond. We all chipped in money for the vacation home which was a great money saver is a lot cheaper than a regular hotel.
It was then decided to make this more of an event rather than just meeting with the staff and we wanted to include as many fans as possible so we started brainstorming different ideas merchants in Steveston were contacted about promoting Operation Storeybrooke where they might have discounts and specials for that weekend we also arranged with an artist, Francesca Benevento, to do an art signing she was very gracious also to design our Operation Storeybrooke logo that we used on everything to promote the event.
Samantha: When Once Upon a Fan founder, Gareth first mentioned a possible meet-up in Steveston I knew I wanted to be there. In the years that we've been friends online, most of us have only met in person one or two times and some of us have never met at all. Being with my OUAF friends was a chance I couldn't turn down. On top of that, a trip to Steveston! The 'Real' Storybrooke! The place where the magic really happens! I was not going to miss this.
Excitement quickly switched to work mode as the planning got underway. Gareth had contacts with the local tourism office and they were interested in working with us. It's always a thrill when OUAF is recognized as a serious entity. All of us at OUAF had plenty of ideas for a fan weekend. We picked our favorite things that we felt would engage fans, and so 'Operation Storybrooke' was born.
Ashley: I was insanely excited! When I first learned that Once Upon a Time was filmed in a real town, I knew I wanted to visit one day. On top of that, I would actually get to meet the other OUaF staff members. I don't think many of you know this, but we all work remotely, so being together in "Storybrooke" sounded awesome. When this get together evolved into a fan event with the merchants of Steveston on board, that's when I knew this would be truly magical. I was excited from day one because really, how often do you get to visit the place where magic is made?
Francesca: I wanted to be a part of it and contribute to OUAF for all their support.
What are some of the things you did during the event?
Samantha: As time passed and Life happened, much to our mutual disappointment, several of our staff had to bow out of Operation Storybrooke. We were committed and the show must go on, so Joanne, Ashley, Francesca and myself carried on. We wanted to be recognizable to fans, so I made badges for us to wear. We decided it would be fun for fans to show that they were part of Operation Storybrooke, so Francesca designed a button and I had 100 made. We passed them out to fans and merchants around town. It was fun to see people wearing them.
One of the last minute projects that I had fun doing was making the 'Once Upon a Fan Awards' envelopes. We timed the announcement of winners to take place during Operation Storybrooke. We decided to have some of the fans make short videos to announce the winners and we made award show envelopes for them to open. I purchased most of the supplies from the Steveston Crafts 'N More store right on Steveston's main street.
Ashley: I had two things on my personal list that I had to do: Take a picture in front of the "clocktower" and eat at "Granny's". Having achieved both I was stoked to explore the town more. We saw quite a bit of it setting up for the treasure hunt and of course I ate at every stop. I don't know if it's the sea air, but everything was delicious in Steveston. I loved doing the treasure hunt because it was a great way to see much of the town. I also enjoyed Francesca's signing event because it was so awesome to meet someone you'd been corresponding with online for so long face to face. That's really what this show does, it brings people together.
Francesca: Since I had already visited Steveston, I did visit other areas of filming that I did not see on my first visit. I went to Burnaby Park where they film most of the forest scenes.
Joanne: I suggested that we do some sort of treasure hunt of the different filming locations to involve the fans more which everyone seemed to like. During the summer I worked on making some markers from the cut outs of the different characters on the show and attached a note card and some magic jellybeans want to invite everyone to come to the art signings to collect their prize Francesca had donated a number of art prints based on the show and the rest of us also contribute to the prizes which was kind of fun.
It was also great to meet Francesca. I had seen her art work on social media and had always admired her talent. It was wonderful to have a conversation with a fellow artist about how they work, get their inspiration, and the media they create with.
I also did the driving which was fun. I acted like a tour guide to my fellow staff members because I had been to the area the previous year and knew the general location. (So glad that we rented a car with GPS.)
We also got to have dinner one evening with some of the other fans at Tapenade Bistro, the restaurant used to film Hook and Emma's first date. There is nothing better than a seafood dinner in a fishing village. Very tasty food and great company.
We wrapped up the event with a meet and greet at the Buck and Ear pub. We tied that in with our OUAF Awards. We had the fans vote on their favorite episodes, actors, fan art, etc and then announced the winners via social media from the pub. (It was the first time I had eaten poutine. Delicious!)
Shirley Hartwell, Candy Dish owner, meeting with OUAF Staff members.
How did the merchants of Steveston react to Operation Storybrooke?
Ashley: I think they were surprised at first at how organized we were. It was lovely meeting everyone and hearing their stories from filming and when cast comes to visit. And tasting all their wares, haha!
Francesca: They were really excited and accommodating to the fans. Also, there were very nice and did their best to give back to the fans with discounts and free stuff.
Joanne: The merchants were very positive about Operation Storybrooke. We coordinated everything through Tourism Richmond which has an office there on the corner of Muncton St. in Steveston. We got a list of all the different discounts and specials being offered that weekend and made sure that we sampled them all. We took pictures of us sampling the different items and posted them on social media. We also made sure that we introduced ourselves to the different proprietors, and they were very welcoming. Most of our treasure hunt markers were placed in their shops to make sure Oncers paid a visit to them.
Samantha: I was really surprised to see so many local merchants willing to participate in our fan event. Later I realized that it makes sense in a town that relies so much on tourism. About twenty shops had some sort of special deal or item up for sale for anyone who just mentioned Operation Storybrooke. As a team OUAF tried to visit every shop that participated and we had fun eating our way around town.
What would you write in your Diary of Discovery about the event?
Francesca: It was a really great experience being part of a fandom, as I have said before this is all a first for me. I have never been involved with a show in my life. To have been able to participate was very special to me, one that I will always remember.
Joanne: I was fascinated with the filming process. We were so lucky to catch some of it. There was a lot of hurry up and wait with the process, along with repetition of the scenes to get a good take. I also loved meeting the other Oncers and the members of the OUAF staff. It was fun to talk about our shared interest in the show. So many different personalities connecting with one show.
Samantha: Although I have travelled around much of the United States, this was my first trip to Canada and my first trip to the Northwest coast. It was beautiful! Steveston is the perfect little fishing village complete with cannery. Our adventures around Vancouver included walks in woods that look like the Enchanted Forest every day. It was very surreal to walk the streets of Steveston, wander around the fishing docks and visit local parks and find ourselves in familiar Storybrooke settings. I highly recommend the experience to any Oncer!
Ashley: "When can I come back?" That town was chosen to be Storybrooke for a reason. It has a certain way about it, I can't really describe it. I just know i want to plan another trip up there soon.
What was your favorite moment?
Joanne: The best thing was that we found out that they would be filming in Steveston we got to see some scenes on Moncton street with Captain Hook and some special effects where he jumps from the library roof it was kind of fun to meet all the fans would gather to watch the filming some of whom we recognize from social media. We also met some of the locals who came to watch the filming and somehow do even participated or worked for companies that help with production such as the company that provides the horses. We also got to meet some of the crew members such as the security guards and the assistance we got to meet Sarah the leaf lady who was so funny and entertaining for the crowds that first night Collin did take the time to come over and say hello to the fans and so there was a photo opportunity. We were amazed at how quickly the crew took down the set once the filming was complete for leaving the second night that we were there we got to see some more filming in the enchanted Forest or Camelot where David was trying to stop Regina from using the dagger to control Emma we kept hearing her and him call her name over and over once again we got to meet some very interesting fans from all over the world.
Samantha: I think it's every fan's secret wish to see your favorite show being made. We were very excited when a few days before Operation Storybrooke it was announced they would be filming while we were there. Watching them shoot was both very interesting and very boring at the same time. We couldn't always see very much, and we had to be really, really quiet, which is hard to do when you are so excited. I think we all agree that our nighttime trek through the woods was a highpoint of the trip, even though we didn't actually see filming that night.
Ashley: I have to say my favorite moment is when we went to watch filming at night in the woods in Vancouver. There were about six of us, fans and staff members alike, and we didn't want to disturb filming (this was for the King Arthur and Hook fight scene I found out later) so we were wandering around in the dark. Country dark, and I'm a city girl who plays horror games, so I'm getting incredibly creeped out. We also didn't know where we were going, so we are creeping around these pitch black woods, silent as a tomb, until we see the faint glow of the lights used in filming in the distance. We emerged from the darkness into a brightly lit section of the woods, full of atmospheric fog. We didn't end up watching filming that night, but that jaunt in the woods was hilarious and one of my favorite stories to tell.
Francesca: My favorite moment was when I met the fans at the signing and having lunch with Gabe and Faustino.
What would you like to see happen again?
Samantha: I would love to have another fan event in Steveston. The logistics of getting enough members of OUAF to Canada are daunting, but we did it once, I think we could do it again. It was a major achievement for us to make Operation Storybrooke happen. Anyone on Facebook can create an event, but it takes time, effort, money and determination to actually have an event happen and we did that. We made Operation Storybrooke happen. I think that proves to fans that if OUAF says we are going to have an event, we mean it.
Ashley: All of it. I really loved the participation of the local merchants, I'd love to get them in on another event like this and help celebrate the town.
Francesca: It should be more promoted and have incentives for the fans to come out, and maybe in the summer months when kids are out of school.
Joanne: I would like to see it all happen again. I think the treasure hunt and art signing went remarkably well. As a staff, we talked about having it in July or August when people are out of school or taking their summer vacations and Once Upon a Time is in production. The Tourism Richmond center, however, suggested the winter or fall months when tourism is down for Steveston. They would like to see it draw more people come to the area for the event.
What would you do differently if OUAF did another Operation Storybrooke?
Ashley: I'd want to get more fans involved. There are always people hanging around watching filming, it would be great to get them to take advantage of what the town has to offer.
Francesca: If possible, I would like to have events with some of the Once cast and crew.
Joanne: I'd like to get more fans involved and promote the merchants more. I thought maybe we should put out more treasure hunt markers to the merchants, so that they could have more than one marker for people to be hunting in their shops. Some treasure hunters snatched up more than one marker. I would like to be able to say one per customer.
I would also like to see more of our own staff members have an opportunity to participate in the event. It would have been great to have everyone there to enjoy Operation Storybrooke.
Samantha: I agree that getting more fans involved should be our goal. We learned a lot from this first event and I know we can grow from it. I would definitely want to be a part of it one way or another.
The Once Upon a Fan Operation Storybrooke Team
Samantha: Meeting new people and connecting with them over a common interest is always a great moment for me. Operation Storybrooke provided so many opportunities for this. First, I finally got to meet Ashley and Joanne, who I only new via cyberspace. I continue to find that most people I only know online are pretty much the same in real life, just taller. In a true 'It's a small World' moment, Francesca and I found out that we attended the same high school. We met locals who see filming all the time and are kind of blasé about it, and there were dozens of first timers there who were completely star-struck. We met the people of Steveston, the merchants and the residents who welcome fans to the 'Real Storybrooke' everyday. The people, the sights, the sounds, the sky, the water, the breeze are all reasons I will go back again.
Ashley: If you're a fan of Once Upon a Time and you'd like to go to Steveston, go. It will be worth the trip. Taste the food, see the sights, take pictures, spend money. Give back and celebrate our very own Storybrooke.
Joanne: I've been up to Steveston and Vancouver twice now in the past two years. I would recommend the trip to anyone. Beautiful views, great food, friendly people. It is so fun to see all the different filming locations. Everything looks so familiar to me from the show.
We also made the local Richmond paper with the art signing and fan event.