Why Hollywood Is Flocking to Ontario to Shoot Movies Set Anywhere

9:00 PM 5/12/2016

by Etan Vlessing

From 'Suicide Squad' taking over downtown Toronto to Ethan Hawke pursuing a satanic demon in nearby Mississauga, Ontario is overrun with major productions from south of the border.

'Suicide Squad', 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2' and 'Regression'
'Suicide Squad', 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2' and 'Regression'

As recent Oscar wins for such indies as Spotlight and Room demonstrate, Ontario easily can double for a variety of places, from Boston to Ohio. These days, Ontario is crawling with local location scouts looking for new ways to transform the province’s neighborhoods, cities and natural settings into convincing backdrops for everything from comic book tentpoles to low-budget indies.

It’s hard work: Suicide Squad locations manager Marty Dejczak had two colleagues go door-to-door for two months on Toronto’s Yonge Street to tell every store owner and everyone living nearby what to expect when the cameras rolled on Batman clinging to The Joker’s speeding car outside their window. Or Regression locations manager Drazen Baric had a Toronto church lined up for the Emma Watson starrer, only to see it pull out just as production was set to start; he had to scramble to find another location.

THR talked to Ontario scouts and directors of photography about how they transform their province into Anywhere, USA.

  • 'Milton Secret'

    Donato Sardella/Getty Images for U.S. Fund for UNICEF

    LOCATION King Street, Hamilton, Ontario (King Street is one of the main downtown streets in Hamilton.)

    BACKSTORY Hamilton in recent years has evolved from gritty, working-class steel town to a city transformed by a hipster migration from pricey Toronto. And the before-and-after effects of gentrification proved ideal for Milton’s Secret, an adaptation of Eckhart Tolle’s children’s novel about an 11-year-old boy growing up in an economically depressed suburb that stars Michelle Rodriguez and Donald Sutherland.

    TESTIMONIAL “We did the opening sequence of the film off King Street, and we dressed a couple of businesses to make it look like people were moving out and moving in, just to show the gentrification of a neighborhood,” says Milton’s Secret locations scout Nikhil D’Souza. “I find people [in Hamilton] are very accommodating to film requests out there, rather than in Toronto. It’s a lot easier to park a truck in Hamilton, as there’s a lot of space. It’s easier to negotiate deals to run logistics and not be a complete nuisance to people when we don’t have $100 million to spend and instead have a lower film budget.”

  • 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2'

    George Kraychyk/Universal Pictures

    LOCATION Eva’s Hairstylists, Dundas Street, Toronto

    BACKSTORY Big hair still rules in the My Big Fat Greek Wedding sequel, which, like the original movie, had Toronto doubling as Chicago. Locations scout John Rakich was charged with finding a dated, 1960s-style hair salon for pampering sessions ahead of a second set of nuptials. And his search ended with a pink vintage time machine, Eva’s Hairstylists in Toronto’s Junction neighborhood.

    TESTIMONIAL “Eva hasn’t done any changes to her salon since the mid-1960s,” says Rakich. “We’re talking the original floors and chairs, and those god-awful bubble-headed hair-dryer chairs. It was quite a find, and we didn’t have to spend a lot of money to change it over.”

  • 'Regression'

    LOCATION St. Peter’s Erindale Anglican Church, Mississauga

    BACKSTORY Alejandro Amenabar’s Regression was shot in Toronto as a Canada-Spain co-production to take advantage of tax credits and other incentives. The psychological thriller has Ethan Hawke playing a detective who uncovers evidence of a satanic cult while investigating the rape of a traumatized teen, played by Emma Watson. Despite the fact-based tale of satanic suspicions in small-town Minnesota, the Toronto Anglican church welcomed the location shoot as long as it remained in good taste.

    TESTIMONIAL “They ultimately wanted to see what we were filming, but as long as it wasn’t desecrating the church — there was no sex or that kind of stuff happening — they were very accommodating. We had free rein of the church,” recalls Drazen Baric, locations manager on Regression.

  • 'xXx: The Return of Xander Cage'

    Mike Marsland/WireImage/Getty Images

    LOCATION Thompson Hotel, Toronto

    BACKSTORY Vin Diesel’s muscular reboot for Paramount, in which he plays an extreme athlete turned government operative Xander Cage, alongside xXx franchise veteran Samuel L. Jackson, had director D.J. Caruso using Toronto to double for London in an outdoor swimming pool scene. The location: the Thompson Hotel on a frigid April 1.

    TESTIMONIAL “We had to open the pool way earlier than normal and get the pool temperature up to 80 degrees,” says locations manager Marty Dejczak. “The [hotel staff ] was very helpful in allowing us to do that. And we were shooting for London, England, so we had a greenscreen up to keep out the rooftop’s spectacular view of the Toronto skyline.”

  • 'Suicide Squad'

    Clay Enos/Warner Bros.

    LOCATION Yonge Street, Dundas Square, Toronto

    BACKSTORY With Fury director David Ayer closing Toronto’s busiest downtown streets to shoot car chases and plane crash scenes with stars Will Smith, Jared Leto and Margot Robbie, the Warner Bros. movie based on DC villains quickly became a very public film set, thanks to social media.

    TESTIMONIAL “We shut down a major downtown intersection, Dundas Square, which is like shutting down Times Square in New York,” says Marty Dejczak, also the locations manager on xXx. “We also shut down Yonge Street, a pretty big feat in itself. And the internet makes it impossible to keep that a secret. When you take down a major city like Toronto, and major streets like Yonge, everyone finds out in an instant, and news travels around the world.”

  • 'Rupture'

    LOCATION Toronto Zoo, Meadowvale Road, Toronto

    BACKSTORY The Noomi Rapace starrer Rupture, from director Steven Shainberg, portrays a single mother kidnapped by a terrifying and mysterious organization that threatens humanity. Enter the Toronto Zoo to help the indie look terrifying and surreal.

    TESTIMONIAL “The world [of Rupture] takes place in a very odd, surrealistic and waking nightmare,” says Karim Hussain, director of photography on Rupture. “Here the Toronto Zoo provided a great rural environment that in many cases stood in for rural America, but can also show Ontario proper. And we shot nearby at a gothic mansion, Valley Halla, and did a bunch of country driving sequences.”

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