Toronto plays Toronto in 'Chloe'

Atom Egoyan thriller took advantage of city's winter lull

Toronto is used to playing other cities like New York, Chicago and even post-apocalyptic towns on film, but now it's getting its own moment in the spotlight.

With "Chloe," the Atom Egoyan thriller starring Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried and Julianne Moore which has its gala presentation Sunday, the city finally gets to act as itself.

"We are the first movie, entirely foreign-financed, to use Toronto as Toronto," Egoyan said. "This is a huge shift."

"Chloe" shot during the past winter. It was then followed by Universal's "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," Edgar Wright's adaptation of Oni Press' graphic novels, which became the second recent movie to feature Toronto as Toronto.

The "Pilgrim" graphic novels were already set in Toronto. "Chloe," on the other hand, was originally set in San Francisco. But Egoyan, even though he'd always fantasized about shooting a movie in the City By the Bay, felt that the social milieu of his story was better served by setting it in Toronto, and that by taking advantage of a winter shoot that melted into spring, he'd also have a thematic undercurrent mirroring the changes in his characters.

Still, there were times when producers hid the fact they were filming in Toronto.

"At one point, nobody wanted to say they came here, especially during the runaway productions era," said Toronto film commissioner Rhonda Silverstone.

One reason for a change in Toronto's status is the wave of construction that has swept into the city in the last few years, with new glass towers reaching ever skyward.

"We've been able to take advantage of the major architectural shifts," Egoyan said. "The city has changed it complexion."

Silverstone pointed out that Canadian series "Flashpoint," airing on CBS in the U.S., helped give Toronto credibility to play itself.

"I heard a lot about it in my trips to L.A.," she said. "People see it's a good quality show and realize that setting something in the city isn't an issue."

Egoyan faced some initial challenges in convincing the producers and financiers that Toronto was the right location, but overcame that hurdle when he brought producer Ivan Reitman back to his hometown.

"He got excited about reclaiming a part of his own history," Egoyan said.

The winter shoot also helped to secure locations that would never have been workable in the summer. For example, the colder temps allowed for a shoot in ritzy Yorkville, an area of town that in warmer days is packed with people, making traffic and crowd control difficult. Another advantage to that winter shoot was that locations, hotels and other filmmaking costs were lower.

In terms of overall production, 2008 was not a great year for Toronto, but the city's prospects are looking brighter this year and could improve further in 2010. On Thursday, details emerged about Ontario's newly raised and expanded tax incentive. No longer just focused on labor costs, the incentives will also cover aspects such as lumber, caterers, props, and travel costs within Ontario, making shooting in Toronto even more competitive.

But economics aside, Egoyan was happy that "Chloe's" Toronto locations allowed him to show off his home city. "I got to shoot in places I had been hanging out in for years," he said.