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Ontario has long been Hollywood’s go-to for Anytown, USA, for film and TV production. But fans of Amazon’s Reacher might be surprised to learn the crime thriller’s first season, which is set in a fictional rural Georgia town called Margrave, was mostly shot in an undeveloped corn field in Pickering, Ontario.
“Our original plan in the summer of 2020 was to shoot on location in a real Georgia town, but due to the pandemic, we pivoted to Toronto, where there were fewer COVID-19 cases and where we would be able to build a replica Georgia town — and fully control it,” says Drew Brown, executive vp production at Skydance Television.
The rural Georgia streetscape — with 30 stores and shops, a main square and gazebo, a police station and town hall, the Margrave diner, a barbershop, a gas station and one residential cottage — was well isolated from neighbors, so scenes could be shot outdoors with few restrictions and controlled access during the pandemic. “This was the safest option for our cast and crew and paved the way for us to get through the season without having shutdowns,” Brown adds. With Jack Reacher parting ways with Margrave and Ontario for the upcoming second-season shoot, Skydance, studio operator William F. White International and the city of Pickering agreed to a deal that further developed and maintained the Reacher backlot for use by other film and TV projects.
That included WFW, which is also a production rental equipment giant, taking a long-term lease on the city-owned land to make it the biggest backlot in Canada, and fully supported with production services. Michael Drabot, vp and general manager of WFW in Winnipeg and Toronto, says the major studios have long had their own backlot streetscapes and Ontario now has its own near Toronto, which is perfectly suited to complex outdoor action scenes like car chases and controlled explosions.
“When you’re under pressure to do things, that’s when things can go wrong. This allows for that,” he explains. Much of the former Reacher set remains intact over 23 acres within a fenced-in 90-acre plot of farmland.
At the same time, WFW reinforced the streetscape facades of mixed painted foam and wood with solid steel bases and exterior clad siding to protect the standing set from harsh Ontario winters for years to come. And Drabot adds that the period dramas that require set dressing teams to turn back the hands of time will embrace the new backlot.
Jeremy Hood, a producer on Murdoch Mysteries, a period TV drama, recalls using the Pickering lot to shoot Niagara Falls circa late 1890s after the Reacher shoot left town.
“You can be out in the middle of the street and you own it,” says Hood. “It’s completely controlled.”
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