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Reel Toronto: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.
“Having lived in Toronto for a year I was always curious how Torontonians must feel about seeing The Incredible Hulk or Kick-Ass and seeing their city as something else. I hoped that our film at least did a service to this city, showing it as itself,” says director Edgar Wright with a laugh. “I was very happy to oblige.”
“As a British filmmaker making my first film outside the UK, I wouldn’t want anyone to give me demerits for getting the location wrong,” he says.
It seemed obvious to us that Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, being such a landmark film for this column, deserved some special treatment. So, rather than simply listing every teeny location (we know you’ll nitpick something we missed!), we were so very pleased to talk with Wright about the film and its Toronto locations.

The movie was long-gestating, and Wright began working on it even before starting Hot Fuzz. He’d been to Toronto before even reading the book, first with with then-girlfriend Charlotte Hatherly when she opened for Coldplay, and then staying at the Drake Hotel for a week when he came to do a cameo with Simon Pegg for George Romero’s Land of the Dead.
What makes Scott Pilgrim so amazing for this city is that it isn’t just a Hollywood movie set in Toronto, like the abominable Love Guru. It’s the way it tries to recreate the comic, shooting even the most banal of locations used by author Bryan Lee O’Malley.
The first thing Wright did when he met O’Malley here in 2005 was visit all the real-life locations. “Pretty much everything that was in the book, we shot the same place Bryan had drawn,” he says.
“I think it just gave it a really great jumping-off point. Having that kind of touch down at the real locations, I think, just made everything feel right. It was just starting off on the right foot for the crew, for myself, for the cast…it had a very specific and particular level of reality and the film gets absolutely crazy but at least you start somewhere you know,” Wright says.
“The apartments feel lived in, the neighbourhoods that they’re living in feel appropriate to the characters…the film and the book have that same arc from the mundane to the insane but you have to start on terra firma.”
A perfect example is the house in which Scott and his pal Wallace live. In reality, O’Malley lived at 27 Alberta Avenue, though he thinly disguised it as “Albert Avenue.”
As any true fan knows, however, the drawings in the book are actually at number 65, down the street. So, that’s where they shot, turning the garage door into the apartment door.
Still, you can see a little tribute to the original address here. (We’ll just add the caveat that if you’re going to do a little Scott Pilgrim tour, try to remember that some of these places are private residences with residents who may or may not share your enthusiasm for hipster pop culture ephemera. Wright admits he regrets letting the public know where the house from Spaced is.)
Ramona’s place is in Cabbagetown, on Carlton Street.
When O’Malley and Wright toured the book’s locations, the author actually couldn’t remember what building he’d drawn. A little driving around with the photographs O’Malley used as reference eventually yielded the correct one.
The interior, however, was a set at Pinewood.
Casa Loma has been used in so many films to play so many locales, there’s something very trippy about how it’s used here: as Casa Loma, being used for a big action movie set.
It’s something Wright was fully aware of, noting the original scene was inspired by O’Malley happening upon a Hillary Duff film shoot. If you’ve been downstairs at Casa Loma, you’ve seen the hallway with posters from some of the movies shot there.
“They have The Tuxedo, The Pacifier, and I kind of hope eventually a Scott Pilgrim poster will be up there, too,” he laughs. It’s kind of the least they could do, isn’t it?
The scene also includes at least two in-jokes. Don McKellar and Wright became friends after the latter cited the former’s Last Night as an influence on Shaun of the Dead. Here he plays the director of the action film, Talk to the Fist.
“I was so bummed that I missed seeing it,” says Wright about being unable to be in the city for opening night. But McKellar emailed him after catching a screening at Scotiabank to say people were going crazy as soon as this shot came up.
It lasts about a second, but when Lucas Lee throws Scott through the New York backdrop, the CN Tower appears. On purpose!
Just like in the comics, the scene culminates with Lucas Lee going down the perilous rails of the nearby Baldwin Steps on his skateboard…
…and he blows up real good in one of the movie’s rare wide shots of the city.
As Scott prepares to head out to Casa Loma, the TV is showing a Lucas Lee action pic that was filmed down at Polson Pier. That bit was the first thing they shot.
The Bathurst–St. Clair area battles with Bathurst–Bloor to be the centre of the Pilgrimverse. This romantic evening in the (fake) snow was shot at Hillcrest Park. It also happens to be the same place O’Malley went on his first date with the woman who is now his wife.
If the park or another location looks a bit different than it does in reality, don’t be surprised. The falling snow is pretty much always CGI, and as filming moved from spring into summer, they also used a lot of fake snow. In post-production they also simplified a lot of the background (like the trees) to better emulate O’Malley’s spare drawing style.
You can see those kinds of changes here, where Scott is contemplating how he screwed up, on Turner Road.
Knives Chau (seventeen years old) goes to school at St. Mike’s, which, of course, is actually a boys’ school.
Here, Scott and Knives pick up some books at the Wychwood Library
…and shop at the nearby Goodwill.
In the comics, Scott’s sister works at this Second Cup, near Bathurst and St. Clair. Despite every Hollywood film taking place in the Starbucksverse, Wright was able to shoot at Second Cup, but they used this location, at Queen West and Augusta. (You may recall we made an unsuccessful foray into invading the set.)
“We wanted to get the right details and Second Cup were up for it, and Pizza Pizza were up for it, and it just felt right…It means something to Canadian audiences and people in international audiences just think we made [Pizza Pizza] up ourselves. It sounds like a cute movie brand,” Wright says.
Speaking of which, the intersection of Bathurst and Bloor also gets a workout. So many New York movies hit all the big tourist spots, like Central Park and the top of the Empire State Building. But Scott Pilgrim revels in the simplicity of something like this Pizza Pizza, right across from Honest Ed’s.
The book has an epic battle set within the emporium, but it only took one visit for Wright to realize it wasn’t feasible to film inside.
“It would be impossible to replicate. It’s something that just looks better on the page,” Wright says. “I went in there a couple of times and got lost.”
Here’s some more Bloor, with Insomnia.
They could have filmed at any ol’ record shop but, as in the books, they visited Sonic Boom, even changing the signage to how it used to look.
With all this authenticity was there anywhere Wright couldn’t shoot? One popular chain of drug stores was resistant—use your imagination, it won’t take much—which led the filmmakers to instead use this fake location.
In what must be the farthest excursion from downtown, these arcade scenes were shot up at Markville Centre.
Wright takes some pride in having captured the original Lee’s Palace mural before it was torn down to make way for a burrito joint, and then replaced by a new painting.
The club’s interior has been renovated since drawn by O’Malley, and while it may only be a few aging hipsters who’d even notice, Wright took the trouble to reconstruct the old bar interior as a set on Commissioner’s Street.
So accurate was the recreation that Wright recalls receiving kudos during visits from Toronto bands like Sloan, Metric, and Broken Social Scene.
“They were all touching the bar, saying, ‘It’s so weird,’” Wright says. “I think they wanted it preserved as a museum piece.”
During a New York screening, artists who’d stopped there on tour, like Yo La Tengo and Jon Spencer, said they assumed he’d shot in the real venue.
The Lee’s set, complete with exterior alleyways, was actually built within this huge set, where a later battle takes place.
When Brandon Routh and Michael Cera battle in the back alley, there’s actually some special effects at work.
“Every Chuck Norris and Steven Segal film that shoots in Toronto uses that alley,” Wright says. “The funny thing is, I went to see Kick-Ass, I thought, that’s the alley that we used, but we reconstructed it as a set.”
They’re still standing on a soundstage, but the backdrop is a green screen image of the alley behind the Big Bop.
So impressive is the alley, Wright suggests the city should start hanging plaques at such locations, indicating their place in cinematic history. That so few of the movies are good fails to dissuade him.
“The weirder the better,” he says. “The Silver Dollar should have a plaque to commemorate the Blue Oyster Bar!
Given that a similar project now has a plaque installed on the Bloor Viaduct with a passage from In the Skin of a Lion, we find it hard to disagree.
Like us, Wright can’t watch Toronto-shot movies the same anymore. Whether it’s The Long Kiss Goodnight or Police Academy, Wright, like us, now finds himself constantly saying, “I know where that is!”
Of course, the film visits a series of clubs, of which Lee’s is the most prominent and true-to-life. These scenes ostensibly take place at the Rock It, but the club is long gone and now home to Goodhandy’s on Church Street.
They recreated the interior (but, as with Lee’s, bigger) as a set.
Speaking of sets (if you don’t mind, for a sec): Stephen Stills’ apartment, seen in the opening scene, was shot at Cinespace.
So was the huge Chaos Theatre set, from the finale.
“It was incredible. To walk in there was like walking onto a Ken Adam set,” says Wright, recalling the man famous for designing the look of the early Bond films.
The theatre exterior is at Front and Cherry, where you can see the shuttered Canary Grill on the right.
In this scene, Scott and Ramona stroll down eastern Front Street, by the Canadian Opera Company’s main office.
…and walk into this club, where the fight with Roxy happens. This set was built inside the Wychwood Barns.
This verbal confrontation with Jason Schwartzman was shot out on Trinity Street, at (tear of joy) the Distillery District.
Here, our heroes are walking down Manning Avenue, off Queen West. The arches are on the side of Psyche. Note the blinking “L” on the Flight Centre sign, warning of the inevitable fight to come.
Also some love for TTC nerds: this vintage bus is heading down Carlton, towards Parliament.
It gets some interior work, too.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World isn’t the sort of flick that contains glorious skyline shots or fawns over the CN Tower, but when it does get around to the tower, here for the final shot—well, it does things right, don’t it?
We admit we had high hopes that Scott Pilgrim vs. The World would rock the shit out of the box office, but let’s face facts: it was a cool, indie property, sitting a bit out on the edge, and with no major stars to boost the cume, as Variety likes to call it.
“One of the worst things about the film business now is that the story of the film is supposed to be written in seventy-two hours…and if you look at the history of cinema, you can’t predict the life of any movie,” Wright says. “If the internet was around the Monday after The Wizard of Oz opened, people would be calling it the biggest turkey of all time.”
So, even if the box office wasn’t through the roof, Wright says he got great responses from fans, critics, the studio, and cast members who continue to enthusiastically promote the film. As Wright’s previous two films showed, there is something to be said for longevity.
“I think everyone was aware, even before the film opened, this was something that needed a little more time to percolate,” he says. “It is something a bit different and it can’t easily be put in one box.”
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is out now on DVD and Blu-ray.


  • http://undefined Corey

    Seeing how fun and different Scott Pilgrim looked in the previews, I couldn’t fathom how the film managed to flop. Until I saw it for the first time recently: It WAS so much fun and I loved how bold Edgar was with the style but, as this article highlights, it was Canadianized to holy hell. That is like injecting your film with Hepatitis A – brazenly showing off Toronto and even using the word Toronto in a mainstream picture is bigger box office poison than Katherine Heigl.

  • http://undefined rek

    In reference to Scott’s sister working at Second Cup, the photo is actually the character Julie, who works at a different Second Cup. I don’t think the line was in the movie, but in the comic this is when Scott realizes Second Cups don’t have a single communal interior.

  • qviri

    Yay! I was hoping you’d do this, but on the day of the DVD release — too good!

  • Acting Minor Traitor

    I tried to get a shot of 65 Alberta for my followup phototour just before the release in theatres, but there was a man there, sitting on the balcony. He didn’t look like the kind of dude that would take kindly to random strangers photographing his place.
    Must be even more awkward now.

  • David Fleischer

    I believe you’re half right. Yes, that’s a shot of Julie working at Second Cup (the shots of Anna Kendrick were just too tight to show any of the store), but it’s supposed to be the same store. Scott shows up to see his sister but she runs out, forcing him to have to deal with Julie.
    I’ve watched this movie four times in the last week, man!

  • http://undefined G Valentino

    Nope, it being, or not being, Toronto had nothing to do with it.
    The bomb was a case of the echo chamber: Fans of the book are a loud, online community and talked amongst themselves, creating the feeling that there was more going on in the mainstream culture than there was. For the people at large, it probably looked like maybe a fun movie, probably a little geeky, and I’ll rent it when it
    comes out. The perception of it crossing over was greater than the actual chance of it.
    For a similar case see: Anything by Joss Whedon. Fans love it, praise it, but have trouble making a convincing case as to why other people show love it as much to invest the time and money to see it first run.
    Also most of the “Canadianzation” isn’t apparent until you’ve plopped down your money and started watching the movie, so the point is completely irrelevant. If you think people left the movie saying “Wow, it’s fun and exciting and dynamic, but don’t go because they say Toronto” might I suggest a wider screen than your navel.

  • Amy Lavender Harris

    Anyone interested in representations of Toronto on film should check out Geoff Pevere’s book, Toronto On Film (TIFF, 2009). The essays in the book explore in considerable depth what shooting Toronto does for films — and for the city itself.

  • http://undefined Corey

    That’s a good point about the echo chamber, G. But please, I am very sensitive about my naval.

  • accozzaglia

    Actually, the box reads “27A Alberta St.”, not Avenue, with a fictional postal code that would technically belong out near Victoria Park. This threw me at first.
    I would have loved to prepare a Reel Toronto of this in your absence. I have been dissecting the film ever since opening night, and now with the DVD I’ve been making an insane number of screen caps. You hit pretty much on most of the subtle bits I did. One you left out, which I also haven’t verified, is the street on which SP is walking as he hears Wallace’s voice echo “seven . . . deadly . . . exes” — with seven X signs — at around 53m58s. My first guess was Cabbagetown, but now I’m not sure whether it’s somewhere in the Annex.
    On opening night, at the “not so long ago . . . ” line, I made so much jubilant noise in that cinema (on the west coast of America where most everyone just murmured their snicker). Ditto on all the subtle local references — “two-forty?!” — I was relishing as most everyone there was mostly unaware of (“Fun? In Toronto?”) and making “squee!” sounds when Honest Ed’s, Green Beanery, Insomnia, Sonic Boom, and everything else at Bloor-Bathurst would appear. Also David, thanks for confirming that the Second Cup interior was indeed the Queen-Augusta location and not the one at Bloor-Lippincott. I was almost certain of it.
    Mid-way through, I had to give these American teens behind me the stink eye for mocking relatively transparent (to us) Canadianisms. They were amazingly well behaved after that. I hadn’t had that much fun in a cinema in years. This really felt like a coming out party for Toronto.

  • http://undefined Matthew

    Funny, using Toronto never came up in any of the criticisms from people who disliked the movie. It seemed that it was only Canadians, mostly people from or who lived in Toronto even bothered to notice this fact.
    The Whole Nine Yards didn’t seem to have a problem with being a Hollywood movie made in Montreal and taking place in Montreal as part of the film.
    However, it seemed that the majority of people who saw this movie liked it, with it getting good ratings from viewers on various websites like IMDB, Yahoo Movies, Rotten Tomatoes (movie goers not just critics), etc. With Scott Pilgrim tracking on Twitter world wide, with many people talking about it online. Unfortunately, that weekend people were more interested in seeing Stallone & gang in the Expendables. The fact that both of these movies were highly promoted at San Diego Comic Con, should have raises warning flags for the studios that they were going against similar target audiences and one of these movies was going to lose out if they opened on the same weekend.

  • http://undefined Maddy

    Another bit of authenticity: the book on top of the pile that Scott is holding for Knives in the library scene is the same textbook I had for grade 12 Calculus.

  • http://undefined Jim

    Amazing movie, especially for someone that lives in downtown Toronto. You can totally recognize everything. I highly recommend people picking this one up, comes out on DVD/Blu-Ray today.

  • thelemur

    I remember the day a fake phone booth and fake snow appeared at Bloor & Bathurst.

  • Karen Whaley

    I honestly can’t imagine how this Reel Toronto could have been any better or more comprehensive. Bravo!

  • accozzaglia

    Wait. Was that at all connected with the fake snow during the summer that was found along all Queen West between about Ryerson and Portland? Was that the filming crew for SP?

  • http://undefined Ravi

    Loved the movie, defiantly on my “to buy” list.
    Usually when I recognize a location in a movie as being from Toronto, it takes me out of the film. Loved that they didn’t try and hide that it was Toronto, I didn’t get that disconnected feeling.

  • tapesonthefloor

    There have been at least two shoots using fake snow since the SP shoot on Queen/Portland/Augusta, so with some hesitation: Yes.

  • accozzaglia

    My memory isn’t serving me well: either it was summer 2008 or summer 2009, which is a huge difference in time. It was probably ’09. I don’t know when actual filming for SP occurred.
    Also, shame I didn’t make your acquaintance at Cadillac Lounge on the Night Toronto Cried Gravy.

  • http://undefined tapesonthefloor

    I think we’re definitely talking about the same film shoot. And, ah, Summer ’09 for sure:
    And the fact that my apartment is almost visible in a few of those photos means I have no excuse for not even remembering which year the shoot was. Embarrassing.
    Also: Definitely a shame. Are you saying you came out, or that you’re sorry you didn’t? I seem to recall folding dress clothes at about 8:08pm when Ford was doing his hug-the-wife-and-kids show.

  • http://undefined G Valentino

    I dunno if you can attribute ComicCon and mnarketing there to the success or failure of either movie.
    First: Comic con is back to the whole echo chamber thing.
    Secondly, they may have appeared to be going against similar markets, yes, but you could market the Expendables without mentioning or having anyone know about the comic: “What’s it about?” “Well, it’s an action movie in the tradition of 80s films with Stalone and Rourke and…” “SOLD”.
    However, with Pilgrim: “What’s it about?” “Well, it’s based on a North American version of a managa about a lovable loser who has to defeat seven evil exes in a bunch of levels based on old video games…” “….” “Wanna see the Expendables?”
    No matter what market you pitch to, never underestimate the value of a good elevator pitch with as few moving parts as possible. Even Avatar can be distilled to a simple one line discussion.

  • http://undefined spacejack

    I think that any romantic comedy in which the two leads have zero chemistry is pretty much doomed to fail, no matter how many Nintendo references Blambot fonts you cram into it. That there were no sympathetic characters, and that they didn’t understand the difference between acting like a slacker and slacking on your acting… well, it’s really not that surprising (to me anyway) that it flopped.
    I’m really not sure what people unfamiliar with Toronto or the comic would like about the movie.

  • accozzaglia

    Yes, thank you! It was ’09, just before I had to go off to grad school.
    I had no idea the snow prop was for SP. Then again, SP was sorta not on my radar then the way it was for hardcore Bryan Lee O’Malley fans. I walked into the movie in August with very little background on the comic story (save for the avatar I generated while dorking around at work), and I went to it because I was aware that it was unambiguously set here. That was way more than reason enough. That, and Michael Cera. Now, I’ll add Alison Pill.
    As to Flounder Night ’010, I was there. NOW Magazine sort of caught me there, as I have since been told by friends who saw the paper version of last week’s issue. I haven’t been told how horrifying it was, though. Probably very. I was told, however, that my shirt — from which my current Torontoist avatar was sourced — was not in there. Piffle.

  • accozzaglia

    No sympathy for Kim Pine? Really? I found her, as the cynical dumpee having to be around an ungrateful ex who did the dumping, to be sympathetic enough.

  • http://undefined spacejack

    Actually it was Ellen Wong who I felt was somewhat sympathetic. One of the few who actually seemed to be putting some effort into acting, unfortunately they made her act like an unrealistic fool.
    I found Kim Pine’s character to be a one-note joke that started grating on you after her first scene. And her always-angry act seemed like… an act. I just didn’t believe it.

  • http://undefined mintychip

    Side note! All the cg snow and background modifications were done here too by Mr.X, a Toronto visual effects company.

  • http://undefined mintychip

    also, most of your screencaps are their work.
    also, also, love the article!

  • rek

    Ah yes, I forgot how they dealt with it in the movie.

  • qviri

    Does anyone known if the final shot is a composite image or otherwise edited? I’ve been trying to place the location it was shot at since seeing the movie for the first time, but I can’t crack it. Based on the centering between TD Canada Trust and Bay Wellington Towers, the street should be somewhere in the alignment of Mill or the Esplanade, but I can’t find houses like the ones on the left anywhere on those. If anything, the foreground looks like something on Queen East around Moss Park.

  • David Fleischer

    As I mentioned in the article, what appears to be a straightforward street may be subtly modified but I don’t think it’s a composite. It’s location-consistent with the rest of the scene, which takes place at Front and Cherry.
    The framing is pretty much what you see looking down Front on Google Streetview though I wouldn’t be surprised if they painted the sky and/or magnified the buildings. Simply using different lenses can also just make backgrounds seem closer but the purported location is definitely Front Street.

  • qviri

    Thanks. That’s definitely the foreground. Background looks slightly modified, the slight shift of the towers to the right threw me off.

  • thelemur

    I believe it was around May 2009 – just late enough that the ‘snow’ really stood out as just a bunch of cotton and foam around the bank machine and the Pizza Pizza.

  • accozzaglia

    I kind of thought the same thing until I dug up a photo I shot in 2008 from the same perspective. They appear to be more or less congruous with one another.

  • qviri

    But your photo shows the same thing. It’s centered (in terms of which towers in the background is in line with the foreground street) very slightly left on Commerce Court West. Bay Wellington and TD Canada Trust Towers are both well left of centre, while the movie shot has them slightly right and left of centre, respectively.

  • http://undefined Julien

    I got some shots of the Second Cup covered in snow here:

  • http://undefined Kory

    Any Idea where Scott’s “old house” is? It’s not just across the street.

  • Purecharm459

    I love this movie. I’m a Texan, so thanks for the inside scoop on Toronto. Sounds like a cool place.

  • Rdkevin13

    Time to take a nerd trip to toronto!

    • Neville Ross

      Hope to see all three of you here!

  • Sicheng Lu(Kevin)

    What year is this movie. Can I see it

  • Tahlia

    In Toronto now searching for all these places. Thanks guys!

  • Libra tapes

    Bought this movie on Blu ray.. And have watched it twenty times. It keeps getting better. It is a weird nightmare of a movie and I get why stupid people don’t like it. But it is so original. I’m thinking will have the cult status of bill and Teds… Even though it is technically a far more inivative film.
    I just moved to Toronto so this is a helpful tour guide!

  • Anonymous

    I’m not 100% sure but I believe the interior Chaos Theater scene was not shot at Cinespace, but at a location of what was once a roller rink at Jarvis and Dundas. Streetview here:

    I used to live north of there and would walk to and from work on Jarvis and often saw something being shot there. Another movie was Resident Evil Afterlife: Might need to pause shortly after play to compare the back walls.

    I would look inside from time to time out of curiosity and it looked a lot like it.

  • David

    They set up in front of my house for a couple of days while they were filming on Rawlings Ave. Lots of fake snow in the neighbourhood.

  • alee

    i completely freaked out when i saw the film because i recognized almost all the places filming locations. i am along the bathurst st line all the time. i love how they showed “real” bits of toronto rather than bluntly showing big tourist spots