Reel Toronto: They Shot That Here?
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Reel Toronto: They Shot That Here?

Follow That Bird, Finding Forrester, and Blindness were all shot in Toronto, though you'd hardly know it.

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.

Okay, we confess that “They Shot That Here?” could be an alternate (but less savvy) name for this entire series of articles, but we’re talking about something a bit more specific right now. It’s one thing when they try to pass Toronto off as Boston or New York and do a mediocre job of it. It’s a whole other thing when they shoot an entire movie here and there’s virtually no Toronto to be seen anywhere.

We’ve seen this before, with studio-bound flicks like the Saw sequels and Repo! The Genetic Opera, but those are just the tip of the iceberg. From Sesame Street films to José Saramago adaptations to middling Gus Van Sant efforts, we’ve got the bases covered.

Follow That Bird

Follow That Bird bills itself as “the first Sesame Street movie.” Even though it’s not quite a family classic, it’s not so bad either.

A key set, of course, is Sesame Street itself. As you can see here, it’s a more elaborate, detailed, and well-lit set than the familiar one from the show, which is shot in New York. This one was built up in Kleinburg at the studios now owned by Cinespace. At the time, they were called Toronto International Studios.

As Bird goes on his road trip, there are several totally unidentifiable rural locations. The biggest scene with any kind of relevant visuals is his visit to the town of Toadstool. This big parade was shot on Main Street in Halton’s Georgetown.

You can see this shoe shop, which is now apparently a Curves location

…and this old bank building, now a restaurant called The Cellar.

This airport looks like it might just be Billy Bishop airport, but it’s hard to tell for certain.

There are also some nice CanCon cameos, including a couple of sleazy guys (“The Sleazy Brothers!”) played by Joe Flaherty (technically an American, granted) and Dave Thomas.

Do they get pulled over by a cop played by John Candy? Yes, they do.

Interestingly, the film’s director was Ken Kwapis, who has gone on to be a regular on many quality TV series, like Freaks and Geeks, The Office, and Parks and Recreation.

Finding Forrester

Gus Van Sant went all mainstream when he shot Good Will Hunting here, banking some mad money and Oscar nominations. He went back to that same well, and back to Toronto, with 2001’s Finding Forrester.

The Sean Connery flick shot pretty much all of its exteriors in New York City, so you’d never spot any Toronto worth mentioning. Nonetheless, the most important set, the reclusive Connery’s cluttered apartment, was built here.

There’s also a scene where Connery gets dragged out to a concert at Madison Square Garden, but it’s actually Copps Coliseum.


Then there’s 2008’s Blindness, which looks like it was designed to be some kind of art house hit. It’s based on an acclaimed novel, it boasts a screenplay by Don McKellar, and it stars great actors like Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo…but it ends up being kind of a milky mess.

We’re willing to guarantee this is the only film whose credits note it was shot entirely in São Paulo, Montevideo, Toronto, and…Guelph. Again, much of the Toronto work is unremarkable studio interiors. A notable exception is this conference scene, which is obviously the City Hall council chamber.

And this hospital is actually the Guelph Correctional Centre.

With the opening of Pinewood Studios we’re already seeing flicks—like Total Recall and Pacific Rim—that will shoot here for months with hardly a single CN Tower or Distillery District shot to show for it. It’s all part of Hollywood North being a little more like Hollywood South.

CORRECTION: August 29, 2012, 12:10 PM This post originally spelled “São Paulo” incorrectly. It has now been corrected.