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« Localism, Bad, Good, and Foodie | Main | Un-PC Linkage »

October 14, 2008

Toronto is New York

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

So we're strolling in Toronto a few weeks ago and discover that Front Street is closed for a block near the Royal York Hotel.


Oh, it 's a crew filming a movie. What's that yellow thing over there?


Why it's a taxi. A taxi decked out like a New York City cab. And the roof is smashed it.


Here's a view from the other end. Looks like it got hit by a giant wedge.

Half a block a way where the crew is filming, there's a nearly identical cab with nearly identical damage. So I suppose they were filming the hit and wrecked two cars to ensure that they got usable footage.

I'm about as far as one can get from being a movie buff. That and my usual laziness means that I have no idea what movie was being shot in Toronto-subbing-for-NYC, and I' won't bother to track down what the title is. I'll leave that for any fans in the readership.

So my parting shot for this post is the following spoiler: The Taxi gets it.



posted by Donald at October 14, 2008


Using Toronto as a fill-in for New York is (or at least has been) very common, by the way. The main reason, if I understand it correctly, is because of tax breaks. Even a number of films that don't need New York City locations, but could be made entirely in a Hollywood sound stage, have been filmed in Canada because with the tax breaks it greatly reduces costs.

I think this goes back to at least the mid- or late-1980s, so there've been a number of articles about it. At least one of these articles mentioned that, at least in the 1980s, film crews felt obligated to throw trash around the location in order to make it more New York City like!

When I used to go to movies more often, I noticed a number of these films. The locations kind of looked like New York City, but I just knew it wasn't.

Perhaps the best known of these films (at least as far as I know) is "Moonstruck" which did a mix of genuine New York City and Brooklyn location shooting (along with lots of interior sound stage shooting in Toronto), with occasional shots of Toronto filling in for Brooklyn.

There was also a little known "flop" film (I don't remember the name) that filmed in my neighborhood, but when I went to see the movie I saw that they must have done some Toronto shooting as well as some scenes in a park were definitely not New York (in that the parks physical set-up -- park lamps, paving, benches, etc. -- was just not the kind that is found in New York parks).

P.S. -- There was a Shirley McClaine / Anne Bancroft movie, Turning Point, that did a lot of location filming in New York, but then used LAX to fill-in for JFK, and LA's performing arts center to fill-in for Lincoln Center.

P.P.S. -- Other "fun" examples of non-location location shooting are those instances when Woody Allen, who apparently hates to travel, has used New York City area locations to fill-in for Southern California / L.A. locales.

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on October 14, 2008 8:01 PM

I've always thought of Toronto as more Chicago than New York.

Though I suppose maybe it's some of both, though always in that somewhat deferential (towards Britain and the EU generally), somewhat envious (towards the US), ever so eager to be good above all, Canadian way.

In other words it's Chicago stripped of most of it's Al Capone and New York stripped of most of it's Empire city. Admitted both originals are seeming rather stipped of their power edges all by themselves these days, but I cling to the hope that this moment will pass.

(Yeah it will pass, and it won't take all of Wall Street as long to recover as it did after the Depression -- where the recovery really wasn't fully in place for the industry until the 1960s), but it won't happen even close to fully in a year or two either. If you were a portfolio manager in Shanghai, the Arab Gulf, or the EU, how eager would YOU be to load up on newly crafted securization and hedged risk derrivative plays that Wall Street quant geniuses have recently dreamed up, say two years from today?

It often takes a new generation of buyers to come along for any go go to really get going again, at least in the same general asset classes.

What's left now?

Well there are a few things, sorta.

Posted by: dougjnn on October 14, 2008 8:17 PM

Vancouver often fills in for Los Angeles or other California locations.

In addition to tax breaks, I believe filming in Canada is generally cheaper than filming in the United States because the union work rules are more reasonable, even though pay levels are about the same. Fewer workers needed to perform specific tasks, that sort of thing.

Posted by: Peter on October 14, 2008 11:39 PM

Until recent years, the exchange rate was one of the biggest factors in American filmmakers shooting up here in Canada. I'm not sure if our taxpayer-funded health care plays a role, too, in Canadian competitiveness in this (the way it does, for example, with respect to the Canadian auto industry), but I wouldn't be surprised if that was also a factor.

More than once, when visiting Toronto, I've stumbled on a film crew shooting an American movie - once, it was at the Eaton Centre (a large shopping mall); not sure what the movie being shot was, but I do know that at least one of the "Mannequin" movies was shot there, as I saw some of it on TV and recognized the location.

But it isn't just in big cities like Toronto and Vancouver that Americans shoot movies in Canada; Urban Legends 2 was shot at Trent University, which is in Peterborough, Ontario, a fairly small-sized city (~80,000 people); scenes from the Incredible Hulk were shot at CFB Trenton, which is in an even smaller city, Quinte West, Ontario (~45,000). So, Toronto and Vancouver are only part of the story.

Posted by: Will S. on October 15, 2008 1:15 AM

I watched "Chariots of Fire" in a cinema in Edinburgh. Young men were shown running in what was obviously St Andrews. Then a caption assured us that the scene was set in Kent. It got the biggest derisive guffaw I've ever heard.

Posted by: dearieme on October 15, 2008 7:58 AM

Donald, we had fun chatting on a similar topic way back in August, here.

Posted by: Tatyana on October 15, 2008 10:16 AM

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