Toronto starting to play “itself” in Hollywood movies

Zoe Kazan and Daniel Radcliffe on the boardwalk in the Beach PHOTO: CONTRIBUTED

Someone yelled “Harry! Harry!” to the young couple strolling down a Toronto street. No, it wasn’t Prince Harry and a certain lovely actress from the TV show, Suits.

According to Elan Mastai, the screenwriter and executive producer for The F Word (2014), the shout-out was for the magical Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, who was filming the charming romantic comedy in neighbourhoods all over Toronto, including the Beach.

Mastai spoke about the joys of filming in our fair city as part of a Doors Open 2018 discussion called Toronto OnScreen:  Architecture through a Cinematic Lens. Mastai won the Canadian Screen Award and the Writers’ Guild of Canada award for his screenplay and Radcliffe was nominated for a C.S.A. for Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role.

The theme of this year’s Doors Open was Film: the Great Romance. Toronto has had a love affair with the movies since the early days of silent, flickering images. Just like this summer’s Movie Nights in the Park (July 4–August 29), families enjoyed outdoor cinema at Munro Park way back in 1900 when the films were short and the skirts were long.

Doors Open invited the public to walks and talks as well as tours of studios and classic movie houses. The Fox welcomed hundreds of curious visitors to admire the oldest continuously operating cinema in Toronto—which has been open since April, 1914.

For the longest time, the “romance” was one-sided as Hollywood ignored Toronto until the tax credit era of the ’70s. Now the film and television industry is a $2 billion boon to our economy, though Toronto still pretends to be American cities in Oscar-winning films like The Shape of Water(2017) and Spotlight(2015).

He recalled his motivation for setting The F Wordin Toronto with the city “playing” itself. The writer moved to Toronto from Montreal for a woman, now his wife. He calls the movie a “love letter” to our city and a “weird documentary about my life in Toronto. We didn’t hide the CN Tower. We didn’t have to be careful with framing or background.”

Mastai explained that he lives in Leslieville, but the east side isn’t shown much in movies. Where the characters go is where they would go in real life since “as often as possible we wanted to capture the city as it is.” The crew filmed mostly in real locations with only 1.5 days in studio.

Members of the Kew Beach Lawn Bowling Club donned their “whites” for a scene at Kew Gardens. We also see Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan stroll on the Boardwalk and skinny-dip at the Scarborough Bluffs. Mastai originally wrote the setting of friendly knit-wits at the Purple Purl on Queen St. E. as having lunch in a restaurant, but figured “we didn’t need another restaurant scene.” Plus his sister is a “big knitter” and the store has all this “colour and vibrancy” so “we used it the way it is” with shooting in every direction and streetcars going by. What says “Toronto” more than our iconic streetcars?

Mastai was happy to film in neighbourhoods we don’t normally see, like “Old Chinatown.” For one scene on Gerrard Street, the production wasn’t allowed to block the street. A streetcar passed “two inches from the camera” but they got the shot he said.

There is a lovely wedding scene at Polson Pier with a beautiful cityscape in the background. “We only had a 15-minute window to set the skyline. Everyone was talking quickly, we were shooting in a hurry.”

When The F Word premiered at TIFF in 2013, the director, Michael Dowse, told BuzzFeed “We were prepared for the worst…for the most part we were left alone. There weren’t really screaming fans and we were shooting in the middle of Toronto’s busy streets.”

Dowse echoed Mastai’s sentiments about evoking the local character of the city itself. “I really fell in love with the east side…a part of the city that hadn’t been captured as much as the downtown core or the west side. I like the water. I like [The Beach]. I like Leslieville specifically because it’s not as gentrified. I mean it’s getting there, but it has that real mix of old and new, and esoteric restaurants and stores. But it didn’t feel too twee, which is something I was trying to avoid completely with this movie.”

Toronto is usually good about celebrities in our midst, but Mastai joked that they had to film quickly on the streets before Radcliffe was recognized and someone screamed, Harry! “I didn’t know Toronto had paparazzi!” Maybe it was just a Potterhead hoping for a little magic.

Doors Open included a walking tour of locations seen in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) another film which celebrates Toronto as itself. “The books are set in Toronto, we have to shoot it in Toronto,” said the film’s director, Edgar Wright.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is part of the free exhibit and film series, Alter Ego: Comics and Canadian Identityto be held on until July 29 at the Toronto Reference Library.


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