It’s awards season for the film industry. Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy-drama The Shape of Water is already a winner. The film premiered at TIFF last September, leads the BAFTA race with 12 nominations, and earned more Golden Globe nominations than any other films this year and won two—one to del Toro for best director, as well as the Critics’ Choice Awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Art Direction.
Today The Shape of Water became 2017’s most decorated film, with 13 Oscar nominations – one short of the record for the most nominations in the history of the Academy Awards.
Something particularly notable in the film is the presence of the University of Toronto Scarborough’s iconic Andrews Building as the circa 1960’s OCCAM Institute, a top-secret government lab. You could say U of T Scarborough plays a supporting role. Many scenes were filmed on our campus: the OCCAM bus stop is the main entrance to the Science Wing, a corridor in the Humanities Wing is both the lunch room and the hall where OCCAM employees punch the clock. Action at our loading dock will have you on the edge of your seat.
Scarborough has had its share of such film shoots.
Quite a few have been on the U of T Scarborough campus. Total Recall filmed here with Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale and Bryan Cranston. That was huge. The Miller Lash House stands in for Camp David in the TV show Designated Survivor with Kiefer Sutherland. The Andrews Building stands in for the FBI Academy in the TV show Hannibal. And the Martian Embassy on Earth in the second season of another show, The Expanse.
We’ve got that sci-fi, psychological thriller vibe—on screen, anyway. David Cronenberg’s feature film debut, Stereo, which documents the experiment of the unseen Dr. Luther Stringfellow (yes, our building is the Canadian Academy of Erotic Inquiry) was filmed in The Meeting Place. Quebec director Denis Villeneuve filmed several scenes in the Andrews Building for Enemy, which won five Canadian Screen Awards including Best Director and the 2014 Toronto Film Critics Association Best Canadian Film of the Year award.
The campus was the site for several scenes in the cable-TV movie Flint, about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Everyone was pretty excited that Queen Latifah was here.
The Scarborough Bluffs (you’ll be able to take the TTC there soon) is another popular location. Guillermo del Toro’s (again!) Pacific Rim was shot inside a studio and around Toronto including at Bluffer’s Park—when the huge Jaeger robot emerges from the ocean and collapses on a snow-blown beach in what is supposed to be Alaska—that happened right here.
In Special Correspondent, the Bluffs stand-in for Ecuador, with the use of a “tropical sun” orange filter on the camera. The 2016 British-Canadian-American comedy written, directed and starring Ricky Gervais, along with Eric Bana, Vera Farmiga, America Ferrar and Raul Castillo, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and was released worldwide on Netflix.
There’s the memorable kill scene involving an out of control van in Prom Night, the final part of Jamie Lee Curtis’ “Scream Queen” trilogy. More recently the Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan and Adam Driver film The F-Word, featured bonfires at the Scarborough Bluffs. Locally shot TV series Degrassi, Nikita and Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, all have scenes there.
My favourite breakfast haunt—The Amazing Ted’s Diner—with its well-preserved mid-century style, is a sought-after location. Fans of The Handmaid’s Tale might know that this is where a career consultant tells Nick about the Sons of Jacob in the show’s first season.
Ted’s also plays a role in the 1999 film Pushing Tin, the story of air traffic controllers at New York’s TRACON, one of the busiest airspaces in the country, who set out to find which one of them is “more of a man.” The film got mixed reviews, but its cast was stellar – Billy Bob Thornton, John Cusack, Angelina Jolie and Cate Blanchett.
Guildwood Park is where the final duelling scene was filmed for the psychological thriller Skulls, which was based on some of the conspiracy theories surrounding Yale University’s Skull and Bones student society, starring Joshua Jackson.
RinTin-Tin and K-9 Cop filmed scenes at the Guild Park and Gardens.
When Scott and Charlie go to the zoo in The Santa Clause, it’s the Toronto Zoo they’re visiting. In one scene they’re standing in front of the underwater viewing area of the polar bear exhibit. One of the zoo’s own reindeer gets a cameo in another scene when he starts to follow Scott and Charlie home.
Morningside Park fills in for Culver University’s athletic field in The Incredible Hulk.
The North Shore High gym in Mean Girls is actually at Malvern Collegiate Institute, my alma mater.
Horror fans might be interested to know that when the little hellions run amok in the Bride of Chucky (starring Canada’s own Jennifer Tilly), they’re at the shops on Kingston Road.
The TV show Orphan Black films in Toronto, often in Scarborough locations like the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Toronto, the Lido Motel, Bluffer’s Sand Beach, and the Valley Halla Estate (which is the Birdwatchers’ Hideout) to name just a few.
For now, it’s Scarborough insiders who are in the loop.
But there can be a viral effect of a film profiling a location in a unique way. “Movie-induced tourism” is a thing, and can be great for local economies. For really popular films the tourism spike can last as long as three or four years.
In case you aren’t convinced, consider this: Scarborough is the setting of two of last year’s outstanding Canadian novels —David Chalandy’s Brother, which won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and Catherine Hernandez’ Scarborough, which was shortlisted for the Toronto Book Awards. Hernandez will be speaking at UTSC Reads on February 13th. Joyce Wong’s first full-length film, Wexford Plaza, was filmed in and is, as Wong says, “distinctively Scarborough,” with characters inspired by people she grew up with. Wong’s film debuted at the Torino Film Festival and has garnered honours and favourable reviews, including from the LA Times.
Scarborough, we’re ready for our close-up!