article appeared around the time Jessica was in the movie "SING".
It is mostly about Toronto, but it has quotes from Jessica towards the
CHAMELEON LOOK LURES U.S. FILM MAKERS
By HERBERT H. DENTON, Washington Post
REMEMBER that fateful scene in "Moonstruck," where Cher's shy
fiance leaves Brooklyn to be at the bedside of his dying mother in Sicily?
In real life he did not take a plane to Italy. He flew to Toronto.
Toronto? Actually, so many U.S. actors, producers, directors and others
in the movie business are flying to Toronto these days to shoot films
that people here sometimes refer to their city as "Hollywood North."
That bedside episode in "Moonstruck" was filmed in a suburban
studio warehouse here, as were all the other interior scenes. The weeping
women keeping vigil were really extras from a home for the elderly in
downtown Toronto. The gentle, silver- haired dire ctor, Norman Jewison,
explained to them that they were supposed to be sad. On cue, without further
prompting, they sobbed, seemingly uncontrollably. Cut! Wrap!
Canadians like to brag that the once dour and strait-laced Toronto now
ranks third -- a distant third but growing -- behind Los Angeles and New
York City as a North American film and television production center.
Cher was here twice last year, to film "Moonstruck" and "Suspect."
This spring, the big names descending on the city to shoot all or part
of 20 movies or television series include Jeremy Irons, Genevieve Bujold,
Al Pacino and Diane Keaton.
The cameras and lights on city sidewalks, the big parked movie vans that
crowd the streets, the stars cruising around in their chauffeured stretch
limousines all add an agreeable dash of glitter to somber Toronto, or
"Toronto the Good," as its detractors still call it.
Both the Toronto Star and Toronto Sun newspapers run regular columns advising
on the best places to indulge in star- watching.
One week last summer, three major movies were being shot within a small
area near the lakefront, and passers-by could spot Ann-Margret, who was
on location for Alan Alda's film "A New Life," as she walked
across the street from her set to visit Burt Reyno lds in a trailer on
his, where he was starring in the movie "Smoke." Close by, scenes
for "Short Circuit 2" were being filmed.
The attraction of Toronto for U.S. film makers is first and foremost the
rate of exchange. One U.S. dollar is worth about $1.25 Canadian. Toronto
also has experienced film crews, actors and dancers, and ethnically diverse
neighborhoods of Greeks, Italians , Jamaicans, Chinese and East Indians,
The motley architectural styles of the city, 19th-century Victorian or
Georgian homes on some blocks, art deco or futuristic glass and steel
designs on various others, all of them fastidiously preserved, make it
easy for film makers to conjure the illusion of most any Midwestern or
Northeastern city in the United States during virtually any period over
the past 150 years.
The producers of the television miniseries "Kane and Abel" told
city officials that parts of Toronto looked more like early 20th-century
Chicago than the extant neighborhoods of the real Windy City.
The often large task for movie production designers attempting to transform
Toronto's calm, squeaky-clean streets into a convincing semblance of the
bustling, grungy inner core of modern-day U.S. cities is to find ways
to simulate the grime, graffiti and garbage so that they have that authentic,
rundown look of years of neglect and decay.
The favorite "Hollywood North" story told here is about the
film crew that carefully strewed litter and garbage bags along the sidewalks
to give the appearance of Manhattan, broke for lunch, and returned to
the set an hour later to discover that the ever- vigilant city public-works
crews had whisked the debris away, not realizing that a movie was being
Producer Craig Zadan has been diligently disguising various neighborhoods
of Toronto to look like his native Brooklyn last winter and this spring
for filming of the movie "Sing," a musical of the genre of "Fame"
and "Flashdance," which includes in its cast Louise Lasser ("Mary
Hartman, Mary Hartman") and singer Patti LaBelle. The film, financed
by Coca-Cola's Tri-Star productions, would have cost a prohibitive $15
million in Brooklyn, Zadan said. He is able to save about $3 million by
''I can say honestly if it wasn't for Canada, this picture wouldn't have
been made, so you can imagine how grateful I am to Canada," he said.
"I'm amazed at this city. I'm amazed that you're able to make this
city turn into so many different places. I don't know of any other place
as adaptable as Toronto. We were very concerned about the look of the
picture. We didn't want it to look 'white bread.' To our total shock,
we found that houses, neighborhoods looked identical to the houses I knew
when I was gro wing up in Brooklyn."
Virtually all of the interior scenes of "Three Men and a Baby"
were shot in Toronto. This city is the "Any City, U.S.A." setting
of the late-night CBS cop show "Night Heat." Much of ABC's controversial
miniseries "Amerika" was shot here. The U.S. Capitol rotunda
and the Oval Office were painstakingly replicated in a studio warehouse.
All but one of the "Police Academy" series has been shot here.
The facility used for the academy's headquarters building is actually
a former psychiatric hospital. Toronto wa s disguised as Tehran for a
CBS miniseries on the Canadian rescue of U.S. Embassy hostages.
Toronto film commissioner Naish McHugh persuaded the crew shooting "Kane
and Abel" to film from a certain tight vantage point on the shores
of Lake Ontario on a snowy winter day to give the illusion that the scene
was set in Siberia. On occasion, Toronto residents have become annoyed
with the jolts caused by the dreams manufactured around them. A fire company
was once summoned to a Westend Toronto park by panic- stricken apartment
dwellers who were unaware that a helicopter they saw crashing was movie
fak ery, a scene from the HBO feature "The Park Is Mine." The
army tanks and thousands of soldiers parading around the city for "Amerika"
When the crew of "Short Circuit 2" took down the red Canadian
maple leaf and draped the Ontario legislature building in Queen's Park
in red-white-and-blue bunting and scores of U.S. flags to make it appear
to be a U.S. county courthouse, many were angered.
''Obviously bad taste," huffed city Alderman Dale Martin. "You
could hardly conceive of the White House being smothered with Canadian
flags, just for the sake of a movie."
The headline over the front-page photo in the Toronto Star was "The
Americans Have Landed." Only half in jest, the accompanying article
suggested it might be the first overt campaign in a U.S. assault to conquer
But the Star was hardly one to criticize. The paper lent its newsroom
to producers of the movies "Eleni" and "The Killing Fields"
to double as the city room of the New York Times. The austere Toronto
Arts and Letters Club was disguised as a flophouse in Boston's notorious
red-light "Combat Zone" for the television movie "Ruling
''Toronto is now probably the most photographed invisible city in North
America," CBC correspondent and producer Mary Lou Findley, who has
reported on the impact of the pervasive U.S. culture on Canadians, commented
In the movie culture of this continent, Toronto has posed as almost everything
but itself, a phenomenon that deepens the irony of remarks by Northrop
Frye, one of Canada's most respected men of letters. Frye observed long
before the Hollywood invasion beg an five years ago that his country's
"famous problem of identity" is "less the question 'Who
am I?' than some such riddle as 'Where is here?' "
Canadians are voracious consumers of U.S. culture. Except for the enduring
passion for hockey over football and a preference for watching their own
news anchors interpret world events and report on local occurrences, their
choices are nearly identical to those of U.S. audiences.
Nielsen ratings for the top television shows in Canada vary only slightly
from those in the United States. In this country of 25 million, more than
100 million movie tickets are sold each year. Nine of 10 features on the
big screen are U.S. productions, many of them filmed in Toronto but pretending
to be someplace else.
Visitors to Toronto, especially film makers, regard it as the city they
wish they had in America.
''It's so clean," said Dean Pitchford, the screenwriter for "Sing."
"It doesn't feel like it's lost its spirit. It feels like New York
when it was hopeful."
But those enthusiasms are not portrayed on the big screen.
''People are looking for romance when they go to the movies," said
Toronto free-lance production designer David Davis, who is working on
a new version of the "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" television
series set in various U.S. cities, continuing a career in which he has
made Toronto and its close environs look like Manhattan, Chicago, Seattle,
Houston, Washington and Kansas City.
''Toronto hasn't managed to capture that image of romance and high adventure.
I'm sure a convincing director could make it work, but it's not an industry
that likes to take chances. There's too much money involved."
The Canadian government has spent millions in grants and tax breaks in
thus far unsuccessful ventures to develop a home-grown feature-film industry
and break the monopoly of Hollywood here.
There are occasional successes, such as the joint Canadian production
with Disney to make "Anne of Green Gables" and recent art-house
films such as "I've Heard the Mermaids Singing" and "The
Decline of the American Empire."
One problem is that even with the government aid, only the shoestring,
low-budget Canadian movies costing less than a half-million dollars can
recoup their costs by appealing solely to Canadian audiences.
According to pollster Donna Dasko, Canadians respond favorably to the
idea of increasing the Canadian content of what they see, "but that
doesn't mean they're going to watch it."
Piers Handling, who chooses Canadian films for Toronto's annual film festival,
contends that Canadian movies reflect a culture that was colonized first
by the British and now subtly by the influence of America.
''A lot of Canadian film deals with failure as opposed to dealing with
success, deals with victims as opposed to dealing with people who control
their destiny. American cinema is forced to resolve itself. It is forced
to give people that notion that a sit uation can be resolved, that something
can be achieved and accomplished.
''Canadian cinema is much more tentative, the cinema to my mind that is
closer to real life. It deals in grays. People's lives continue beyond
the closing credits."
According to the surveys, most Canadians do not care very much for it.
To cater to mass tastes and break through to the big U.S. market, many
Canadian film makers who benefited from the government tax breaks in the
late 1970s and early 1980s imported over-the-hill or yet-to-be-discovered
actors, such as Tony Curtis and Sylvester Stallone's brother, for their
Indeed, it was these Canadian film producers who pioneered in masquerading
Toronto as "Any City, U.S.A." The subliminal message in those
"bad imitations of Hollywood movies," argues Toronto Life magazine
film critic Martin Knelman, was that "nothing of any importance happens
in Canada, so let's pretend we're not in Canada."
City film commissioner McHugh dismisses the concerns about U.S. culture
expressed by Canadian nationalists.
''We're only a small country," he said. "The market isn't big
enough, plus we have a major competitor south of the border. If you can't
fight them, join them."
David Cronenberg, reigning king of the horror flicks, is one Canadian
director-producer who has been successful around the world without leaving
Toronto. He said his crews are Canadian, he is Canadian and therefore
his films are Canadian, even though they are not about "beavers eating
In his 1986 box-office hit "The Fly" and in "Twins,"
the film he is shooting now starring Jeremy Irons as identical twins who
become gynecologists, Cronenberg said he explores fears about disease,
death and aging.
''I think what I'm dealing with is very universal and that even is applicable
to Toronto the Good."
All of his films have been shot in Canada. Although his movies of the
early '70s mentioned Toronto or Montreal, recent films have not. Cronenberg
said he liked the comment of a San Diego movie critic who once called
him out of the blue to say that there was something unsettling about the
films, something that was American but a "slightly off America."
Although it was shot in Toronto and locations were instantly recognizable
to filmgoers here, "The Fly" never settled just where it was
supposed to have taken place. Cronenberg said he resisted efforts by the
U.S. producer Stuart Cornfeld to fly the U.S. f lag and place U.S. mailboxes
on the streets.
But in one critical scene in which money was flashed, he gave in and agreed
that it would be a U.S. $100 bill. There was both U.S. and Canadian currency
on the set until the disagreement was resolved.
''It was my homage to the American dollar, which was financing the movie,"
Cronenberg said, just a tad defensively.
There will be a breakthrough of sorts in "Twins." Toronto will
be identified as the setting.
''Twins" is a government-stamped, Canadian-certified film. After
the deal with Hollywood backers to finance the $10 million movie fell
through, Cronenberg did what many Canadians do when they fall on hard
times. He went to a government agency, Telefilm in his case, and got it
in as an investor with about a 10 percent stake.
The Canadian Consulate in Los Angeles estimates that there are about 800,000
Canadians in the greater Los Angeles area, more than one in five of whom
are employed in the motion- picture industry. From Toronto's Mary Pickford,
"America's Sweetheart" on the silent screen, to Vancouver's
Michael J. Fox, Canadian actors have been successful in Hollywood.
Canadian directors in Los Angeles have also been unusually adept at capturing
the U.S. imagination. The Rambo image is condemned by Canadian politicians
as the emblem of what is wrong with America, but they conveniently sidestep
the fact that the character was shaped and molded by director Ted Kotcheff
of Toronto, who directed Sylvester Stallone in the original saga, "First
Blood." Torontonian Ivan Reitman was a producer of the wildly popular
"Animal House," which depicted life in a U.S. college fraternity
of the 1960s, and later directed the megahit "Ghostbusters."
Director Norman Jewison, also of Toronto, has sensitively explored black
military life in the segregated South in "A Soldier's Story"
and the culture of Italians in Brooklyn in "Moonstruck."
Jewison, who commutes between a house in Malibu and a farm on the outskirts
of Toronto, has been the guiding force behind the creation this year of
the Canadian Center for Advanced Film Studies in Toronto, a program that
has received generous funding from both the federal and provincial governments
to train 12 fellows in a two-year program of workshops on film writing,
directing, acting, cinematography, production design and editing.
''The center . . . does not expect the residents to wrap themselves in
the flag and make 'Canadian' films," the film center's full-time
executive director, Sam Kula, wrote in the current issue of the magazine
Cinema Canada. "The most that can be expected is that the residents
will have learned to define their own identity rather than lip-sync to
anthems from other lands."
Alvin Greenman, the dialogue coach for the movie "Sing," tried
to teach the young Canadian actors how to talk Brooklynese with sometimes
hilarious results. ''It was not working," Greenman remarked wearily
afterward. "So we said, 'If they just don't sound like Canadians,
we are safe.' "
That has not been easy either. Many tended to say "oot" and
"aboot" for "out" and "about." He would
play their voices on tape, but they still could not hear the difference.
''So I said, 'Let's just take the words out of the script.' "
He listens closely on the set to make sure that there is no utterance
of "Eh?" -- that all-purpose Canadian interjection, that national
expression of a certain tentativeness.
''If I could just get them to turn it around," Greenman says, smiling.
"Instead of saying, 'Let's go to lunch, eh?" if they would say,
'Hey, let's go to lunch,' that would sound like New York."
Peter Dobson, 23, the male lead in the film, who comes from New Jersey,
speaks of culture shock in coming to Toronto. When he met "Sing's"
female lead, Jessica Steen, 22, she asked him where he had been, only
she pronounced it "bean," the British and Canadian way.
''I thought she was talking about the vegetable," Dobson said.
Steen's eyes crinkle as she recalls her conversations with Dobson.
''He runs words together," she said. "He skips syllables. He'll
skip chunks of words."
To prepare her for her part, the producers sent her to New York City two
years ago for two months, but she said she ended up spending most of her
time at the airport coming back home for visits.
''You have to psych yourself up to go out and do anything," Steen
said about the Big Apple. "It's very dirty. It's hard to feel good
about yourself. Every time I came home, I would say, 'Thank God Toronto's
like that.' "