Filmmakers find UTSC "perfect for production"

Article Date

Bianca Quijano

Total Recall, Enemy, Resident Evil, Killjoys. More and more production companies are choosing U of T Scarborough as a backdrop for their films and TV shows. If you were on campus at all this summer, you would have noticed the cables, the film crews and the staging for one or more of five film sets, the latest being Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water.

What is it about the campus that attracts all these creative projects? John Rakich, location manager for The Expanse, which was filmed at UTSC this summer, says that it has a lot to do with the Science and Humanities Wings.

“It’s one of the prime examples of brutalist architecture in the GTA,” says Rakich.

Otherwise known as The Andrews Building, the structure was designed by John Andrews, an award-winning Australian architect. It opened in 1966 as one of the first buildings on campus. Even then, it already had Hollywood status. In 1969 it served as the setting for Stereo, David Cronenberg’s first feature-length film. For the second season of The Expanse, parts of the Science Wing doubled as the Martian Embassy on Earth.

“Also in the campus we can isolate certain areas like the Meeting Place and Humanities Wing which makes it perfect for production sets and minimizing the amount of disruption that we cause,” says Rakich.

Soon after filming for The Expanse ended, another production was underway. Over a few days, the Meeting Place was transformed into a futuristic police station for the filming of ANON, a science-fiction film starring Amanda Seyfried and Clive Owen. Scott Alexander, the film’s location manager, says that the campus was one of the primary choices for the production.

“The director selected the campus early on. It was one of the focal points for this movie,” Alexander says. “The Meeting Place was the biggest draw. The big space with the balcony above made it perfect for what they were looking for.”

By now, you’ve probably noticed a trend with these films.

“UTSC is really now the home for science fiction and fantasy,” says Tom Ue, Frederick Banting Postdoctoral Fellow and editor of World Film Locations: Toronto.

Ue is particularly excited about The Shape of Water.

“With del Toro I’m really hoping to see another Pan’s Labyrinth. Since then, he hasn’t done quite anything similar.”

The production is said to take place in 1963, during America’s Cold War era. All week, students, faculty and staff saw parts of the Humanities Wing transformed into a 1960s-era cafeteria complete with a cigarette vending machine. A row of colourful vintage cars were also parked in front of the Student Centre.

And UTSC isn’t the only spot in Scarborough that attracts filmmakers. Ted’s Restaurant on Old Kingston Road has been the backdrop for several productions including Orphan Black and Nikita. An estate home called Valley Hala, just off of the Toronto Zoo parking lot was the set for shows like Hemlock Grove and Shadowhunters. Film crews have also frequented green spaces in the Guildwood area and the manor homes in Port Union.

“If you’re looking for 1960s-style housing, there are plenty of spots in Scarborough that have that architecture,” Rakich says.

Scott Alexander says that there are even many movie-worthy locations further east.

“There’s the new GM Centre in Oshawa. It’s brand new, state-of-the-art, and looks really cool.”

Over the years, UTSC, Scarborough and the rest of the Eastern GTA has grown into a hub for both film makers and film enthusiasts. Ue credits this to the diversity that the region fosters.

“All of the different groups that have settled here are contributing to the area’s unique film culture. Now we have many events like the Scarborough Worldwide Film Festival,” says Ue. “There are even greater things to come and I’m sure that means more films shot here at UTSC.”