While Hollywood, California, is long understood to be the film industry’s epicentre, Canada is often referred to as Hollywood North for its healthy contributions to the field. Many Canadian locales boast everything from well-respected production companies to renowned prop houses, and many hit movies and TV shows have been shot against Canuck backdrops. Durham Region, in particular, is home to countless film professionals who are making moving magic every day, as well as to popular filming locations that have shown up in major blockbuster titles. In fact, in 2022, Durham Region saw a record-breaking 595 production days from 74 film projects — a massive jump from the previous year — with no signs of slowing down. Read on to learn more about the film and television industry in the area, and why our communities are so important to Tinseltown.
 

Production Planning

Shooting a movie is no small feat. We lose sight of that when we’re queueing up Netflix or munching on popcorn at a cinema, but it’s a huge, expensive, complicated undertaking. Even small productions involve lots of moving parts. 
 
With this in mind, the Durham Region Film Commission (Film Durham) was established in 2013, under the Planning and Economic Development Department of the Regional Municipality of Durham. “Film Durham acts as a one-stop-shop for the industry,” boasts durham.ca. The entity is the main point of contact on issues relating to locations, local crew and equipment; local rules and regulations; location scouting support; troubleshooting inbound productions; organizing promotional events, and more. Film Durham’s microsite under the Invest Durham banner also offers digital resources including everything from how to get the appropriate permits to in-depth service directories of the required vendors for a movie or TV shoot. 
 
Film Durham is also backed by Ontario Creates, which is an agency of the provincial government that works to support success in myriad artistic fields in Ontario, including book publishing, film and television, interactive digital media, magazine publishing and music. Ontario Creates Film Commission provides further resources for anyone wanting to film in Ontario (they even have a handy searchable locations library on their website!).
 

Post-Production

There are many well-respected local companies that can assist with filming, editing, music and more, but Durham Region is also home to one of the most esteemed foley houses in the film biz: Footsteps Studio.
 
Here’s a brief history lesson: Foley is the art of adding everyday sound effects to, well, anything that has been filmed, in order to enhance the sound quality. The actual sounds picked up during filming usually aren’t sharp enough, and they may not even convey what the filmmaker is going for (for example, in a horror movie, a door may not squeak in real life, but adding the creepy sound when a character enters a house or a room changes the tone). Foley work can also be layered over ambient or unwanted sounds that were accidentally captured during filming. 
 
Foley has been around for close to a century. Pioneering sound effects engineer Jack Donovan Foley, for whom the practice is named, began working with Universal Studios in the era of silent pictures. Foley had experience with adding sound effects to radio dramas, so in 1936, when the mucky mucks at Universal were toying with the idea of turning their “silent musical” Showboat into a real musical, Foley was asked to consult. The microphones of the day could only pick up dialogue, so Foley and the rest of the sound team played the movie on screen while using everyday objects to create a sound effects audio track that could be mixed overtop. Jack Foley worked in foley arts until his death in 1967, at the age of 76. Many of his methods are still used today (talk about a legacy!).
Footsteps Studio follows in Jack Foley’s prolific wake. Founded by Andy Malcolm, a renowned foley artist and behind-the-scenes Hollywood star in his own right, the “foley farm,” as it is known, is located on 25 acres of relatively isolated land in Uxbridge. As seen in a 2021 short documentary by director Jeremy Benning, released on psyche.co, the “farm” is comprised of two sound studios and a fully furnished house that is used to produce accurate and unique sound effects. The new sound studio is “a room within a room[.] The air space between the two [walls] creates a sound buffer ensuring no outside noise infiltrates the recording studio. It features a 22-foot-high ceiling, [and] changeable acoustics with floor to ceiling curtains. The studios are equipped with an extensive array of floor surfaces, furniture, mounted doors, cupboards, an ever-expanding and eclectic accumulation of props and a shoe collection rivaled only by Imelda Marcos,” according to the Footsteps website. In Benning’s documentary, the audience gets a tour of the prop collection; it looks like a mishmash of found objects (and it is!) but Footsteps foley artist Sandra Fox explains that it’s actually well-organized for what they do every day, and you wouldn’t believe what they use to create the sounds we hear in movies. (For example, the documentary includes a clip of Fox gnawing on a stalk of celery to get an accurate noise for zombies eating human flesh.)
 
Footsteps has done the foley work on some big-name blockbuster films, including Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, The Greatest Showman, Bridesmaids, Mary Poppins Returns, The Help and many, many more. The Footsteps team are also the foley artists on TV shows like The Handmaid’s Tale. And to think, you can find this legendary work being done every day in a small Ontario community of just 20,000 people.
 

Durham Region International Film Festival

Everyone has heard of TIFF — the Toronto International Film Festival — but not everyone has heard of its cousin to the east, DRIFF. The Durham Region International Film Festival is a not-for-profit film festival located in the Region’s communities. The annual festival features coverage of local and international films, but organizers also uphold a mandate to expand educational opportunities in creative fields involving storytelling and moving images. In a nutshell, “DRIFF brings the film festival experience to diverse audiences in Durham Region and beyond, nurturing community connections, learning and the development of local talent through a shared love of film.” This year, DRIFF takes place from October 19 to 21, in locations across Durham Region.
 
If the rest of the industry activity in the Region is any indication, this film festival is in exactly the right place. 

Filming Locations

For years, Durham Region has been one of the not-so-well-kept secrets of the film and TV industry. Now-classic movies like Billy Madison, Canadian Bacon and Chicago were all partially filmed in the area, and beloved Canadian shows Schitt’s Creek and Anne with an E were also no stranger to Durham. These days, however, it’s not uncommon to find the cast of hit streaming shows Umbrella Academy or The Boys on hand. The landscape is chock-full of possible filming locations. Here are some of the most popular:
 
Orono, Uxbridge and Beaverton: Each of these small towns resembles any small town in the US or Canada (not that they aren’t without their own individual charm, though). Many Hallmark-style rom-coms have found their settings in these quaint communities.
 
Port Perry: This adorable location can easily be transformed into a New 
England-esque town, for everything from sweet holiday movies to crime-drama TV series Reacher. 
 
Oshawa: For films looking for mid-size industrial cities (think Detroit or Cleveland), Oshawa works perfectly.
 
Parkwood Estate: This gorgeous mansion was built between 1915 and 1917 for the McLaughlin family — patriarch Robert McLaughlin was a well-known industrialist and businessman. A rare residential design by renowned architects Darling and Pearson, this setting works for films looking to achieve a historic manor house backdrop. Movies filmed at Parkwood include X-Men, Billy Madison, Chicago, Amelia and more.
 
Trafalgar Castle: Built between 1859 and 1862 as the residence of the sheriff of Ontario County, Nelson Gilbert Reynolds, this castle has 73 rooms and currently operates as a private school for girls. Movies filmed at the school include The Skulls, Strike!, The Vow and more.
 
The Ontario Regiment RCAC Museum: While this isn’t a shooting location, the RCAC Museum’s collection of operational military vehicles is the largest in North America. The equipment housed at the centre has been used in many historical films and TV shows. 
 
Pickering Museum Village: For any project requiring a pioneer setting, this is it. This preserved village includes 19 heritage buildings dating back as far as 1810, including a blacksmith’s shop, schoolhouse, steam barn and chapel. Add white picket fences and gardens from the period and it doesn’t get much better.
 
William F. White Studios Backlot: Opened in 2021, this backlot used for television and movie filming is the largest in Canada. The lands, located north of Pickering, were initially used for TV series Reacher, but once filming wrapped, Canadian production services company William F. White International took over the lease and made the location available to other productions. The backlot includes a 23-acre town, including a diner, gas station, police station, town hall, town square and other storefronts. The backlot can be transformed into anything from a remote Wild West town to a bustling New York City street.
 

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