More Than Meets the Eye: Onscreen Locations Aren’t Always What They Seem

By Amit Jagwani  | 

Movies and TV shows have the magical ability to bend reality. That tromp l’oeil quality is, in fact, what often makes film moments so alluring, and it runs deeper than perhaps most viewers know. When it comes to location, an on-screen setting might say San Francisco, New York or Los Angeles, though in truth the action was shot in Vancouver, Toronto or Atlanta. Recent decades have witnessed an entertainment production explosion in those three main cities (along with additional, slightly less-popular locales), due to their inherent perks—notably, amenable landscapes plus appealing tax incentives. It takes a proverbial production-crew village to stage a successful show. Line producers, accountants, camera operators, costume designers, hair and makeup artists, lighting specialists, set decorators, grip and electric experts, transportation coordinators and craft services are all responsible for handling behind-the-scenes affairs. As for where that action happens, the old adage holds true: it all comes down to location, location, location.

Occasionally dubbed Brollywood (as in brolly, or British for umbrella) due to its quickly shifting weather, Vancouver has become one of North America’s most popular production sites. Prior to the pandemic, there were 24 new movies and TV shows filming in Vancouver and the greater British Columbia province. Credit must be given to the city’s natural beauty—miles of Pacific coastline, North Shore Mountains towering over an expansive harbor, craggy forests and surrounding lakes made this the ideal setting for all four Twilight saga movies. Moreover, the Canadian federal government provides foreign producers with a 35 percent refundable tax credit for work filmed in Vancouver. That lured in creators of Deadpool, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and I, Robot.

Hollywood North
Film buffs often use the moniker Hollywood North when referencing Toronto, which in the past two decades has enjoyed soaring production revenues that skyrocketed from $600 million in 1997 to $2 billion in 2018 The urban oasis is an easy stand-in for other famous metropolises, namely New York, Chicago and Detroit, given its bustling downtown skyline and abundance of rich historical districts. That might explain why it ranked as the fourth most-filmed city in 2018, behind only LA, New York and London. Toronto doubled for New York in movies like American Psycho, The Incredible Hulk and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. The city also doppelgangered for Chicago in My Big Fat Greek Wedding and—outrage!—the movie Chicago. From Vancouver to Toronto to various in-between locales, the Canadian Media Producers Association said 2018 topped national highs with $8.9 billion earned thanks to film and TV production.

Hollywood of the South
Atlanta, also known as Hollywood of the South, is appealing because it can serve as Everytown, USA. Case in point: The Duffer brothers, creators of Netflix’s hit show Stranger Things, originally set their story in a creepy Long Island town, à la Jaws, then rewrote the script after visiting Atlanta. Yet that’s only one piece of a larger pie. As a state, Georgia’s been striving to attract production since 2008, when then-governor Sonny Perdue signed the first tax package. It now offers a 20 percent incentive to productions totaling $500,000 or more, plus a little extra to sweeten the deal—10 percent more if a film adds the Georgia peach logo to its credits. Hollywood took notice. According to info from the Los Angeles film office, more top features were filmed in Georgia than California in 2016. Notables include Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and The Hunger Games franchise. Ozark, Thunder Force and The Walking Dead are among the productions that currently call Georgia home. Movie-watching may never be the same again.

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Amit Jagwani
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