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Vaughan simply shines on screen

STUNT DOUBLE: Filling in for the real thing is North America's only standing set of the Oval Office inside Kleinburg Studios where part of The Sentinel was shot. Photo courtesy Cinespace Film Studios

If Toronto is the megastar of Canada’s film industry, think of Vaughan as the solid character actor that’s quietly appeared in more films than anyone realizes.

For most of the television era, the city north of Hollywood North has played host to some of the globe’s biggest celebrities and served as the stage upon which many of the film and TV industry’s greatest productions have been made.

“We do, I would say, a fair bit of filming within the municipality both in terms of films and commercials,” says an understated Joseph Chiarelli, Vaughan’s special projects and licencing manager. “We’ve done 17 film shoots so far this year.”

Jim Mirkopoulos, vice president of operations for Cinespace Film Studios, operators of the Kleinburg Studios, says an “unusual” year in the North American film industry has meant fewer lights, cameras and action.

“We started off 2007 in January with a Canadian actors’ strike — ACTRA was on strike — and that basically took a bite out of the first four or five months of this year,” he said last week. “It was June, July, and things really hit fever pitch because there was (a) writer’s strike coming in November.

“Toronto only really had six months of business this year. That of course reflects on business at the Kleinburg facility.”

Built by the CBC in the 1950s, Kleinburg Studios buzzed for decades with the government-mandated business of creating Canadiana, including the series Hatch’s Mill and The Forest Rangers. The space was allowed to fall into disrepair before being snapped up by a new owner, who in turn leased it to Cinespace.

Today, the 36,000 square-foot space is the go-to location for shooting all-things White House; Mirkopoulos says it houses North America’s only standing set of the presidential palace, including a fully decked out Oval Office and a stored copy of Air Force One’s cabin.

Though originally built for the Wesley Snipes action film Murder at 1600, the sets have been featured in several productions since.

“(The studio) was a major set piece for the Michael Douglas film of a couple of summers ago, The Sentinel,” Mirkopoulos said of the blockbuster 2005 movie. “That was probably the largest feature film that has shot, with Michael Douglas, Kiefer Sutherland, Eva Longoria, Kim Bassinger.

“They had a scene where they had to crash a helicopter, so because there’s a massive amount of land up there, they actually did the scene of the helicopter crash there in Kleinburg.”

But Douglas, Sutherland and Bassinger represent just a fraction of the celebrity ranks that have plied their trade north of Steeles Ave.

Take To Die For, for example: A scene from this 1995 Nicole Kidman vehicle was shot in the food court at the Promenade Mall in Thornhill.

Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas — better known as the lovable toque-topped hoser brothers Bob and Doug McKenzie — took off to Kleinburg to make part of the classic 1983 Canadian film Strange Brew.

Kleinburg even played host to parts of David Cronenberg’s 1986 movie The Fly, the story of a creepy, sci-fi hybrid man-bug that starred Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis.

But some of the most memorable moving-picture productions made in Vaughan were destined for small-screen glory. London, the wandering German Shepherd with a penchant for helping strangers in trouble, was the star of the The Littlest Hobo, the classic, long-running CTV series, some of which was shot in Maple.

“We like to lump Toronto and Vaughan into the same GTA district for being film friendly,” says Mirkopoulos of Vaughan’s attractiveness to film and TV producers. “I think that York Region and Toronto, which is all within what the unions call their ‘zone’, make for a very compelling film environment.

“There’s a diversity of film locations in the GTA, and Vaughan fits into that mix.”

It’s up to Chiarelli and his staff at city hall to make sure that whatever filming does happen in Vaughan’s diverse neighbourhoods doesn’t impose too greatly on residents and businesses.

“We kind of look at it from a win-win situation for both the city and for its residents,” he says. “We don’t want guys filming at two o’clock in the morning with lights shining through bedroom windows.”

Vaughan Today
Online: December 6, 2007 [link]