When Kingston becomes a movie set

Exploring our city’s presence in the entertainment industry

Queen’s students who spend years exploring Kingston often think they know the city well enough to navigate it blindfolded. Unknowingly, these same students are also likely to have watched a movie, TV show, or music video that’s used Kingston as its chameleonic backdrop.

The Kingston to which many of us feel a claim of ownership has been doubling as various cities on our favourite shows and movies for years. For the 1999 Christopher Walken-starring Vendetta, HBO transformed our beloved Springer Market Square into New Orleans. In a 2013 episode of The CW’s Nikita, the square stood in for a Russian village. Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Torro played off City Hall’s exterior as 19th century Buffalo in his 2015 film Crimson Peak.

Kingston’s onscreen credits extend to various locations throughout the city. 

Fall Out Boy adorned Fort Henry with green screens and Roman Empire-era battle gear when filming the music video for their hit song “Centuries.” CBC and Netflix’s Alias Grace set up camp at the Kingston Penitentiary for most of its filming. And a number of smaller-scale productions have also made good use of Kingston’s scenic locales, including a video for The Washington Post, a British cable show, and two Japanese TV series.

While Kingston still may not have the same volume of active production as its Canadian neighbours, like Toronto and Vancouver, that won’t be the case for long if the newly-established Kingston Film Office has any say in the matter.

The office, which opened in January of 2018, works to build the infrastructure to attract and support film and TV production in Kingston. These responsibilities include providing access to the city’s locations, conversing with various Canadian unions, and fostering a creative environment that can fill cast and crew duties of incoming productions.

“Right now, it’s a really exciting time [in the film industry],” Alex Jansen, the Film Office’s Business Development Manager, told The Journal in a phone interview. “We’re having record years of production within Ontario and Canada, and a lot of it’s in Toronto, so Toronto is now kind of bursting at the seams.”

Canada’s film production boom shows no sign of slowing down, as Netflix recently announced its intent to build 800 acres worth of filming and office space in Toronto. This development comes on the heels of the company’s 2017 commitment to spend $500 million on made-in-Canada productions.

Making the drive over to Kingston for filming comes with its own hoard of incentives. The area is subject to money-saving tax credits from the government, as well as additional rewards set specifically for productions that film outside of Toronto. The city also shares a time zone and geographic proximity with New York, where many of the world’s largest media companies are based.

However, above all else, Kingston’s biggest draw is its irreplicable locations.

“The main thing people will travel for are those locations that you just can’t get anywhere else,” Jansen said. “What makes [Kingston] attractive once shoots come out here, is they find the infrastructure for [productions].”

“The main thing people will travel for are those locations that you just can’t get anywhere else,” - Alex Jansen

Jansen, who graduated from Queen’s in 2001 with a Film and Media degree, also hopes to use Kingston’s burgeoning media presence as a way to bridge Film students into the next stages of their careers. He cites an American commercial filmed at the Isabel Bader Centre this past summer with a local crew as an example of the town’s talent capabilities matching or exceeding that of larger cities.

“We do a lot of training opportunities with the Film and Media department,” Jansen said. “We started doing monthly workshops from September and April [...] and we’re able to do large information sessions, and hands-on things like bringing in an Oscar-winning technician for a lighting workshop.”

Jansen’s current long-term goal for the Film Office involves enticing large-scale productions to make Kingston their filming base, which would help integrate the city’s residents into the entertainment sector of the job market.

“As productions come in and have amazing experiences, we’ll start to see more and more employment [in Kingston],” Jansen said. “You’ll see the local community and the local industry melding.”

Visit www.visitkingston.ca/media/film-office/ for more information on Kingston-filmed productions.

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