Toronto vs. Film Crews

By Malcolm Fraser

Moving Picture Views is published out of the newly expanded city of Toronto, known far and wide as our nation’s centre for film and television production. The lion’s share of this production consists of American TV network series, miniseries and specials: hastily knocked-off product of the utmost mediocrity. The attraction of our city lies in its fortuitous combination of two factors: a lack of visual character (enabling it to substitute for a generic U.S. city) and the continually plummeting value of our currency.

Another quality of our town was mentioned in a recent issue of Filmmaker magazine, wherein producer Dolly Hall was quoted as enthusing “Even a simple thing like closing off a city street is so much easier in Canada because nobody hassles your parking production assistants…in Toronto, closing down a whole street is just another film shoot, and the locals don’t even blink.”

Having spent three years working in precisely the area described above – clearing streets of their cars through pamphleteering and verbal harassment – in preparation for the arrival of the film trucks – I can attest that the only value of Hall’s statement lies in its humour. People in Toronto hate film crews; the best reaction I can hope for after telling someone they can’t park, or have to move their car, is a sarcastic roll of the eyes, though more often it’s a hostile and profanity-laced tongue-lashing followed by the person either dramatically driving away or parking despite my request and walking off in a self-righteous huff.

I should stress here that I not only sympathize but agree with anyone who resents or dislikes film crews. The presence of a crew in one’s neighbourhood is a drag; the vast majority of workers in the film industry could charitably be described as personally and professionally unpleasant. They yell and swear a lot for no reason. They wear sunglasses when it’s not sunny. They refer to lesser crew members in the third person, and in a manner more befitting objects. They call vehicles “vehicles” (e.g. “Can I get that vehicle moved, please?”). Their treatment of the people whose neighbourhoods they invade ranges from ignorance to belligerence. Their appalling lack of simple manners, work ethic, and basic human decency is matched only by their disregard for the environment that surrounds them: they throw garbage everywhere, and leave their minivans on for hours with neither activity nor occupant.

Nonetheless, the general population’s reaction to film-crew invasion is a source of unending irritation to me. I do not defend film crews because of any lofty importance attached to film – as stated, most of the film shot in Toronto is worthless garbage. I do, however, think that in the greater scheme of things, the inconvenience caused by the presence of a film crew is disproportionate to the fury that Toronto residents regularly unleash on powerless crew employees such as myself.

I recall working in an upper-middle-class residential neighbourhood (incidentally, the absolute worst kind for this sort of work; people at either end of the economic spectrum are much more friendly and helpful) and flexing my diplomatic muscles in the hope of getting a gentleman to move his car from the front of his house to a block away, a journey of some twenty seconds.

“I know it’s a bit of a drag,” I allowed.

“Yeah, it’s a lot of a drag, actually,” he snapped.

I had to bite my tongue on the words: “Well, actually, you know, not really. There are much, much worse things that can happen to a person than to have the distance between your house and your car be twenty seconds instead of five seconds.” It should always be remembered, though, that for a certain class of person, slight inconvenience is, in fact, the absolute worst thing that can happen.

Clearly, the conflict between the insensitive, uncouth film crews and the uptight, idle residents of Toronto cannot be resolved by mere diplomacy at this juncture. As one caught between the residents and the crews, my allegiances are torn, but my dislike of film crews wins out in the end. With that in mind, I hereby propose the following measures for residents to escalate the conflict in order to get the upper hand.

1. Don’t yell at the pamphleteers or pylon-watchers. They have no power; most of the time they don’t even know the people they’re working for. It is also unlikely that you can say anything to them that they don’t hear several times daily (note: “I pay taxes!” is second only to “Hey, can I be in the movie?” in the pantheon of idiotic passerby comment). You probably have subordinates of your own that you can take out your frustrations on.

2. If you have a parking permit for your car, you can stubbornly hold your ground. Eventually, they will try to pay you off. If money doesn’t satisfy your powerlust, just stay put. You’re allowed to; that’s what the permit is good for. They’ll have to figure our some way to work around it, and if they don’t, who cares? (Note: if you don’t have a permit, none of the above applies and they can tow your car if they want to).

3. Almost all the vehicles on a film set (note the correct use of “vehicles,” as it applies to all manner of automotive devices) have the keys in them at all times, either in the ignition or under the sun visor (or, if the “transport” guys are really tricky, in the gas pump pocket at the vehicle’s side). You can take a minivan for a joyride, or grab the keys and drop them down the sewer.

4. A crew needs quiet when they’re shooting. You can blast your radio, lawnmower or other noise polluter and ruin everything. They will eventually offer you money to stop. (Once, a crafty film crew sent a famous actor over to ask a radio-blaster to stop – but this was a notoriously nice famous actor, and most of them aren’t nice at all, so don’t get your hopes up).

5. Special note for the poverty-stricken and/or freeloaders: there is a truck full of snacks on every film set. Go in and get free food. If anybody looks suspicious, or asks who you are, tell them you’re a set dec daily.

If enough havoc is wrought, perhaps film crews will be taken down a peg and forced to behave more properly towards their fellow human beings. I really doubt it, though. Most residents just like to complain; they’ll never do anything about it – besides, all you can really do (other than the suggestions above) is go to city hall and wade through red tape, which will probably discourage you pretty quickly. I strongly suspect that inflamed residents will simply continue to do what they always have: yell and swear at the people lowest on the ladder. In this, at least, they are united with their enemies on the crew.

Moving Picture Views

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