Every month, CION aims to profile a producer who has shot in Northern Ontario. We get their input about the state of the industry and the Northern amenities, services and locations they took advantage of for their films.
Producer Hartley Gorenstein has worked on dozens of high-profile film and television projects, most of which were shot in and around Toronto, where he lives. His credits include Resident Evil: Retribution (2012), The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones (2013), Pompeii (2014), Room (2015), and What We Do In The Shadows (2019).
For Gorenstein’s latest film, a reboot of Resident Evil, his crew set up shop in Sudbury to make what might be the biggest film to be shot in Sudbury so far. Set in 1998, Resident Evil draws inspiration from the first two video games in Capcom’s hugely popular survival horror series of the same name. When it hits the theatres in September Sudburians will get a kick out of recognizing parts of their city on the big screen—and in some cases recognizing themselves.
Gorenstein was familiar with Sudbury (he wrote his LSAT in Sudbury, and his wife’s family is from there); but it took the pandemic for him to have the “aha” moment that Sudbury—a bustling film centre with infrastructure and skilled crew not too far from Toronto—would be a good fit for Resident Evil.
The "aha" moment that brought a massive film franchise to Sudbury
“Back in May of 2020 we were sitting around on Zoom calls trying to figure out what to do and it really felt bleak for this movie because of COVID,” Gorenstein says. “Toronto was in the throes of it and no one knew what was going on. That morning I had received a DGC (Directors Guild of Canada) email saying that Sudbury and the North were open for business. A few hours later I was on that Zoom call and they were looking at me for answers and I said, ‘well, what about Sudbury?’ and they said, ‘what?’ and I said, ‘yes, Sudbury. It’s four hours north...and it’s COVID free pretty much, and open for business.’”
Director Johannes Roberts started Googling Sudbury and said, “it’s perfect, why aren’t we going there?” And within minutes it was decided. “Next thing I knew I was gearing up and looking for a crew in Sudbury,” Gorenstein says.
Rainy and dark, Resident Evil turned to the downtown core—and the help of local police—to create the Racoon City vibe they needed.
“There’s a bunch of parking lots that all back up to each other, near the Ledo Hotel,” Gorenstein says. “And we were there at a time when things were shut down [due to COVID]. You could look around and you could see no traffic, and the police were willing to shut it down so there was literally no traffic coming through," he says. As a result? "We had an abandoned downtown core, which you just can’t get anywhere in any major city.”
For one stunt scene, for example, a zombie drives a truck that turns over and crashes into cars on the side of the road and comes to a stop in front of the police station they built a facade for. “You don’t have the space to do that in Toronto,” says Gorenstein, “or the willingness of people to say, 'yeah, sure, shut it down.' There was a lot of opportunity for us that we were able to take advantage of because people were excited to have us there.”
Sudbury’s hills and Canadian Shield stood in for Resident Evil’s Arklay Mountains, and Sudbury’s iconic blue water tower and a mine off of Caesar Road in Copper Cliff were also used in the film. “There were a lot of great locations for our needs,” Gorenstein says. “The forests, the mines, the remoteness of Sudbury worked for us. We shot a lot of beauty stuff that will make it into the film hopefully.”
Hiring a local crew and filming at Sudbury's Northern Ontario Film Studios
Of the up to 200 people who were working on the film at any given time, Gorenstein estimates that about 75% of the crew were from Northern Ontario — split between Sudbury, North Bay, and Sault Ste. Marie. The production office hired as many Sudbury locals as it could while housing additional crew from outside the city.
Resident Evil sub-leased two Sudbury film studios for the project: David Anselmo’s Northern Ontario Film Studios and the Letterkenny office. Some filming also took place inside of the former Baycar Steel Fabricating. There was another film project being shot in the city at the same time, but crewing wasn't an issue. “It was really fortuitous that we were there taking advantage of the lull of work because of COVID,” Gorenstein says. “People were available to us.”
Gorenstein praises Dr. Dennis Reich, who oversaw COVID testing for the film. “He did a fantastic job,” Gorenstein says. “We’re still friends, he’s still doing COVID testing for me.”
It was everyone on the crew’s first COVID film project, and Gorenstein learned a lot about filming during a pandemic. Testing the crew was an added cost, he notes, “with a 24-hour turnaround; plus PPE and plexiglass.” But it worked: they had no positive COVID tests, and no false negatives. “We ran it efficiently,” Gorenstein says. “We didn’t just throw money at it, we threw brainpower at it.”
For suppliers, Gorenstein worked with Whites, which has a presence in Sudbury. “That’s who I use exclusively in Toronto,” he says. “Paul Bronfman was a mentor to me, he’s always been a champion of my work and helped me whenever I needed and so I’ve always been loyal to his company.”
Planning ahead for more projects up north
Any plans to film more projects in Sudbury? “In the right circumstances, of course I would,” Gorenstein says. “The people were great, the food was great, I had a great time. There was a grocery store called Smith’s that I frequented a lot, they made really nice soups and salads and cold cuts I would bring back with me whenever I came back south.”
Gorenstein is currently working on Season 1 of Mayor of Kingstown, written and created by Taylor Sheridan and starring Jeremy Renner.
Gorenstein is one of dozens of producers who have discovered Ontario's North as the perfect shooting destination—but the secret is out, and more and more productions are moving to the North. To discover everything Northern Ontario offers producers, or get help setting up your production here, contact CION's film supervisor, Rob Riselli.
Find out more about how CION can help your production in the North. Check out our guide for producers, regional resources and services, crew database, and the Hotlist of films currently in production.