Gooning home

Jay Baruchel's new hockey movie is set in Halifax, but shot in Winnipeg. We investigate why our harbour town has a prairie stand-in.

Halifax has a dramatic range that far exceeds its size. While our city and its surrounding area might be best known for playing the role of New England in movies such as The Shipping News and Dolores Claiborne, it's also stood in for locations as diverse as New York, Amsterdam and even Utah.

It stands to reason, then, that after playing so many different geographical characters, Halifax would have no problem playing itself. One might assume that Goon, a hockey-themed film written by Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg and directed by Fubar's Michael Dowse, would be the logical choice, being that it concerns a puck outfit called the Halifax Highlanders.

Except Goon is shooting in Winnipeg.

Yep. A production about an east coast hockey team recently laced up its skates in a prairie city, with flat ol' Winnipeg set to play the role of hilly, fog-drenched Halifax.

This might seem counterintuitive, but it's no surprise to showbiz folks, who have to consider a host of factors when deciding who's going to host their productions. In other words, it's not like Halifax failed an audition for Goon.

"The producer is Don Carmody, and he's shot quite a bit here," says Ann MacKenzie, president and CEO of Film Nova Scotia. "Whenever Don can shoot in Halifax, he shoots in Halifax."

Carmody, whose Halifax productions include Amelia and Squanto, developed Goon in association with a Winnipeg-based producer with a hometown rooting interest. In addition, MacKenzie says the bustle of Nova Scotia's film industry, which currently supports TV productions such as Haven and Call Me Fitz, was already stretching local resources. "We had a lot of production on the go and there would have been worry about a crew," she says.

Considering these issues, as well as the fact that Manitoba's menu of tax credits and equity investment for film productions rivals Nova Scotia's, and MacKenzie isn't surprised that a Halifax-set movie is going before cameras in Winnipeg.

Nor is Laszlo Barna, a movie business veteran familiar with both cities. Barna is an executive producer for the Maine-set Haven, which shoots in Chester, and Call Me Fitz, the Jason Priestley vehicle that has Wolfville standing in for Everytown, USA. He holds the same title for the Winnipeg-shot series Men with Brooms and the Don Cherry miniseries Keep Your Head Up, Kid. "The magic and craft of cinema," he says, "is that we can actually be very transformative of any place."

True, but Winnipeg-to-Halifax isn't the most obvious transformation, and making that magic will require ingenuity on the part of the Goon squad. "I guess they're not going to show the harbour," MacKenzie laughs, before pointing out the story mostly takes place inside arenas, not in front of recognizable landmarks.

Halifax may not be playing itself in Goon, but it's still capable of playing other places. MacKenzie notes that proximity to the ocean makes Halifax an obvious draw for movies such as Moby Dick. Many buildings date back centuries, making it a draw for period pieces and as a stand-in for cities of a similar vintage. "Halifax has some of the old world, which is a rarity," says Barna, who cast Halifax as Montreal in Extreme Measures, a TV series about the FLQ, and as New York and Ottawa in Shake Hands With the Devil.

Halifax is so busy playing other locations that there's no need to begrudge Winnipeg for playing Halifax. Better to wish them luck---and hope they keep most of the action inside the rink.

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