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The Day ‘American Gods’ Came to My Town

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A notice of filming was passed around to businesses in the downtown core, a new TV series called Mister Chocolates would be here for a couple of days in the first week of May to film on the main street in Guelph, Ontario. The Mister Chocolates logo at the top of the notice was in cursive, and decorated with a cute little handle-bar moustache between the words “Mister” and “Chocolates,” a series described as “a tale of two friends as they travel across the American Midwest.” Why did that sound familiar…

It’s true, “Mister Chocolates” isn’t Mister Chocolates at all. It’s American Gods, the Starz series based on Neil Gaiman‘s award-winning novel of the same name. The series, like Bryan Fuller‘s last show Hannibal, is shooting predominately in Toronto, but today it was here in Guelph. If you’re not geographically inclined, the city (pronounced “Gwellf”) is about an hour’s drive west of Toronto. Our proximity, as well as the preservation of much of the downtown’s century old stone architecture, makes it an appealing place to film, and today, Guelph was doubling for Chicago.

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To begin with, I’ll acquaint you with Guelph. The main drag through the downtown is called Wyndham Street, and the northern most block of Wyndham runs from Woolwich Street to the one way Douglas Street at St. Georges Square. This entire section of street was closed to traffic for American Gods, but the businesses and offices along there, including a very important social services building for the county, were open to foot traffic. The first thing that stuck out when you arrive at St. George’s Square is how dead it was traffic-wise speaking. The second thing that stuck out is a pair of orange taxis. (For the record, Guelph taxis are green and black, and red and yellow.)

About half way up the street the majority of the production was focused. Outside of what is typically the Flour Barrel, a baking supply story, was a flurry of activity. The Flour Barrel wasn’t the Flour Barrel today, it was “Pete’s Supermarket” and in front of it PAs were trying to direct passersby and look-loos to keep them out of the shot while the extras took their places. The director called “background” meaning all the extras in the scene had to start moving in their predetermined path on screen, and as star Ricky Whittle waited by a prop payphone on the wall next to star, the director called “Action!”

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In the series Whittle plays Shadow, a former convict just released from prison who takes a job as bodyguard for the mysterious Mr. Wednesday played by Ian McShane. McShane was here too, also in this scene. The shot involved Whittle hanging up the phone, and walking down the street to exchange words with Mr. Wednesday. The scene is obviously playing out some form of chapter four in the Gaiman book, where Shadow and Wednesday make the first stop in their cross-country trip to meet with Czernobog and the Zorya sisters. Peter Stormare plays Czernobog in the series, but there was no sign of him today.

There was also no sign of the author himself, Neil Gaiman. Some had wandered downtown to meet the literary icon, including a friend of mine who was disappointed to learn that Gaiman had been around set last week in Toronto, but had since left. I watched the filming next to a man who was holding a copy of American Gods obviously hopeful to get an autograph. He also had a boxed set of Deadwood DVDs just in case McShane was offering autographs. Meanwhile, a quartet of young women arrived nearby to scope out “Hottie McHottie” AKA: Ricky Whittle.

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The scene at the payphone played out at lease once more before it was time to set up the next shot. The taxis were shuffled around, a light and some reflectors was brought it. The PAs had us move further down the street to keep us out of frame. I was situated in a walkway that connected a parking lot to Wyndham St between two buildings, a store  and the Housing Services building for Wellington County. That building, which was built as a post office during the Depression, was know dressed as a bank. The PA told me that he had to tell at least one person that it wasn’t a real ATM sitting in front of the office building.

Because of the frame for this shot, those of us in the walkway had to move off to the site of building on the right to get out of frame, so I never got to see what this shot entailed. Chances are though it was a different angle to the exchange between Whittle and McShane. As this shot was completed, there was more stuff going on several feet away. Bigger lights were off to the side standing ready to be brought in, a crane was being moved into position, and parked up the street a little was what looked like a classic Buick in basic black. I wasn’t sure if this Shadow and Wednesday’s ride, but if it isn’t, it should be.

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With the scene concluded, the production called lunch (many of the PAs at this point were actually getting lunch), and the all the many pieces in the great movie-making machine disappeared into various buildings and vehicles. A black SUV pulled up and Whittle got in while the guy with the Deadwood DVDs praised Whittle for his work on The 100, which the actor gratefully received. Wondering further up Wyndham, I came to a parking lot where all the equipment trucks for the production were parked. Two men worked on giant fans, and I asked when those would be coming out. “Whenever they need them,” one of the technicians replied.

The touch of Hollywood in town was all anyone meeting and working in Downtown Guelph could talk about today. (Yes, it is occasionally fairly uneventful here.) For local nerds though, the already ravenous excitement for seeing Gaiman’s book on screen is now added with a sense of ownership. American Gods was made, in part, on our streets, and we eagerly await the chance to see it on TV screens when the show debuts later this year.

Category: TV

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