Photography by Cooper & O’Hara
Darcy Scott is the last person you’d expect to be involved in a Christmas film, especially the cheesy kind where true love saves a family business, a small town, or a roast turkey. When she told her friends about the movie being shot in her bakery, Whimsical Cake Studio, three months after the holiday, they teased her because, as she claims, “I’m a bit of a Grinch.” With a personality as bubbly and colourful as the purple streaks in her hair, and for someone who’s so quick with a joke, you wouldn’t cast Scott as a furry, green spoilsport. So how does a self-described Grinch get involved in a Christmas movie?
When one of her best friends of nearly 20 years, Brandon Gowing, was brought on as the production manager for local film company Avatar Media Inc.’s Christmas Cupcakes, he asked Scott for advice on Edmonton bakeries that may be a good fit for the film. “I’ve got my fingers on the pulse of the baking community,” Scott jokes, “but, actually, I just do a lot of social media, so I know what a lot of bakeries look like.” Gowing and director Dylan Pierce visited all the places she recommended, and then met back at Scott’s bakery to deliberate. According to Scott, when Pierce saw Whimsical’s setup, with its large front windows and an open concept that shows off the busy bakers in the back, he knew it would be the perfect fit for the movie and would make setting up shots much easier. Scott was, surprisingly, not hard to convince to rent her space to the film crew, as she says, “I’m one of those people who’d rather have an experience than a thing. I went into this thinking, ‘Well, how often does someone get to have this experience?'”
Setting the Scene
After the bakery was booked, the difficult work of creating the atmosphere for the film began. Christmas Cupcakes – written by local writers Neil Chase and Nathan Usher – follows the story of a pair of sisters who, due to unforeseen circumstances, must help save their family bakery. For the film, Whimsical needed to be transformed into an old Italian bakery that had clearly seen better days. The bright purple paint that’s essential to the bakery’s branding was covered over with a dusty red colour and designed to look like an old-fashioned brick wall. Whimsical couldn’t be shut down for the full week of sales, so it would only close on Tuesdays.
Neighbours and customers noticed the change. Not only would 109th Street and 87th Avenue be lined with large trailers and tents during filming days – an unusual sight anywhere in Edmonton – but the shop didn’t look quite right to Scott’s regulars. “They would walk in and say, ‘Where’s the purple?'” she explains, “‘What’s going on?'” The answer to that question: During the days Whimsical was closed, the 950-square-foot bakery was transformed into a film set, crammed full of cameras, a crew the size of a baker’s dozen, and a cast that included popular stars such as Erin Karpluk, known for Being Erica, and Cindy Busby of Heartland fame. There wasn’t even room for stacked bags of flour, so keeping a boom mic out of shot was tough.
Watching film crews work is a bit like watching a DVD skip on repeat: The same scene is shot over and over for the chance to grab different takes and angles. During the day I was on set, I was able to watch the two Remo sisters (Karpluk and Busby) compete under their uncle’s tutelage as they tried to make the better loaf of challah – with hilarious results – and another scene, when the one sister first convinces the other to save their dad’s bakery. (No spoilers here: you’ll have to watch the film to find out why it’s in jeopardy.) Holiday Makeovers
Whimsical wasn’t the only local business transformed over March, as Zouzou Hair Group next door doubled as a makeup and hair studio for the cast and Metro Cinema shared its space at the Garneau Theatre to become a headquarters and wardrobe for the shoot. Dan Smith, the operations manager for Metro Cinema, had mentioned to Scott that Metro would be willing to get involved, and shortly after, Avatar reached out to him. “We’ve had some experience in the past with a film crew that had come in and used our building for a few shots,” explains Smith. “They also ended up using our green room as a staging area.”
Metro Cinema is a major supporter of the Edmonton film industry, and works closely with FAVA (the Film and Video Arts Society of Alberta) to do regular screenings for emerging and independent filmmakers at its Video Kitchen and Main Course screenings. Smith says “It was nice to do something different and have a film crew in here, to be part of a different side of the creation of film that we’re not as used to. It’s fun to see how a film crew works like that, and how quickly they get things going and transform a space and actually create a movie is pretty cool.”
Though it’s not common for Metro to have a film shot in the theatre – Smith only recalls a local film crew needing to use the stairs to do a quick shoot, or the time the 87th Avenue door was used as a nightclub entrance for another film – it does regularly have renters in the space, so it wasn’t unusual to have other people outside of the organization working in the theatre.
However, Smith mentioned there was one interesting snag that happened during the shoot. On a filming day, Metro had partnered with the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights for a film screening where attendees were asked to enter the theatre through the back alley – which was blocked by the film crew’s trucks. Smith explains, “The plan was to admit people through that exit because we wanted people to see what it was like to enter the building the way that people in wheelchairs get through the building.”
Avatar’s crew was easy to work with, though, and was great about preparing in advance, fixing the problem. The crew even shovelled the back walkway to make it easier for people to access the theatre. Smith laughs as he recounts the story, as he thinks it ironic that the one time they plan an event to have everyone enter through the alley, of course it would be blocked.
You’d expect filming a Christmas movie in March to have other hiccups, but as Jaro Malanowski, the CEO at Avatar, explains, everything went almost as smoothly as buttercream icing on a cupcake. Even though by March most of Edmonton’s snow had disappeared, Avatar worked around this by shooting all of the exterior scenes in January and February to capture that winter-y setting. Later in March, during an exterior shot with the cast outside Strathcona High School, Malanowski recounts, “That weekend as we were shooting the exterior, it started to snow, so it worked out perfectly.” And, as the temperature was still cool enough for the cast to be comfortably bundled in mittens and scarves, it seems Santa can still work his holiday magic in March. Surprise Presents
Like any good holiday experience, the film offered some unexpected gifts for the businesses. On top of some of Whimsical’s baked treats being included in certain scenes in the movie, some of the bakery’s staff members were offered roles in the film as extras. Christina Baiton, a former baker and cake decorator at Whimsical, was able to cross an item off her bucket list by being on set. Originally, she expected to just be an extra sitting in the background, but was asked to play a barista in one scene and a customer in another. Although she says it was a cool experience, she is a little nervous to watch herself in the movie later. “Did I walk weird? Did I look OK?” Baiton asks apprehensively. “Did I mess up so much in one scene, but they put it in the movie anyway?” If her bakery wasn’t in the film, Scott admits she probably would never have watched it. “If I am going to watch TV, it’s going to be on Syfy or Space or the Food Network,” she explains. “But I will [watch it] because I’m curious to see how it all looks.” And since some staff will potentially appear in it, Scott’s planning on hosting a small get-together where friends can come over, dress up in their comfy pyjamas, and watch the film. It’s the ideal plan for Scott’s holidays, as for her, that’s the reason for the season. “It’s about people being nice to each other,” she says, “and doing kind things for each other – catching up and spending time together.”
Scott’s grateful for the overall experience and how it gave her a peek into her friend Gowing’s work. “It was a very interesting thing to see how movies were made. Even knowing Brandon for 20 some years and he’s spent 15 years in that industry, I’d just heard a lot about it,” she explains. “And I’ve been trying to envision what his life is like working in that industry because it’s so chaotic, and he says the same thing about me: your job is so chaotic!” The pair learned more about each other’s day-to-day lives and found a new appreciation for each other’s work. And Scott adds, “In the end, it brought us closer together as friends.” And that’s all one can ask for during the (albeit nine-month-early) holidays.
This article appears in the December 2018 issue of Avenue Edmonton. Subscribe here.