Two comedy giants reunited in Greater Sudbury this week, with Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase spending four days acting in Zombie Town, a movie based on a book by R.L. Stine.
During a scrum with local media on the set in Garson on Thursday, Aykroyd expressed a great deal of affection for the Nickel City, offering that he felt a “kinship” with the region.
Chase was a bit more difficult to read, in keeping with the deadpan comedic voice that helped make him famous. He alternated between declaring his intention to relocate to Greater Sudbury and a desire to leave as quickly as possible.
“Jesus, I mean, I live in a real place,” he said to laughter from those who gathered to hear from the comedic duo.
Aykroyd, who grew up in Ottawa and currently calls Kingston his home, said his experience the past few days would be worth repeating.
“If I heard about another movie shooting up here that I could be in I’d rocket right up here, no problem,” he said, adding that he still hoped to visit the SNOLAB neutrino observatory before he left town.
“Sudbury is really impressive for the number of performing arts centres and theatres and programs for learning in the performing arts,” he said. “I wish I’d been here for longer, but they kind of crammed my stuff and Chevy’s into the last week.
“You’ve got really friendly people who are most welcoming and glad to have us, and we’re glad to be here.”
Full of interesting facts about Greater Sudbury, Aykroyd also shared that John Daveikis, who is from Azilda and now lives in Kingston, helped design the iconic Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in the classic 1984 horror/comedy movie Ghostbusters.
Aykroyd relayed that Daveikis was excited to learn he was heading up to Greater Sudbury to film a movie, but was sadly unable to join him.
Akyroyd and Chase have been friends since the early 1970s, were cast members during the inaugural season of the long-running televisions series Saturday Night Live and have co-starred in a few movies together, including the classic 1985 comedy Spies Like Us.
“This is a remarkable human being,” Chase said of Aykroyd. “You can tell just by listening to him that he loves life.”
The movie the comedy duo reunited to act in this week is based on a book by R.L. Stine, an author best known for comedy-infused horror aimed at children.
“I’ve found that when one mixes horror and comedy, one can have a hit,” Aykroyd said with a knowing nod to Ghostbusters. “It’s going to be a mix of horror and comedy, and it’s certainly youth-orientated.”
Lookout Entertainment owner and producer for R.L. Stine, Yvonne Bernard, was also on set Thursday, and told Sudbury.com a Greater Sudbury setting suited the story they were aspiring to tell.
“It’s just the warm anytown America or Canada … all the trees, all the warmth and the green grass,” she said. “There’s just an element in small towns that I think can be a little bit mysterious, and I think that adds to the quality of the film.”
FIlm producer John Gillespie told Sudbury.com he binge-watched the television series Stranger Things in preparation for Zombie Town, which R.L. Stine’s team said should serve as inspiration.
With Greater Sudbury’s smaller communities reminiscent of Hawkins, the fictional town depicted in Stranger Things, he said it was a natural backdrop for what they wanted to accomplish.
“Sudbury is world-class,” he said of its film community, adding this is the second film he has produced in the city, the other being The Curse of Buckout Road a few years ago.
“We’re planting roots,” Gillespie said, indicating there are more film productions planned for Greater Sudbury in the future.
Filming Zombie Town included locations in Capreol and Garson. The Grand in downtown Sudbury and the auditorium at Sudbury Secondary School were also used. The school’s wooden seats “match beautifully” with the historic downtown theatre, Gillespie said.
Joining the production’s cast was actor Henry Czerny, who also worked with Gillespie on The Curse of Buckout Road. He’s perhaps best known for roles in the movie Mission: Impossible, the ABC primetime soap opera Revenge and the 2019 horror/comedy movie Ready or Not.
The goal for the production of Zombie Town was for the cast and crew to have fun while on set, which Gillespie said he believes they achieved and will resonate on the screen.
“Chevy and Henry’s scenes had us all laughing out loud,” he said, adding that with the long hours of filming, many of which at night, it was nice they were able to have fun with it.
Czerny told Sudbury.com that it was fun to be on the set of another “cheeky horror movie” and that working with Aykroyd was a particular treat – a man he considers “royalty.”
“He has a quality to be particular with the language and absolutely universal at the same time,” Czerny said. “He doesn’t say anything that doesn’t go through his gut first.”
Zombie Town also co-stars teenaged leads Marlon Kazadi and Madi Monroe, with other actors including Scott Thompson and Bruce McCulloch of the comedy series Kids in the Hall. The movie is being directed by Canadian animator Peter Lepeniotis.
Gillespie said they’re aiming for a wide theatrical release next year, after which they have a streaming deal with Hulu.
Zombie Town is one of three productions going on in Greater Sudbury right now, the other two being the television series Letterkenny being filmed in a studio set up at the Capreol Arena, and a Christmas movie.
With 10 productions hosted in Greater Sudbury so far this year, city Tourism and Culture manager Lara Fielding said they should be on track toward hitting pre-pandemic numbers by the end of the year, which is between 15 and 18 productions per year.
Productions have been boosted by increased safety coming out of the pandemic and “everybody being out and about again, and comfort for the productions to be going on, and being able to have the workforce to execute the productions in the communities,” she said.
“It’s a really great time, an exciting time for film in Sudbury and the north.”
City officials had a delegation attend the Toronto International Film Festival, at which they held an event with other northern municipalities and Cultural Industries Ontario North to help promote the region as a filmmaking destination.
This weekend’s Cinéfest is also an exciting event for the region’s film industry, she said, at which five Northern Ontario productions are being screened, including two filmed in Sudbury.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.