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Lights. Camera. Walk on to the set.

Published: 06/27/2011

Brad Pitt has been here. So have Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez, Susan Sarandon and Philip Seymour Hoffman, just to name a few of the Hollywood A-listers who have been filmed on one of Canada's largest living movie sets - Winnipeg's Exchange District.

 Now movie buffs and the star-struck alike can follow in the celebrities' footsteps to the exact locations where they rode in on horseback, danced up a storm or delivered their best lines.

Real to Reel, The Exchange District's newest walking tour, rolls out how and where Hollywood directors, producers and local film crews transformed some of the area's 20-square blocks of heritage buildings into the dusty streets of old Kansas City, early Chicago or present day New York City.

According to our tour guide, these Winnipeg streets have even been altered to serve as the backdrop for movies set in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston. (However, the city couldn't pull off one request for a location set in Spain.)

When the producers of The Assassination of Jesse James by Coward Robert Ford stood at the corner of Ellice Avenue and Princess Street and looked north over its rows of early 20th century brick buildings and warehouses, they saw a "living, breathing set." To prepare for the film shoot, they rebuilt a few of the current buildings' facades, added some sand and peat to the pavement, created a few new boardwalks and hired about 300 extras in period costume to transform a few blocks of Princess St. into the Old West of Kansas City. It's here where Brad Pitt rode into town as famous outlaw Jesse James, and left many Winnipeggers star struck during his (all too short) 24-hour stay.

Jennifer Lopez and Richard Gere stayed for several weeks while they filmed Shall We Dance and paired up to rehearse their ballroom steps in the Ted Motyka Dance Studio located in an alley off Albert Street. It was outside this studio where the paparazzi created a stir as they swarmed to catch a shot of Lopez with her then beau, movie star Ben Affleck.

Known as "Chicago of the North" Winnipeg was the perfect location to film Shall We Dance, which was set in Chicago, and became one of the first blockbusters in Canada.

Further south along Albert Street, the Exchange District actually stood in for a film set in Winnipeg (go figure), a made-for-TV movie called Running with the Hitman. Judd Hirsch meets with a so-called assassin in the Ken Hong Restaurant, which became the "Shanghai Schwartz" (a Chinese Jewish diner), to discuss killing his son-in-law.

The south end of Albert Street was also the scene of hurricane winds (created by turbo engines) and flying debris (dumped into the streets for filming and later removed) for the tornado thrillers Category 6: Day of Destruction and Category 7: The End of the World.

Just around the corner on Garry Street, Oscar-winning actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman stood in a phone booth to call his ‘boyfriend' in a scene from the film Capote. In this movie, set in Kansas City, Hoffman also walks into the bar entrance of the St. Charles Hotel, also on Garry Street.

With many of its buildings developed between 1881 and 1920, The Exchange District is one of the most historically intact turn-of-the-century urban areas in North America.

From 2003 to 2008, the movie magic that transpired on these streets saw $685 million invested in theManitoba film industry.

The Real to Reel walking tour offers a 45-minute entertaining stroll through some of The Exchange District's best-known film locations, and some inside information of what happens behind-the-scenes.
The tour runs through to September 5, 2011. The ticket to follow in the steps of a few Hollywood greats (and some not-so-greats) is just $6 per person.

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