On location in Kingston: Locke & Key

By Andrea Gunn

Series filmed partially in Kingston airs on Netflix Oct. 22

Eleven months ago, the block around Springer Market Square was transformed, thanks to a television production crew. The lower half of the square was cordoned off to foot traffic. Ontario Street was lined with mobile units, cranes, and lighting equipment. The sunken basin directly behind Kingston City Hall had been turned into a modern, unmistakably British, outdoor market, with booths featuring Union Jack flags and souvenir T-shirts promoting the English city of Bath.

But for several hours that day, all attention was focused just across the street, just next to the Tir Nan Og. Dozens of film crew, all wearing PPE, worked among the cameras and lighting equipment focused on one doorway. Two actors, dressed in contemporary clothes, moved in and out of the doorway, doing take after take. Just out of frame, extras dressed in Georgian period costume stood patiently, waiting for their cues. Around the corner, in front of City Hall, a double-decker bus promoted scenic tours of Bath. Was this a time travel scene? A flashback? The storyline is still a closely guarded secret, but for one day, a single Kingston block was transported in both time and space for an episode of the Netflix series Locke & Key.

This month, catch the second season of Locke & Key on Netflix and, in episode 4, see if you can spot some familiar places…and faces. if you’ve ever taken a winter wagon ride through downtown Kingston, then you’ve already met some of the cast of Locke & Key. Rick White, of White’s Rides on Wolfe Island, and his horses Kate and Allie were extras in the episode shot in Kingston.

The second season of Locke & Key premieres on Netflix on October 22.

Dennis Chapman, production manager on Locke & Key
Dennis Chapman, production manager on Locke & Key | Credit: Garrett Elliott

Production manager Dennis Chapman gave us a behind-the-scenes look at how the shoot came together:

“The script inspires the location, obviously,” he said, “and this script is set in Bath, England. But we’re not going to take our crew there for just a one-day shoot. So, the locations people do a lot of research; they look at all the resources in locations that might substitute for Bath. From the beginning, the designer of the show liked Kingston for the location…We always do what we can to honour the script and the vision of the director and the designer.”

“We showed the pictures [of Kingston] to the showrunners in Los Angeles; the director loved it. So, we did a scout here to see how it would all work out. Then the location manager took over and dealt with all the logistics. We brought in the key grip, the key gaffer, his riggers, the art department, the set decorators, and everyone figured out – in one day – how we are going to make this block of Kingston look like Bath. Then we went back to Toronto and got on with the rest of the shoot.”

Credit: Garrett Elliott

“A few days before we started shooting in Kingston, the decorators and rigging grips landed here.  [Members of the Locke & Key crew stayed in Kingston for six days in total, although the shoot itself was only one day.] They put up all the towers, they put up the lights for the night shoot, and they dressed the set. The whole process takes weeks to put together, and on a feature film, you might work on a scene for three months. Not continuously you’re working on other scenes at the same time. I remember when I was working on [the 1997 film] Mimic with Guillermo del Toro: he had one shot set in Union Station in New York. I worked on that one shot for two or three months. I never accomplished exactly what Guillermo wanted in that shot, but I got close!”  [The shot involved a crane balanced on a scaffold to allow a camera to pull back, moving from a frame of a single person to one showing a crowd of 700 people.]

Locke & Key production crew on location in Kingston
Locke & Key production crew on location in Kingston | Credit: Garrett Elliott

Chapman, a 1975 Queen’s film graduate, loved being back in Kingston for the shoot. “Everybody has been enthusiastic about us being here. I would love to come back, to bring other shows here.”

The economic impact of the production for the local economy was significant. The cast and crew booked more than 500 hotel rooms during their stay. Overall, the shoot had more than $150,000 in direct economic impact for the community. And the Kingston community was so welcoming, the production team wanted to say thank you.

Credit: Garrett Elliott

“We were consistently impressed with the welcome that the city offered to us,” says producer Kevin Lafferty. “We found it to be a fantastic place to work and the shoot was a total success. We wanted to give back some of the goodwill we felt from the city, and as several of our crew members are graduates of Film and Media at Queen’s, we felt making a donation to the school to aid the up-and-coming filmmakers there was the best way of paying it forward.” The $10,000 donation will go towards workshops and other training for film students at Queen’s.

After the Kingston shoot wrapped up, the crew of Locke & Key moved on to their next location. This episode had shoots in both Toronto and Cambridge.  Season two of the supernatural drama series is scheduled to air on Netflix in late 2021.