Elf has become a beloved holiday classic in the 17 years since its release in 2003, but it turns out that while the movie’s story is both entertaining and interesting, so is the behind-the-scenes story of how the film was made. This is especially true for the location used for a good number of the film’s scenes. It turns out that many of the film’s New York interiors were actually shot in a closed down mental institution.
In Netflix’s The Holiday Movies That Made Us (a Christmas variant of the Netflix series “The Movies That Made Us”) an episode focused entirely on the making of the film revealed that the production shot many of the film’s iconic scenes in an old mental institution.
“It was a closed down mental institution,” production designer Rusty Smith explained. “We had to repurpose this draconian mental institution. It worked great for the police station, but it is one of the creepiest places I’ve ever been in my life.”
The institution — Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam, British Columbia — ended up being utilized for a number of locations, including the orphanage, Greenway Press, and the Hobbs’ apartment, a specific set that was the setting for a great decorating stunt.
“I love the stunt where he’s decorating the tree,” Smith said. “Well, we can get the star has to put the star on I got it. It’s what’s called a Texas switch. You see your principal actor Will Ferrell, and he goes back to take a look at it and then the stunt man, pay to run and jump off the sofa, and it falls over all done in one take.”
The mental institution location wasn’t only revelation the episode contained, either. It also outlined the legal issues the film had regarding the Rankin/Bass Christmas classic, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
“We got in trouble with clearance,” Smith recounted. “They got nervous that we had stolen too much from Rankin/Bass. And all of a sudden we had lawyers in our midst. Lawyers with you on the set, lawyers with you in the art department. Lawyers saying like ‘Where’s your reference? Where’d you get this idea? Where’d this come from?’….The producer came to me and said, ‘The film might not be releasable.'”
Fortunately, it all worked out.
“Basically, legally, we thought we had made a deal and everything was so cool, so we went off and made the movie,” Executive producer Cale Boyter said. “Some fast legal work had to be done. Thankfully we had some pretty smart people that could figure it out.”
Elf is available on all movie platforms for your Christmas viewing with The Holiday Movies That Made Us now streaming on Netflix.