Filming for BlackBerry movie wraps up in Hamilton

The story of the rise and fall of Canadian company Research In Motion, creators of the BlackBerry, just wrapped filming in Hamilton Tuesday, for a big-screen adaptation. 

Hamilton Film Office lead says the city sees around 150 productions filmed each year

Jay Baruchel, left, and Glenn Howerton, rght, are set to star as Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie in Blackberry, which chronicles the rise and fall of the titular smartphone from Waterloo Ont. based Research in Motion. (Disney/ Kovert Creative)

The story of the rise and fall of Canadian company Research In Motion (RIM), creators of the BlackBerry, just wrapped filming in Hamilton Tuesday, for a big-screen adaptation. 

The movie was adapted from the 2015 book Losing the Signal: the Spectacular Rise and Fall of BlackBerry by journalists Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff.

"This is very exciting. This has been a pinch-me kind of week," said Silcoff. 

"It's surreal when something you worked so hard on, attracted such buzz, adapted for another medium."

BlackBerry was a brand of very popular smartphones in the early 2000's.

The film, also called BlackBerry, stars Jay Baruchel as company co-founder Mike Lazaridis and Glenn Howerton as co-CEO Jim Balsillie. 

Silcoff said meeting Howerton was "astonishing."

"I walked into the room, and there was Jim. It was like meeting Jim Balsillie 15 or 20 years earlier. Young, intense, sharp-eyed and focused."

"It literally left me breathless for a moment or two."

BlackBerry will be introduced to buyers at TIFF by XYZ Films, while Elevation Pictures will be distributing it in Canada.

A busy stop for film productions

Hamilton Film Office lead, Kim Adrovez, said residents will see some familiar places when watching the movie, which was largely filmed in Hamilton. 

An elementary school, Empire Steel, and the First Ontario Centre were some locations the BlackBerry production used, according to Adrovez. 

BlackBerry also filmed a few scenes in Waterloo, the city where RIM was born.

In an interview with CBC Kitchener-Waterloo, Adrovez said filming is not uncommon in Hamilton. 

"We get about 150 productions filmed here a year … so it's pretty smooth. It's a pretty well-oiled machine."

She said one of the reasons why Hamilton is such a busy stop for movie productions is the city's "diversity of locations" within close proximity that make the process efficient for filmmakers. 

"We're really lucky in Hamilton, that we've got such a range of locations from downtown looks, we've got sort of downscale or grittier, tougher looks."

"We've also got very beautiful, historic buildings that are in amazing condition, and we have green spaces and agricultural land and a beach, an industrial sector."

Other high-profile productions that have been filmed in Hamilton include Netflix's The Umbrella Academy, Amazon's The Boys, Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale, DC's Titans, and Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water.

Rise and fall of a life-changing device

The book BlackBerry is based on was a product of a 2013 Globe and Mail investigative piece by Silcoff, McNish and Steve Ladurantaye.

"[The article] provided the first real, full examination of how BlackBerry's decline started and unfolded. Basically, we were able to kind of get the inside story for the first time," said Silcoff.

The story was a success and, to this day, Silcoff said he still sees new comments about it. 

Sean Silcoff along with Jacquie McNish are the authors of the book "Losing the Signal: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of BlackBerry," which the movie is based on. (Submitted by Sean Silcoff)

"There are a lot of good lessons and case study material there. But also a unique story because this is the company that essentially popularised the smartphone."

He said the way BlackBerry did that was by delivering email to users "wherever they were, whenever they wanted."

"People were amazed. The idea that you could get email in a lineup at the airport, or in a taxi, or during a boring meeting meant that you could be far more productive and engaged."

7 years ago, Globe & Mail writer, Sean Silcoff co-wrote 'Losing The Signal' a book about the rise and fall of Blackberry. Now the book and the once popular Canadian handheld device is getting the big screen treatment

Silcoff said the device "immediately addicted people," and revolutionized how people used the internet.

"But by the time 2007 rolled around, Apple was basically putting an entire Macintosh into people's hands [with the first iPhone]," he said. 

"BlackBerry did not have the same depth or breadth in its operating system, and it took them a while to catch up."

A story about more than a gadget

Silcoff and McNish's involvement in the film was "very limited," but that's what makes it more thrilling for him, said Silcoff.

"We didn't see a script and I wouldn't ask to see a script, I'm actually looking forward to seeing the movie for the first time when I sit down in the theatre," he said. 

Early BlackBerry devices were among the first internet-connected smartphones ever made. (BlackBerry)

He said he's excited, not only to see the story of the BlackBerry unfold on the big screen but also the relationship between Balsillie and Lazaridis.

"It's not just a story about a gadget that was popular, and then it wasn't popular anymore. It's a story [about] a company and a technology that changed how we live and communicate, and about the very human drama underneath," said Silcoff. 


Aura Carreño Rosas

Freelance reporter, CBC Hamilton

Aura Carreño Rosas is a Hamilton-based freelance journalist from Venezuela, with a passion for pop culture and unique people with diverse journeys.

With files from Joseph Pugh


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