They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Screenwriter Kevin Jakubowski certainly ascribes to that theory with his much-heralded 2021 film “8-Bit Christmas,” which draws heavily upon the framework of the 1983 classic “A Christmas Story.” Primarily set in the late 1980s, the HBO Max original sees Jake Doyle (Neil Patrick Harris) returning to his childhood home for the holidays, where he recounts the story of one particularly memorable Christmas past to his daughter, Annie (Sophia Reid-Gantzert). Except instead of an official Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-Shot Range Model air rifle, the object of young Jake’s (Winslow Fegley) desire is an original Nintendo video game console or, as he describes it, “a maze of rubber wiring and electronic intelligence so advanced it was deemed not a video game but an 8-bit entertainment system” encased in “grey plastic glory.” Retro timeline and historical pop culture references notwithstanding, the tale is entirely universal as Jake discovers throughout the hustle and bustle of the season that family is far more priceless than any gift.
Shortly after the film’s debut last November, Jakubowski spoke with the “Geekscape” podcast about his regard for “A Christmas Story” screenwriter Jean Shepherd, espousing, “He was just able to, in a way that I think few other writers have, capture youth and adolescence from an adult perspective that can be really sarcastic and funny but also, you know, heartwarming.” His words may as well be describing “8-Bit Christmas.” Nostalgic through and through, the delightful film tugs at all the right heartstrings.
Although it secured a highly-coveted spot on The Black List in 2019, the story had a lengthy, staggered journey to the screen. Feeling a lack of decent holiday offerings since “Elf,” “Love Actually” and “Bad Santa” were released in 2003, Jakubowski set out to make what he hoped would become a “modern Christmas classic,” as he expressed to the “Christmas 365” podcast. Because original screenplays aren’t the easiest to greenlight, he instead chose to first write “8-Bit Christmas” as a novel, which hit the shelves in 2013. Loosely based upon a short story he penned in college, the book quickly found an audience. It wasn’t until 2018, though, that Kevin was approached by producers Jonathan Sadowski and Nick Nantell to turn the tome into a screenplay. It sold to Warner Bros. soon after and was set to go into production in March 2020, but was derailed almost a full year by Covid. Filming finally commenced in February 2021 and the rest is history, with the flick becoming the “number one direct to HBO Max movie of all time,” per “Christmas 365.”
Set in the Chicago suburb of Batavia, Ill. (where Jakubowski grew up), “8-Bit Christmas” was shot in its entirety in Toronto, Ontario and its environs. Captured throughout the winter, the city provided the filmmakers with a picturesque, naturally wintry backdrop. As director Michael Dowse stated on Facebook, “Day one of shooting, we were blessed with a foot and a half of snow.”
A few area spots featured include Woodbine Mall and Fantasy Fair in the suburb of Etobicoke, where the Doyles engage in some holiday shopping and where Jake and his friends later hatch an elaborate scheme to procure an NES. The front of the Doyle family’s idyllic home can be found at 24 William St. in Weston. Interestingly though, scenes involving the backyard, where Jake is constantly picking up after the family dog, were lensed a good 16 miles away on the grounds of a charming Colonial located at 1286 Kane Rd. in Mississauga.
Stealing the show, though, is the gorgeous mansion belonging to Jake’s wealthy brutish schoolmate Timmy Keene (Chandler Dean), the only kid in town with both a Nintendo and a Power Glove. As Jake says, “You know how you meet some people and you have no idea that they have a lot of money? Yeah, Timmy Keane was the opposite of that.” Appropriately, the house selected by the production team to pose as his family residence absolutely screams “wealth,” with a glorious red sandstone façade, double chimneys, a balustraded balcony and a twin-gabled roofline. While only featured in two scenes, the stately pad makes an impression.
In real life, the estate is known as the Jeremiah Dinwoody House. Standing on a leafy block teeming with handsome abodes, the residence can be found at 51 Wells Hill Ave., just a couple of blocks away from Toronto’s famed and oft-filmed Casa Loma castle. The three-story structure was designed by local Toronto architect James Arthur Harvey in 1913 at a cost of $10,000 USD – about $310,000 today – for Reliance Shoe Co. president Jeremiah Dinwoody and his wife, Helen. According to VoiceMap, the couple had five children. As such, the dwelling was suitably built with six bedrooms and five baths in a spacious 6,516 square feet to comfortably accommodate the large brood. (Please remember this is a private home. Do not trespass or bother the residents or the property in any way.)
The abode was last listed for sale in 2004 for just under $2 million USD. Unfortunately, there are no MLS images of the place to be found online, but a The Globe and Mail article reports, “The interior is resplendent with oak. The ornate butterfly staircase dominates the centre hall, and there is Greek key and dentil moulding, oak panelling and leaded glass throughout.” If the property’s exterior is any indication, the inside is no doubt stunning.
As The Globe and Mail further details, the home’s third floor is made up of a two-bedroom apartment with its own entrance, while the lower level comprises a recreation room, a game room and a preparation kitchen.
Outside, the 0.35-acre lot features a detached three-car garage, a garden, a grassy expanse and a large deck.
It is unclear if the home’s actual interior was utilized in the film or if Timmy’s fabulous basement was a studio-built set. Regardless, the room is the stuff of childhood dreams, complete with the aforementioned Nintendo and Power Glove, as well as a 42-inch television set (which plays a significant role in the storyline), a rock fireplace, a billiards table, a shuffleboard table, a pinball machine, a movie-style popcorn maker, a soda machine, an intercom system to reach the home’s other occupants, a bar and “a snack drawer better stocked than most supermarkets in the greater Chicago area.” It would be the perfect spot to hole up with some cocoa and watch holiday classics throughout the season!