It may feel early, but a new film starring Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds is about to jump-start a season of holiday streaming.
“Spirited” is a musical modern take on “A Christmas Carol,” and it was shot entirely in Massachusetts from July through October 2021. The film follows the Ghost of Christmas Present (Ferrell) on his journey to reform the Scrooges of the world. In the film, he finds Clint Briggs (Reynolds), who ends up turning the tables on his ghostly host. This Dickens tale was directed by Sean Anders (”Daddy’s Home”), and written by Anders and John Morris, with original songs by Oscar winners Benji Pasek and Justin Paul (”La La Land”).
Ahead of the film’s Apple TV+ release on Friday, the Globe caught up with longtime Massachusetts-based location manager Mark Fitzgerald, who’s worked on countless classic Boston films including “Good Will Hunting,” “Mystic River,” and “The Departed.” Fitzgerald, an Emerson grad and Framingham native, helped the Globe pop the hood open on “Spirited,” scene-by-scene.
“The whole thing was shot within 30 miles of Boston,” Fitzgerald said. “There were three ginormous locations on the movie where most of the scenes were shot.”
The first big location was the Saunders Castle at Park Plaza on Columbus Avenue in Back Bay. This site’s high ceilings, giant windows, and brick and wrought-iron detail are featured throughout the film, and it’s where all the “spirits” socialize and plan their haunts. On the set, the cast and crew called it Ghost World.
“We needed a giant space with no columns,” Fitzgerald said of the Castle at Park Plaza. “Building Ghost World was a gigantic undertaking. . . . We shot there for three weeks.”
The second main location used throughout the film was the cobblestoned Marshall Street in downtown Boston, which was transformed into old-world London.
“I literally had to make 57 deals with owners and tenants and businesses,” Fitzgerald said of securing that location, adding that the Union Oyster House, the Green Dragon Tavern, and Bell in Hand Tavern were among the many businesses he had to get approval from. (The Green Dragon’s interior is also featured in a scene between Ferrell and Reynolds.)
To get the light just right on Marshall Street, they built “a rig on the rooftops of all these buildings that consisted of 3,000 pounds of metal to hold up a sheet to cover the street,” he said. “We have to control the light down there, which is quite a feat.”
The third major location used in the film was Devonshire Street in the Financial District, where Ferrell, Reynolds, and the whole ensemble sing and dance a large-scale musical number in the streets.
“Every night at 6 o’clock, we’d turn Devonshire Street into New York City,” Fitzgerald said, adding that they’d work through the night. “We were out there for six nights, making snow, singing and dancing, dancing on scaffolding. . . . The fact that we did what we did on a real city street? It’s amazing this was accomplished.”
Other corners of Massachusetts were also featured in the film. The closed Marian High School cafeteria in Framingham was used for a scene depicting a homeless shelter; a suburban home in Melrose was turned into Octavia Spencer’s house (the actress plays Reynolds’s assistant and Ferrell’s love interest); and a hilly Everett neighborhood appears in another scene when Reynolds revisits his childhood.
“The snow is all fake,” Fitzgerald said, explaining that production makes it from some mixture of potato and water. “It’s easy to make and easy to spread. Cleaning it up is a different story. There are probably still flakes kicking around Boston somewhere.”
Fitzgerald said the crew made deals with residents and storeowners to put up holiday lights and decorations in their windows.
“We say, ‘Here’s $500 to put a Christmas tree in your window,” Fitzgerald said. “It can turn into a block party. . . . We try to get everyone on board and make it a good time for neighbors.”
Other locations include the lobby at the Fairmont Copley Plaza, Mechanics Hall in Worcester, and the South Shore Plaza in Braintree.
“A lot of [the] time with this stuff, you [have] got to bat 1.000,” Fitzgerald said. “You can’t have one store in the middle that won’t play ball. It limits your director, and you don’t want to limit the director. That’s rule number one.”
All said, “Spirited” shot in Boston, Braintree, Devens, Everett, Framingham, Lynnfield, Melrose, Weymouth, and Worcester over the course of four months.
Fitzgerald, who’s wrapping up work on the Liam Neeson movie “Thug,” also filming in Boston, said the city makes his job easy: “They’re beyond helpful in every way. We go to them with these ideas, and they come back with a list of things to do to figure it out and make it work. . . . 2023 and beyond should just be getting bigger and bigger.”