How a Mental Institution Played a Part In Filming ‘ELF’

Many of the scenes in ELF brilliantly shows the magic of Christmas in New York City. Many of the exterior shots were filmed with Will Ferrell journeying through Manhattan. But the filmmakers tapped into their creative side in order to film the interior shots, many of which were filmed in a mental institution. 

Will Ferrell in 'elf'
Will Ferrell | Moviestore/Shutterstock

Parts of ‘ELF’ were filmed in a mental institution

Filming the interiors for the film proved to be a challenge. The interiors were shot in Canada to save money. Interestingly, they shot much of the interior at an old building that was once used as a mental institution. 

The creators of the film explained how they used the building to their advantage in the Netflix special The Holiday Movies That Made Us. Despite the building’s dark and gloomy interior, it turned out to be a versatile location.

Source: YouTube

Related: ‘Elf’ Star Will Ferrell Secretly Filmed These Classic Scenes with Real New Yorkers

“We had to repurpose this mental institution and it worked great for the police station [scenes of the film],” explains the set designer Rusty Smith. “It’s one of the creepiest places I’ve ever been in my life.”

Other scenes shot in the mental institution include the orphanage where Buddy lived as a baby, Greenway Press where Buddy’s father works, and the Hobbs apartment where Buddy would eventually live temporarily with his father’s family.

‘ELF’ is one of the highest-grossing Christmas films and one of the most popular 

The filmmakers for ELF were creative when having to come up with locations to shoot and for good reason. New Line Cinema gave the creators a budget of over $30 million to create the film, which included payments for filming on location.

Aside from use of the mental institution, there are also live shots on location in New York City to capture the essence of New York during Christmas time.

To save money within the budget, shots were filmed on the fly. The scenes of Buddy walking around New York and interacting with street salesman were real. None of the people in such scenes, except for Buddy, were cast members.  

Source: YouTube

Related: ‘Elf’ Star Will Ferrell Once Shared What Christmas Was Like for Him as a Kid

The filmmakers were given free rein during the filming process, most likely under the assumption that the film would probably flop. The studio however was wrong about the success of ELF. The film was released in November 2003, grossing $175 million in the US and Canada, and another $47 million internationally. In totality, ELF grossed $222 million worldwide.

Critics and fans rave over ELF. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an audience score of 79% positive ratings, and 84% of critics rate the film positively also. 

The film’s cast also raves about the experience, including Faizon Love who refers to the film as one of his most cherished in his career because of the fans’ love. Love also speaks highly of the director, telling Vlad TV in a recent interview, “The [success of the film] was because of Jon Favreau. He wrote Couples Retreat for me too,” Love also added, “The guy who produced ELF stars as the kid in The Christmas Story…that was my crew.”