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An Interview With Tyler Schwartz, Director of Road Trip for Ralphie

Road Trip for Ralphie

I love finding movie locations, so I was really excited to watch the film Road Trip for Ralphie. Tyler and Jordie Schwartz put together Road Trip for Ralphie as they searched out all of the locations from A Christmas Story. I got a chance to talk to Tyler Schwartz about the film, finding the locations, and our mutual love of A Christmas Story.

You can also win a copy of the film! More information at the end of the interview!

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What inspired you and Jordie to search for all of the locations from the film?

Our inspiration initially came from tracking the progress of the renovation of “Ralphie’s House” in Cleveland … how it was transformed from an ordinary suburban home into a full-fledged tourist attraction.  They’d send out progress updates every month or so, and I just thought it was the greatest thing.  We knew that most of the movie was shot near where we live in St. Catharines and Toronto, Ontario, so  we got the idea of trying to track all those locations down.  It didn’t start out to be a documentary … we just happened to bring our video camera along with us to the first few places we went to.  Somewhere along the way we thought … hey, this could be a fan film!

You found a lot of locations that haven’t been discovered before. What was the hardest location to find?

For us, the hardest location to find – hands down – was the Chop Suey Palace where the family goes to eat Christmas dinner.  No one we spoke with could remember where it was.  We even contacted the movie’s Location Manager who scouted the place originally and he just couldn’t recall where it was.  I was convinced that they must have just used an existing Chinese restaurant inToronto, so we scoured the 1983 phone books looking for the addresses of all the Chinese restaurants … then we drove around comparing the storefronts to the one in the movie.  That didn’t work.  Finally, the Toronto film commission responded to our request to pull the original filming permits.  That was an exciting day!  We found out excactly where all the locations were (although we’d found most of them already by that point) and the exact shooting dates for each location.  By the way, it turns out they didn’t use an existing Chinese restaurant at all.  It was just an empty storefront they dressed up to look like one.

How did you find a lot of the locations and props? Did you have any help from the cast or filmmakers?

We reached out to a few of the cast members and people who worked behind the scenes on the film, but it is amazing how 25 years can blur one’s memory!  Even the people who were on-set were mistakenly feeding us mis-information.  Everyone pointed to a different school where they were sure it had been filmed.  Even today, there’s mistaken information on the internet (wikipedia, imdb, etc) about where the school scenes were filmed.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise … there was only one school used in the movie, and that was Victoria Public School in St. Catharines, Ontario.

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I was amazed that you found a lot of the costumes in a Toronto warehouse. Is there anything (locations, costumes, props) that hasn’t been found?

Sure!  And we are still on the lookout for them.  Number one in our minds is the flagpole to which Flick got his tongue stuck.  It was erected just for the movie as a prop, but we’re told it was taken home by the family of a kid who attended that school.  But the trail has gone cold.  So we’re still on the lookout for that … hoping it’s standing in someone’s yard right now, just waiting to be found.  Next are the original leg lamps.  We’re told that three were made for the movie, and all were broken during filming… but I’m not sure I’m ready to believe that.  You can tell from the movie that two were certainly broken (they are broken differently in different shots) but I can’t help but wonder if the third survives somewhere. I heard once that writer/narrator Jean Sheppherd took one home.

Did the warehouse that held the costumes know what they had?

It is still a working costume rental company … working mostly with the film industry in Toronto.  The lady who runs the company was the wardrobe mistress on A Christmas Story, so she certainly knew she had all the costumes in her inventory, but she didn’t really have an appreciation for their importance or value.  In fact, she was still renting them out to other movies.  When we showed up there, she thought we were some wacko fans who were crazy to care about some 25-year-old costumes.  We tried to convince her that they were gems worth preserving and displaying to the public.  More than a year after our first visit, Brian Jones, owner of Ralphie’s House in Cleveland flew in and acquired them from her.  Now they are where they should be … on public display!

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A lot of the costumes were shown from the film. I didn’t however see Aunt Clara’s gift. Did you find the Pink Bunny Costume? Do you know if it still exists?

Peter Billingsley has said that he was given the Pink Nightmare pajamas by the producers and he still has them … in his mother’s attic!

The most interesting location that you found was the Chop Suey restaurant. The owner didn’t know that the restaurant was in the film. Do you know if he now uses it to promote the restaurant? How was the food?

Ha ha!  No the owner didn’t know the restaurant had been used in the filming, nor had he ever seen the film!  He is a classicly trained chef from France and, while he was amused when we told him about his building’s heritage, I don’t think he’s done much to capitalize on it.  We gave him the Department 56 reproduction of the Chop Suey Palace, so I believe he has that on display near the door, and that he tells his customers about it if they inquire.  But he has quite an upscale French restaurant there, and the food is really very good if you enjoy fine French dining.

How long did it take you to put the film together?

We both have day jobs, so it really took us quite a while to film and edit the DVD.  At least two years, maybe a bit longer from start to finish.

What for you is the “holy grail” of A Christmas Story props?

As I mentioned earlier, it would have to be the original leg lamp.  Either that or the pink bunny costume … I’d love to sneak into Peter Billingsley’s mom’s attic to find that thing!

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What does A Christmas Story mean to you?

I think the reason A Christmas Story resonates so much with me, is the reason it strikes a chord in most people … it triggers memories of being a kid and wanting something so bad you can taste it!  When you’re a kid, you can’t just go out and buy something you want.  You have to convince an adult to get it for you. For Ralphie, his only recourse was to ask Santa … and I think that’s something everyone can identify with.  We sort of long for that innocense again.

What is your favorite scene from the film?

It has to be the scene where he does to see Santa and gets kicked down the slide.  Makes me laugh every time!

Was there any toy that you wanted for Christmas that you hinted that you wanted?

It was the GI Joe headquarters playset.  I wanted that one so bad becuase a kid down the street had it.  Luckily, I got it for Christmas … from Santa!

So what’s next? Are you working on a new film?

Well, no, we aren’t working on a film right now.  After I finished making this video, I started a little business selling leg lamps and other items from A Christmas Story online in Canada.  We have partnered with the folks who run A Christmas Story House in Cleveland, and we are the Canadian arm of their company.

But, this past summer, we got married and honeymooned in Greece on the same islands where Mama Mia was filmed.  I tried to convince my wife to let me film a similar documentary while we were there (about the locations used in the movie).  But she put her foot down and insisted we just enjoy our honeymoon!  We did get some cool photos of all the locations and I might just write an e-book about it.  It was a pretty incredible place!

For more information or to order a copy of Road Trip for Ralphie at www.roadtripforralphie.com

We have a copy of Road Trip for Ralphie to give away. Click here for more information!


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