This week in the Future of Ottawa series, we’re taking a deep dive into Ottawa’s film industry—what it’s like now and where it’s headed. Read on for a guest post from Stephanie Davy on the future of the film industry, or read posts from Bruce White on indie cinemas, Emily Ramsay on indie filmmakers, or Tom McSorley on film festivals.
Stephanie Davy has worked at the Ottawa Film Office for the past 10 years where she’s held a variety of roles. She’s currently the Marketing & Communications Officer and has the dream job of promoting the city’s film and TV industry. An introvert at heart, Stephanie spends her spare time watching TV, practicing yoga, reading, and dreaming of travelling again.
Apt613: What is the current landscape of the film industry in Ottawa?
Stephanie Davy: Ottawa has a vibrant industry propelled by film-friendly locations, stable tax incentives, and experienced producers, crew, and talent. A lot of the content being made in Ottawa for broadcasters/streamers, especially on the feature-length film side, are “service productions,” which means producers provide services like hiring, filing tax incentives, and location scouting, but don’t own the IP. These types of projects can provide valuable training and networking opportunities for local crew, not to mention a steady paycheck while they create their own productions; there are several independent filmmakers in Ottawa who direct or otherwise work on Lifetime and Hallmark films, while also writing and creating their own original works.
The film industry is pretty tight-knit, not just in Ottawa but everywhere, and it can be difficult to get one’s foot in the door. In the past, there seems to have been a tendency to mainly hire people you knew and worked with before (or through word-of-mouth), but we’re happy to see that’s changing. We’re seeing more opportunities for people with different backgrounds to get their start, and with productions increasing, so too will those opportunities. It’s definitely an exciting time to explore careers in the local film industry.
In the past couple of years we’ve also been seeing more animated feature films being done here, like the Hilda series (animated by Mercury Filmworks), Curious George: Go West, Go Wild (Atomic Cartoons), and Lamya’s Poem (Pip Animation). Local animation studios create content for some of the world’s largest brands, like Netflix, Disney, Amazon Studios and NBC/Peacock. With the abundance of streaming services entering the market, there’s increased demand for live-action and animated content, and Ottawa’s creative workforce is there to meet that need.
If you care to make a prediction… where is the Ottawa film industry going in 2021?
Based on conversations we’ve had with local producers, we anticipate 2021 to be a very busy year for the local film and television industry. Local crews have been able to swiftly and safely adapt to the challenges of working during a pandemic–Ottawa was actually one of the first places where productions resumed after the shutdown! We anticipate Ottawa will continue attracting made-for-TV movies, as well as some relatively larger productions. We’re also laying the groundwork for the soundstage’s anticipated opening in 2022 (fingers crossed!) by promoting careers in the industry and working with the post-secondary institutions to ensure their graduates are ready.
Where in your wildest dreams could the Ottawa film industry go in your lifetime?
Ottawa is home to so much undiscovered talent, both in front of and behind the camera, who are creating their own IP. I’d love to see more local and Canadian stories being told, shown, and exported around the world, and these projects receiving the recognition, support, and funding needed to succeed. Many of us know that Ottawa isn’t just a bureaucratic, government town—there’s also a vibrant community of creatives making art, whether it’s film, music, theatre, dance, or anything else—and it’s time the world knows it too. Having more official co-productions made here would also help show a different side of our city, especially if they’re set in Ottawa. As a G7 capital with 128 embassies and consulates, a multicultural population, and some of the best filming locations in the world (I might be biased), Ottawa is poised to capitalize on Canada’s 60 co-production treaties.
What is the best innovation to take place in the film industry since the pandemic started affecting Ottawa?
Although it’s been used since before the pandemic, a recent innovation we’ve seen and are excited about is the use of massive LED walls to create 3D digital environments—half of Disney’s “The Mandalorian” was shot using this technology. The Ottawa Film Office has been in talks with its partner TriBro Studios to see how we can incorporate this type of technology at the upcoming soundstage campus, and how best to configure the space.
Another recent trend we’ve seen, especially in the past year, is the creation of animated specials for live-action TV series. The shutdown last year forced the live-action industry to stop production for nearly four months, while the animation sector was able to quickly adapt to remote work. Popular sitcoms like Black-ish and One Day at a Time decided to produce special animated episodes during that time, with local studio Big Jump Entertainment providing the animation (they also did the animation for Trailer Park Boys: The Animated Series).
Who is the future of the film industry in Ottawa?
I think (and hope) that the future of Ottawa’s film industry will involve more diverse storytellers and talent. The tragic world events and activism that followed have compelled our country’s funders and media leaders to re-evaluate their programs, launching new initiatives or enhanced support for Black, Indigenous and people of colour filmmakers. With the inaugural Ottawa Black Film Festival launching March 25–28, and the Fabienne Colas Foundation’s Being Black in Canada mentorship program expanding to Ottawa, I’m hopeful that new, underrepresented voices will soon join our established production community.
Tell us something you wish somebody told you when you started your career in the film industry?
There’s a misconception that the film industry is glamorous, thanks in large part to major red carpet events and the media’s obsession with celebrities. The reality is that it’s very hard work and long days—we’re talking 12 to 16 hour days—with very little recognition. And for aspiring actors hoping to become rich and famous, I’m sorry to say the odds aren’t in your favour: the average income for actors working in Canada is $18,500.
But of course there are local success stories, like Sandra Oh, Annie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd and many others. If people are serious about pursuing their craft, whether it’s in front of or behind the camera, they must be willing to start somewhere and work hard, be tenacious, and constantly prove their value.
“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”
Back in 2015, Apartment613 took a look at the future of Ottawa across several different sectors. In 2021, we’re bringing the series back, asking experts, artists, and community leaders to shed some light on their local field or industry, as it stands now and where they think—or dream—it will go over the next few years. Every week we’ll profile a different cultural sector in Ottawa, leaving no niche unexplored—from social justice to theatre, bars to sports, to the future of the municipality and its natural environs. Keep an eye out for a new batch of posts every Tuesday on Apt613.ca.