Film industry

Ottawa neighborhoods in the spotlight of the film industry as a production destination

Candy Cane Candidate, starring Jacky Lai and Jake Epstein, was filmed in Ottawa. Recently, 11 Christmas movies, produced for Lifetime and Hallmark, were shot in the Ottawa area, up from three in 2018.Albert Camicioli / Document

For Hollywood producer Danielle von Zerneck, Ottawa’s Glebe neighborhood, south of downtown and not far from the Parliament Buildings, is sort of a Swiss film location.

The bustling district with its shops, restaurants and bars was one of the selling points for filming in the city, Ms von Zerneck said in an interview – describing areas of the Glebe as flexible enough to allow crews to rig the streets of New York. borough of Brooklyn.

“People say you can make it a Manhattan street. You can’t, but you can turn it into a decent Brooklyn street, maybe Greenwich Village, ”said Ms. von Zerneck, who has made three Christmas movies on Lifetime TV since 2018 in the Ottawa area – the more recently. Under the Christmas tree.

There’s a lot about Ottawa that the former actress – she played Ritchie Valens’ girlfriend Donna in the acclaimed 1987 film La Bamba – adore.

“If I have a scenario that’s set on the East Coast, I’d much rather do it in Ottawa, where I can get more money on screen with less stress,” she said. “It ticks a lot of boxes for me.”

Despite the buzz surrounding the shooting in Ottawa, Canada’s capital has so far been a modest player in the production of feature films, television films and animation compared to production centers in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

Shane Boucher, an Ottawa-based producer with 1Department Entertainment Services, which provides production services for film projects, said when his team left flyers in homes that could serve as sets for telefilms, he receives questioning calls from the public.

“There are people who think this is a scam,” said Mr. Boucher, whose company completed 12 TV movie projects in 2021 – a mix of thrillers, love stories and Christmas movies. . “They don’t believe it.”

Still, it looks like Ottawa is starting to make a name for itself as a movie destination. Spending on live production has increased from $ 14 million in 2018 to $ 41.4 million in 2021, according to statistics provided by the Ottawa Film Bureau. There are no equivalent figures for animation, although animation typically accounts for at least half of the more than $ 100 million in economic activity generated by the industry each year.

Mr Boucher said Ottawa’s flexibility is a selling point, noting that the city has replaced Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago and sections of Manhattan as well as parts of upstate New York. The downtown ByWard Market, which dates back to the early 19th century, has courtyards that can convey a European feel and areas that have mimicked New Orleans and Atlanta, Boucher said. Last year, Mr. Boucher’s team made a ski-focused film using three area hills to create what looked like a single resort.

“The real selling point for Ottawa is the amount of looks you can get in a very minimal driving time compared to a lot of other cities,” said Mr. Boucher.

For example, just 40 minutes from Ottawa is the ancient mill town of Almonte, first established in 1818. It is a popular place to make Christmas movies. “It looks so good. The storefronts are amazing, ”said von Zerneck, who likes the lack of chain stores. “Everything looks so beautiful.

Under the Christmas Tree, a Lifetime Holiday movie set in Ottawa.Albert Camicioli / Document

Parts of the 2002 Ben Affleck film The sum of All Fears were shot down in the “Diefenbunker” facility opened in 1961 as a shelter for civil servants in the event of nuclear war. Jennifer Lawrence from Hunger games the celebrity appeared in the horror film made in Ottawa in 2012 House at the end of the street. Long before he directed the Spider-Man movie trilogy which includes the current blockbuster Spider-Man: No Path Home, director Jon Watts made his first feature film, Clown, in Ottawa in 2014.

Most recently, 11 Christmas movies, produced for Lifetime and Hallmark, were filmed in the Ottawa area, up from three in 2018. The city is popular with the Oprah Winfrey Network, with four upcoming TV dramas scheduled. . Animation projects include Hilda for Netflix, and Trailer Park Boys: The Animated Series, and Curious George: Go West Go Wild. In industry circles, we hear about the production of a major feature film set to take place in Ottawa next year.

As a sign of expanding local industry, the Algonquin College of Applied Arts and Technology in Ottawa last year launched a film production program for the first time since the 1980s. Program coordinator Jeremy Atherton, says the effort – the only one of its kind in the city – is aimed at preparing graduates to enter the local film industry. Of 34 graduates from the renewed program, most found employment in the industry, he said.

Mr Atherton said the program responds to a public interest in such courses. “But the real engine was the industry. The local industry needs and continues to need trained employees to work in the growing film market, ”he said.

The 2022 story of the live-action side of the business revolves around the need for a soundstage complex. Industry leaders say Ottawa’s move to bigger leagues hinges on opening up a building with spaces that could house sets and the production of TV series or feature films. It could serve as the basis for a large series, which could bring sustained spending to the city. Right now, if a producer needs an office for a project, they have to find an office. A complex of sound stages could allow the construction of this set of offices and the round-the-clock production of a project.

Justin Cutler, Ontario Film Commissioner responsible for promoting the province as a production location, is optimistic about Ottawa, but says studio development will open up the possibility of larger projects for the city. “They really need this additional infrastructure. “

The Ottawa Film Bureau worked with a company called TriBro Studios on Ottawa’s first sound stage complex, focusing on land obtained from the National Capital Commission, the crown corporation responsible for managing the land. and over 1,600 properties, including Rideau Hall and the Prime Minister’s Residence. at 24 Sussex Dr. – in the Capital Region.

Bruce Harvey, a former entertainment lawyer and producer who serves as Ottawa’s film commissioner, is quiet about the details. “We’re working on it right now. It is coming. We plan to have shovels in the ground next year and have them running within the next year. He refused to elaborate.

“Once you have a soundstage, we’ll go from there exponentially,” he said. “I saw Vancouver before there was anything. In one lifetime, Vancouver went from nothing to what it is today.

Mr Boucher says the studio will attract projects such as series, with more to follow as momentum builds and another complex may develop.

When asked who is responsible for this shift, Mr. Boucher said it is up to the existing industry to take the lead and start facilitating the development of such projects. “I think it’s the responsibility of the industry here to move this forward.”

Ironically, Ms von Zerneck said her budgets would not allow access to such a studio. She declined to provide specific figures. However, she said such a project would be good for Ottawa – a city she hopes to return to as a producer. “It still feels like a place that hasn’t been drained of its charm.”