Arts & Culture

Ottawa’s own Sesame Street segment proof the local film industry is thriving

When it comes to film in Ottawa, Christopher Redmond has done it all: writing, producing, directing. And he helped launch Dear Cast and Crew, a film-criticism site. Here, Redmond talks about the past, present, and future of Ottawa’s film industry — including the proposed sound stage — and his latest feat, producing a Sesame Street segment in Ottawa.

Why Ottawa
I moved to Ottawa from Saskatchewan for university. Other people working in film and television here, they were born and raised in Ottawa, but they leave — they go to L.A. and Toronto to gain experience. I didn’t really have the need to get out of town. I wanted to make Ottawa home: my wife was born and raised here, my kids as well. I’m settled, and I enjoy it. Staying in Ottawa felt less like a conscious choice and more like I kept making opportunities for myself because I wanted to be here.

Photos by Bridget Redmond

And Beyond
I launched a film school in Burundi. The whole purpose of that was to empower people to tell their own stories, and I was using my own money to do it. I figured, I’ll do it a little backwards. Most people make their money, get established, then want to give back later. Well, I had the opportunity to give back early. We had a travelling film festival that went around the country. We had some commercials we would play before the short films that we produced: the local cellphone company and the local beer company (which were the two companies with any money to spend for advertising). That was our one source of income, and we would invest it back into our productions.

Photo by Bridget Redmond

Local TV
I was hired to launch the Ottawa division of TV1 for Bell Media in March of 2015. I hired all the staff — cameramen, editors, producers — and then people would pitch me shows from across Ottawa: cooking, fashion, music, whatever. I launched 17 original shows, in both English and French. I still do a TV show for TV1 with the Ottawa Senators Foundation. The appeal was that people would come to us and we would package the whole show for them. All they needed was an interest and hopefully some connections.

Redmond, left, on set. Photo by Bridget Redmond

Ottawa’s Sesame Street
The first time I pitched to Sesame Street was about five years ago. My pitch went great — it was just a fun little rap song that I did. I didn’t get it, I didn’t have the right kind of experience yet. It was a very different pitch the second time, in 2018: it was public, in front of a lot of people. But I had shot a kids’ series by then; I knew what they were looking for.

Pitching “B is for Bus Driver” last year I got choked up. Way too emotional. I had this anecdote about my kid — how he had a hard time when he started school and how, when I introduced the idea of taking the bus, he started bawling. I thought it was cute. It was supposed to give me a personal connection, show why I was the right person to make the piece. But I got this big picture behind me of my little boy on my shoulders, and I just looked up at it and for some reason the emotion just overtook me. Thinking about how hard it really was for him, it just stopped me in my tracks. Eventually, I got to my pitch and it obviously didn’t hurt because I got it.

The Future
I’ve had my finger on the pulse of the local industry for the past 12 years. There have been anomaly years where there will be a big production in Ottawa but we’d have a real down year after. But it’s better now than it ever has been. Right now, the industry isn’t depending on a couple one-off productions — it feels like there’s sustained development. At one point last month, there were three Christmas movies being shot at the same time.

I am optimistic about the proposed sound stage. The real sign of success will be if more people decide to stay in Ottawa to make a career of it. There’s a lot of productions going on in Ottawa, and the teams are being spread thin. The film studio is bringing a face to an industry that has already existed here. I am rooting for the studio to do well — it will be that flag in the ground that will remind people that the industry is here to stay.