Ottawa

TV, film production keeps rolling despite pandemic

TV and movie production is booming in Ottawa despite the pandemic, and all the extra costs facing producers.

Voracious demand for streaming content keeping local industry busy

Booming Ottawa production industry attracting big shows, skilled crew

12 months ago
Duration 1:36
Shane Boucher, a local producer with 1Department Entertainment Service, says Ottawa has become a “hub” for made-for-TV films, leading to an increase in production and jobs for skilled crew members. 1:36

On a brisk winter day in Ottawa, a film crew sets up outside city hall to shoot a scene for an upcoming TV movie.

Everyone's wearing masks, and there's a medic on set to oversee the strict pandemic protocols ordered by the provincial government.

While COVID-19 has ground the real world to a virtual halt, it's created a boom for TV and movie producers who are straining to keep up with the voracious appetites of binge-watching consumers stuck at home.

From July to December was probably one of the busiest times we've had in Ottawa for filming.- Shane Boucher, 1Department Entertainment Services

"They're all demanding new product because their audiences are going through the existing product at a much faster rate than they would normally," said Bruce Harvey, film commissioner with the Ottawa Film Office.

Harvey said despite a four-month shutdown back in the spring, the local industry barely skipped a beat last year, nearing the $26 million in business seen in 2019.

"And we see nothing that's going to stop that growth curve," Harvey said.

Shane Boucher says his production company has been kept busier than ever despite the pandemic. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

'Really, really busy'

"I've actually been really, really busy during the pandemic period," local producer Shane Boucher confirmed. "From July to December was probably one of the busiest times we've had in Ottawa for filming."

Boucher works with 1Department Entertainment Services, a TV and film production company that oversees shoots throughout the Ottawa area. He said producers are rushing to make up for lost time since the spring shutdown.

"Production companies just kind of came out of the gate wanting to get as much done as they possibly could do," said Boucher, who added the fear of another shutdown has added to the pressure to churn out content. 

And, action! A film crew shoots a scene outside Ottawa city hall earlier this week. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Every production employs a wide variety of skilled workers, from actors to camera crews, set designers, hairdressers and caterers.

The rules set out by the Ministry of Labour require cast and crew be tested for COVID-19 several times a week. Each day, everyone on set must have their temperature checked and complete a questionnaire detailing their contacts.

"We're given a badge to show that we've checked in so everyone on crew can see that everyone else is actually going through the checking process," Boucher said.

On set, everyone is divided into groups, identified by colour-coded lanyards. Mingling between groups is discouraged.

"This shows the actors they're allowed to be near the red group, they're not allowed to be near the yellow group and so forth," Boucher explained.  

WATCH | Bruce Harvey says demand for TV shows and movies has increased during the pandemic:

Pandemic binge-watching leads to more film production in Ottawa

12 months ago
Duration 1:01
Bruce Harvey, film commissioner with the Ottawa Film Office, says demand for TV shows and movies has increased during the pandemic, giving the production industry in Ottawa a boost. 1:01

Harvey said it's the producers who are bearing the cost of all that safety, including hiring medical staff and providing personal protective equipment.

"It can add up to tens of thousands of dollars for a small production," he said. "It becomes something that you just have to build into your production if you're going to get it done."

Harvey said the single factor preventing Ottawa from becoming a major production centre is its lack of a sound stage. Construction on a new facility was halted during the pandemic.

"We're still expecting to get shovels in the ground this year," said Harvey.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sandra Abma

Journalist

Sandra Abma is a veteran CBC arts journalist. If you have an event or idea you want to share, please do at sandra.abma@cbc.ca.

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