While it never saw a full shutdown during the SAG-AFTRA strike, Ottawa’s film industry was not immune.
But, now that Hollywood is back to work, the local film production scene is ramping up again following the end of the labour action.
The local industry expects several productions to resume over the coming months, said Lisa Meuser, a director and talent agent at THE MEUS talent agency, which represents actors in Ottawa, Vancouver and Toronto.
This year, 32 films have been shot in the capital with more in production, the Ottawa Film Office says. Ottawa is often used as a location for Christmas movies, with its blend of natural and rustic settings.
Some Christmas films shot in Ottawa did continue during the Hollywood actor and screen-writers’ strikes. Writers walked out in May and the actors followed in July.
Meuser said Ottawa is fortunate to have hosted the production of many Lifetime Network movies, mainly Christmas features, that were still in production during the strike. Other actors did see their projects on hold and Meuser expected them to slowly start resuming production.
“All the series [and films] are slowly starting to come back,” Meuser said.
At 1Department Entertainment Services, Caitlin Delaney said the company was forced pivot to production planning but, she said, they were only down for seven weeks. The company mostly produces feature films for Hallmark, Lifetime, and Tubi.
Delaney said the company came up with a plan to hire mostly Canadian actors and writers, plus some from Australia and the United Kingdom.
Hallmark films often in Ottawa but a lot of the stars are American, Delaney said. This caused trouble for some projects that were supposed to be filmed over the last few months.
“Everybody had to rethink what the year was going to look like,” she said.
Some films have been produced at local pubs and bars while others have filmed in staple Ottawa landmarks, such as the Fairmont Château Laurier or the Saint Patrick Basilica, capturing the city’s architectural depth.
This Ottawa Film Office map shows the Ottawa filming locations of this year so far.
Meanwhile, the municipal government also plans to provide some funding to the local industry. The 2024 proposed City of Ottawa budget allocates $50,000 to the Ottawa Film Office, a non-profit that looks to “promote and attract” live-action and animation films in the capital. Last year the city did not provide money to the industry. The city’s 2024 draft budget said the funding would “support enhanced production attraction, destination marketing and industry development initiatives such as new soundstage development.”
Delaney said more funding is always helpful for the industry, but the city also benefits. “All of those dollars will be multiplied exponentially” she said. The people who work on a movie spend the money in the city, which also benefits from other fees ranging from parking to encroachment fees.
As productions slowly resume, there is concern that some American productions may favour American actors and talent over local ones. “I just hope they continue to hire local actors,” said Meuser.
Meuser and Delaney are both eager for an eventful 2024. “We have some really big things that hopefully we’ll be able to announce by the end of the year” said Delaney.