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On set with NNDSB students for a special film initiative

I got a chance to talk to some of the stand-ins and they’ve been really helpful. Any experience is a great experience,

Quiet on the set! Camera rolling!

The Near North District School Board (NNDSB) and Northern Ontario Film Studios have joined forces to give students interested in pursuing a career in the film industry a unique behind-the-scenes opportunity to learn firsthand the intricacies of film production.

Through the initiative, students will be provided on-the-job training and opportunities as part of this long-term deal.

Making the announcement on Main Street in Powassan Saturday afternoon, during a break in filming the area’s newest movie “The Christmas Farm,” David Anselmo, President of Production, Hideaway Pictures, spoke to the media about the initiative.

He pointed to three key factors which are needed to build and make the film industry sustainable here.

One is infrastructure, the second is the equipment used to actually make the film; such as cameras, lighting, and grip equipment.

But Anselmo stated the third and possibly the most important part of the industry is “creating the local talent to be able to stay here and work our the industry.”

There is a need for trained industry workers.

“Ontario, with its growing film industry, is going to have a shortfall of about 12-thousand workers in the next five to 10 years if not sooner. And northern Ontario is still also facing that crunch,” explained Anselmo.

“So today, we’re proud to announce that the Northern Ontario Film Studios, its sister company Hideaway Pictures is partnering with the Near North District School Board to start on the job training for our youth so that we can keep our youth in this ever creative and cool industry that is growing here.”

Anselmo went on to explain that “Ten years ago when I decided to move back to northern Ontario, we formed the Northern Ontario Film Studios with the mandate of creating long-lasting cinema in the north.  Long-lasting cinema is mostly about making northern Ontario a cost-effective region to shoot movies and to bring exciting new projects to northern Ontario,” Anselmo went on to explain that the key to this is making the industry and the region cost-effective. And that starts with training.  

Anselmo explained that the key, which is the most important part of the industry, is creating local talent to be able to stay in the north and work in the industry.

“Five years ago we opened the Northern Ontario Film Studios here in North Bay and over the course of the last five years, we’ve filmed over 25 movies with our sister company Hideaway Pictures and created over $100 million of economic development to the region,” stated Anselmo.

Joining Anselmo for the announcement was Jay Aspin, Chair of the Near North District School Board, who said he wants the school board to be a solid partner in this initiative.

“Thank you for the partnership. I know we can  grow this together and we’ll be there for you.”

Aspin pointed out the NNDSB has 34 schools and over 10-thousand students.   

“I approached David in October of last year and he took me out to Powassan. I was amazed at what was going on, I had no idea. And I thought this would be a great partnership,” said Aspin.

“He needs people and we have the people that are interested in film careers and we also have people who may not be interested, but that will become interested because of this exposure. So, this is what I would call a great synergy. I can see this partnership growing. I can see it developing. We want this relationship to be strong and continue and benefit our students and benefit your endeavour, your industry.”

Vic Fedeli attended as a “Friend of Film,” highlighting that film production is a $2.8 billion industry in Ontario.

“And our intention is to see this grow to a $5 billion industry in the province of Ontario, that is how critical it is, ” stated Fedeli who went on to provide local statistics showing the impact even one movie production can have on the region, using The Christmas Farm currently being shot in Powassan as an example.  

“Two important facts today. Number one, there are 70 men and women who are working here today, and number two, there are 400 extras on this site. That is 400 Powassan and North Bay area families who are taking home a paycheque from this film. That’s how important it is” said Fedeli.

In attendance at the announcement were two high school students whose love of acting in local theatre as children, has sparked a passion to learn more, which is why they signed up for this pilot project, to learn about the industry while earning credits.

Seventeen-year-old Emma Gauthier-LeBlanc attends Chippewa Secondary School in North Bay.

“Right now I am working with Billy and Brandon, they are the second and fourth AD (assistant director) for the movie and they’ve been showing me what they do in a day. It’s been really great and really fun,” said Gauthier-LeBlanc who has learned some of the industry lingo and how to conduct herself while on the set.

“Always know the terminology because you don’t want to be the one interrupting the filming, stay out of the way until you’re needed, and lend a helping hand whenever possible.”

Her ultimate goal is to get into acting.

“I got a chance to talk to some of the stand-ins and they’ve been really helpful. Any experience is a great experience,” shared Gauthier-LeBlanc.

“I was always really interested in getting into the industry but there wasn’t much of an opportunity, so when this came along of course we took it right away,” said Gauthier-LeBlanc.

The “we” she is referring to is her twin sister Isabelle who also signed up for the program. They both started about one week ago.

“When we had the opportunity to do a co-op we asked ‘This is the industry we’re interested in, is there any way we could be involved? And we got this placement later on in the year. It sprung from there,” explained Isabelle.

“I’ve been on set and my favourite part I think has been being able to watch the monitor and see the actors actually perform the scenes.  And it is amazing seeing what they know when they mess up or have to redo it. It is just an amazing process to see.”

Even in her short time on set, the grade 12 student is developing a critical eye when it comes to movie watching.

“I think there will be a few more things I will be looking out for definitely,” she giggled.

Tyler Hewitt, Stage Business Agent for IATSE Local 634 and key grip on the set of The Christmas Farm says his hope is to continue this investment into education and training and “hopefully build a better career down the road for a lot of people in the north.”

Ideally, it would mean seeing students make the shift from high school into college to further their industry education or from high school on to set.  

“It is an incredible opportunity. Moving forward we’re hoping to get as many kids and as many college students on set and on the job training as we can within the unions. It’s benefits, it’s pension plans, it’s training. We have all these opportunities and we’re really short staffed in certain departments, so we’re looking for people in costumes, in fashion. If you have any kind of affinity towards that we would love to have you along,” said Hewitt.

“It is just starting off and getting people trained and with professionals. When I first started in the industry we had probably 15 or 20 per cent of the people in the industry who were from the north, and we’re up to about 90 per cent of the people now who are from the north and we’re continuing to build.”  

David Anselmo sees limitless opportunities.

“Our mandate of creating long-lasting cinema in the north starts with being able to give opportunities to these young people who are just starting out their career path and hopefully persuading them to make a career path in this crazy and exciting industry that we have,”Anselmo stated.

“So it starts off with creating opportunity for our youth and keeping that in  gear and this initiative we’re doing with Near North District School Board I am very proud of, because of the fact it is going to take care of those mandates we set out 10 years ago to accomplish.”

Liana Blaskievich corporate affairs officer for the NNDSB calls it a great opportunity for students to get hands-on experience while gaining insight into a possible career path.

“We’re really excited about it because it is a partnership whereby our students CO-OP, OYAP students,(Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program) our Specialist High Skills Major students will have opportunities to work with Northern Film Studios to learn a trade, to explore a trade before they determine whether they want that trade,” said Blaskievich.

“But what is really exciting is it is a burgeoning industry in North Bay, and we are excited to be a part of it.”