When David Anselmo was in school in Sudbury, filmmaker was not on the list of options his guidance counsellor could give him.
Anselmo is now the president of production for Hideaway Pictures, Northern Ontario’s first film production company, and head of strategic development for Northern Ontario Film Studios (NOFS), the area’s largest film studio.
“Growing up in Sudbury, we never really had an opportunity to be filmmakers, in a professional sense of the word,” Anselmo told Sudbury.com. And so, he decided to change that.
His passion for making movies first led him to the audio-visual club at school, making movies on camcorders and as he grew, dedication to the art of film and television kept borders from stopping him.
“I was forced to go abroad to pursue a career and the options were to go to Los Angeles, Toronto or Vancouver,” he said. “But things led me overseas to Europe and South Korea, and that’s where I spent about seven years in the film industry.”
Honing his craft meant learning on set, and making vital connections. It also doesn't hurt that he was able to work on his acting chops, with a role in The Host, one of South Korea’s highest grossing films, directed by Oscar-award winning director, Bong Joon Ho.
“But I've always missed home,” he said.
When he felt he had learned what he could, and the pull to Northern Ontario grew great enough, he came back to his roots.
But here in Sudbury, not much had changed.
“I was here, wanting to be a filmmaker, wanting to make movies, and I realized that we had no services up here to be able to cater to a film company, and so by necessity, I kind of went into a different direction,” said Anselmo.
He needed to build the infrastructure before he could create movies.
In 2009, Anselmo had the idea for the NOFS. Three years later, in 2012, Hideaway Pictures and the NOFS opened their doors, taking over what was formerly known as the Max Silverman Arena (later renamed the Barrydowne Arena.)
NOFS features a 16,000 square foot main stage floor, on-and off-site production offices, a hair and makeup room, a prop shop, a craft kitchen, laundry facilities and 3,000 square feet of office space.
With the studio’s backing of more than 150 films and an expansion to North Bay with two facilities and a 60 acre backlot in 2016, Anselmo's companies have been responsible for an estimated $300 million in direct economic spending in the region.
However, it wasn’t easy to convince others that Northern Ontario could be a film and television hub.
“When you come up with something that's unique and different, you're met with resistance, or you're met with laughter,” said Anselmo. But his family and friends told him, “keep plugging away and keep working hard towards that ultimate goal that you want to achieve, and eventually, you'll breakthrough and start convincing people.”
So, that’s what he did.
Additionally, he credits three people who helped him get the studio off the ground: then-Mayor Marianne Matichuk, then-city councillor Fabio Belli, and Bob Bateman, past president of the Sudbury and District Chamber of Commerce, who Anselmo said assisted to make his vision for a film industry in Northern Ontario a reality.
While businesses and industries have plans in place for challenging times, not many of them considered the possibility of a global pandemic; Anselmo said the pandemic proved what an economic driver the Northern film industry could be.
“We were back up and running in five or six months, and making movies in northern Ontario and spending dollars in hotels, restaurants, catering and rental cars, when all other industries were still closed and at a halt,” he said.
In fact, Hideaway Pictures filmed three movies in 2020. “We were welcomed with open arms, we're always welcomed with open arms, but even more so,” said Anselmo. “Because hotels had 100 per cent vacancy rates and restaurants were closing, and we were able to give them the support they needed to get over the hump.”
He said that’s because the film industry put protocol into place almost immediately.
“We put a set of protocols together that made us, I believe, one of the safest industries during the pandemic,” he said. “Daily and weekly testing, mask mandates, sanitation mandates, we were able to navigate it and continue to work with just a slight delay.”
And all of them were created in Northern Ontario, with a largely northern crew.
“Our core team have all been from Northern Ontario, we didn't bring expertise from outside of the region, we developed talents at home,” said Anselmo. “That's one of our mandates, with the production company and with the film studio. We're creating long-lasting cinema, and the only way we create long-lasting cinema in the north is if we create long-lasting talent in the north.”
Anselmo said there is one commonality among those who do come from out of town: how much they love working in the Nickel City and the North.
“One of the things they take away from it is for the most part is how wonderful the community was and how wonderful the crew was to work with,” said Anselmo. “And that is our biggest asset.”
To support that asset, Anselmo continues to offer education to those northerners hoping to talk to their guidance counselors about film and television as a career.
He’s also created those careers.
The NOFS has created more than 2,000 full-time-equivalency jobs, meaning that while the positions are contracts, the hours equal full time employment.
But more than anything, Anslemo said, it’s being home, and making home a better place that brings him joy.
“At the end of the day, I'm just really happy that I get to live at home, be close to my friends and family and be able to do what I was always passionate about doing,” he said.
“What gets me out of bed in the morning is knowing that the 15-year-old or the 10-year-old who comes on our sets as a background performer, or is walking down the street and sees a production and gets inspired or is awestruck by the lights and the cameras, that maybe they will have an easier path at achieving something that they're passionate about.”
He said that while the numbers and economic development is important, for him, it’s the “cultural and spiritual impacts” that the industry brings. “When you have a big-named actor come into your city, how you feel about that, how proud you are to see your city on the silver screen —this is an impact that we don't talk about enough,” he said.
If you have interest in the film and television industry, just as Anselmo did, he hopes you’ll reach out for help.
“What I tell people is if you're very passionate about wanting to be a filmmaker, get in touch with us and get in touch with different organizations,” he said. “We'll lead you in the right direction to try to help you start a career in this industry.”
And with any luck, that career can be focused in the North.
For more information about the Northern Ontario Film Studios, visit their website, found here.'
Jenny Lamothe is a reporter with Sudbury.com.