Producer returns with big projects for Northern Ontario

Rob Heydon is looking at building a 100 million dollar animation production centre in Northern Ontario

A six part television series will film in Sault Ste. Marie and the film maker is no stranger to the Sault or Northern Ontario. In fact, Rob Hayden who shot two big budget motion pictures . namely, Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy and The Journey Home  is returning to Northern Ontario with a new tv series, The Last Rituals and also looking at establishing a $100 million in animation projects  in Northern Ontario. had a chance to discuss his plans and what attracts the producer to the area.

Rob, you’re coming back to Northern Ontario to film your next project, tell us about the project set to film in early 2018.

Previously, we shot Irvine Welsh’s ECSTASY and THE JOURNEY HOME in Sault Ste. Marie. We love shooting in Northern Ontario and have a few projects returning to Northern Ontario soon.

First, the six-part Nordic Noir Series Last Rituals based on the Icelandic ‘Thora’ mysteries. The show is based on a series of dark crime novels by Icelandic author Yrsa Sigurdardottir.

The story follows Thora Gudmundsdottir, a single mother and lawyer in Reykjavik who moonlights as a detective.

The Canada-Iceland co-production based on Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s first book in the series, 2005 global hit Last Rituals.

This will be a book adaptation set in Iceland in English language Nordic Noir. There’s not been a female-driven, worldwide hit Scandinavian crime story in some time. We think this material is quite unique. It’s a procedural with a much more humanistic element.

My partner, Joni Sighvatsson, the Icelandic native produced this year’s Icelandic smash I Remember You, another Sigurdardottir adaptation that ranks as the fourth highest local release of all time and sold 50,000 tickets in a country of 330,000. Mr. Sighvatsson served as executive producer on current US release Wind River, and his many producer credits include Killer Elite and K-19: The Widowmaker.

Also, we are currently casting two other feature films The Kind Worth Killing and Broken Halo.

Last Rituals is a six-part series, how different is that from filming a single full length motion picture? as in budget, timeline of filming. 

Instead of producing a 90 to 100-minute film, we are filming 6 episodes of 44 minutes. The production will take longer to film and have a higher production budget than the average 90-minute feature. However, that also means that we can hire Northern Ontario based crew for longer and train more locals in all the various production departments. Also, we will be spending much more money locally on equipment, rentals, offices, purchases, catering, hotels and meals.

My partner Joni Sighvatsson has only produced 2 TV series but they were Beverly Hills 90210 and Twin Peaks. Both shows were hugely successful global brands. Also Mr. Sigvatsson has produced over 70 feature films.

What attracts you to Sault Ste. Marie and Northern Ontario to film?

The crews are fantastic to work with, the local people still enjoy seeing filming happen in their communities and the locals are amazing. Most importantly is the financing support, most of the films and tv series shooting in Northern Ontario could not happen without the support from the local people, the politicians, community leaders and the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund. These funds provide essential investments to attract projects to come to the north, create jobs for Northern Ontario residents, provide Northern Ontario businesses with additional revenues and create a lasting and sustainable film and television industry.

As a film maker what challenges do you face shooting in Canada? Is it the chase for dollars?

I think all filmmakers around the world face similar challenges with financing. In the US it is solely based on commercial projects for the commercial marketplace. In Canada there is a little bit of freedom to make films for the cultural reasons. However, we are trying to find the best stories to tell for a global audience and partner with the top writers, producers and directors from around the world. Our partners come to Canada and Northern Ontario and see the financial benefits and great locations available from shooting in Northern Ontario.

The other major challenge for filmmakers is finding marketable cast for feature films. There are so few names that mean anything to foreign markets and so many projects on the go. Especially now with Netflix, Hulu and Amazon all making original content. The top actors are always busy and that is a challenge for film producers.

Sault Ste. Marie has attracted many productions over the years but there seems to be more focus on Sudbury and North Bay for film and tv series productions. What can the Sault do, in your opinion, to change that?

In North Bay we have worked with the Community Development Program financed by FedNor to produce shows in that region. They can offer up to $150,000 as a loan. Perhaps the local Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development office and Community development office could consider that as well. A loan of $150,000 goes a long way to help pay for travel for actors and some key crew coming from Toronto. Hotels and meals are additional expenses for out of town crew. These are monies all that are spent locally and drives the local economy.

When we filmed Ecstasy in 2010 our production budget was $4.5 Million, however a couple years later we returned with The Journey Home, which had a production budget of $18 Million. So, attracting producers to the region for smaller projects can pay off huge when producers like myself return to the community and have much larger production budgets to work with.

You’re also working on establishing an animation production centre in the north. This would have a huge economic impact on the area. What’s the progress so far in this endeavor?

With this animated show we are looking to hire 60-90 people for 18-24 months. So it is a huge commitment to open a facility, build the pipeline with all the computer and software and a great deal of work to bring some people to Northern Ontario and hire as many locals as we can. We have many animated feature films in development as well, so we look forward to keeping the people busy for years to come.

The animation project is called FOX AND HARE. It is a pre-school animated show with 52 episodes running 11 minutes each. This is a co-production between Canada-Netherlands and Belgium. We are dedicated to working on this cutting-edge show in Northern Ontario. We are looking to our partners to open an animation studio in Northern Ontario and train some of the recent graduates of the animation and computer science departments as we will need to build a new pipeline for this workflow. The budget will be over $15 Million dollars.

The progress is amazing, we have all the financing in place in Europe. Our Canadian broadcaster is TFO, which triggers additional funding from the Canadian Media Fund. We just need the commitment from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund to make this happen and the show will come to Northern Ontario.

And the economic impact is huge. We will have numerous people moving from other cities needing housing, cars, places to eat and other items to purchase. And government studies have found that $1 invested into the entertainment industry brings $8 to $10 in economic spin off from that. However, with this animation production company, we need to create a whole post production facility to do all the editing, design, animation, visual effects and picture post production in house. These people will be working for up to 2 years on one project and we would be looking to continue that work with season 2 of the series and bring other animated feature films to the company to produce. It would be an amazing opportunity for any of the city centres in Northern Ontario as the company will continue to grow and hire more staff and expand the facilities. We are also looking to partner with a university or college offering computer technology, animation, design and programming as we could help to train students, offer on the job training, interns, summer placements, etc. Also, the natural spin off from this facility would be also to produce Mobile Games, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. My brother Paul Heydon is one of the partners at London Venture Partners and they have successfully financed dozens of software and gaming companies including Unity which drives most of the mobile games in the world and a Finnish gaming company called Supercell behind the successful games including Clash of the Clan, Boom Beach, Hey Day and Clash Royale all of which have been hits on iTunes and the Google Play store for years. These companies are now worth Billions.  So, there is huge potential for animation and gaming companies to grow in the global market.

What will be the deciding factor for you to pick a location for the animation production centre?

Again, there are many factors. What does the local community offer for incentives, but also what does the city have for the crew who are looking to move there for a year or two and perhaps full time after the completion of Fox & Hare to work on other animation shows. When we are attracting the best talent, we are selling them on living in Northern Ontario and have a great standard of living that is very different from the crowded cities with violence and traffic in Southern Ontario such as Toronto.

When can people expect to see Last Rituals and where?

Last Rituals will premiere in late 2018 on CHCH in Canada and probably on iTunes or Netflix thereafter.

There may be a US Broadcaster announced later and people living near the border would be able to watch on the US or Canadian broadcaster or stream the show online.


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