Every month, CION aims to profile a producer who has shot in Northern Ontario. We get their input about the state of the industry and the Northern amenities, services and locations they took advantage of for their films.
Andrew Barnsley is a success story in Canadian film and television. As Executive Producer, he is an Emmy and Golden Globe winner, and a six-time Canadian Screen Award winner.
This year, Barnsley also became the President of the Toronto Film School. Recently, the school partnered with North Bay’s Canadore College. The goal is to get film students field-ready, as COVID protocols relax and productions prepare to start shooting with even more frequency in the north.
Meeting labour demand with a skilled workforce
“The demand for content is increasing more and more,” says Barnsley. He’s currently on location in Newfoundland, where he’s working on Son of a Critch, the new CBC comedy based on comedian Mark Critch’s memoir. “The amount of production happening is increasing, too. What’s fascinating, looking across the country, is the labour demand. When I put on my producer-hat I’m like, ‘OK, there’s a problem, how do we solve it? Then I put on my Toronto Film School-hat and I’m like, ‘We have the solution.’ We’re making sure we’re training everybody so they’re set-ready and ready for the job market.”
Barnsley’s path has been a remarkable one. Born in Lethbridge, Barnsley and his family moved to Halifax when he was a child. To make it through this upheaval, he often turned to one of his mainstays: comedy. “It was movies, it was tv shows, it was Mad Magazine,” he recalls. “That stuff really spoke to me. When we moved to Halifax it was hard to make friends and it was a tough transition, but it crystalized my relationship with comedy. Comedy was something I could rely on.”
Barnsley describes himself as “obsessed” with sketch comedy and stand-up, devouring programs such as Kids in the Hall and Codco. He was also an involved student, with an entrepreneurial spirit. When he was accepted to Mount Allison University in Sackville, NB, he attended, but the courses simply didn’t speak to him.
When Barnsley learned that Ryerson offered a radio and television program, he knew he had to find a way to get there. The program’s admission standards were high, so he decided to build a portfolio and get experience taking film studies at Carleton and, hopefully, volunteering at the local Rogers cable station.
His first opportunity came from an unexpected place—the Parliament of Canada, where Barnsley worked as a page. He decided to see if the new Member of Andy Scott, Parliament from his family’s town of Fredericton, would spare him time for a conversation.
“He was cool, so we went out for lunch,” Barnsley recalls. “He was like ‘Andrew, what is it you want to do?’ I was 20 years old and I said I wanted to be a television producer—not really knowing what that meant.”
As it turned out, Scott was about to embark on his own Parliamentary update show for cable television. “If you want to produce it and host it, it’s yours,” the MP told him, and from that moment forward, Barnsley has been headed towards his current career. Which begs the question, what exactly is an Executive Producer?
“It can mean different things to different people,” he explains, “and every producer has a different job description.” To be a successful producer, you need to have strong relationships on all sides of the creative project. “On the creative side, there’s the writers, directors, show creators, actors, stars, that stuff,” Barnsley says. “On the business side, there’s the buyers, broadcasters, studios, distributors, agents, lawyers, accountants, banks. I kind of sit in the middle.”
Facilitating connections and creativity
Though his task is to facilitate the creation of a project on both the creative and business sides—from start to final product—his favourite part of the job is fostering exciting new ideas. “I love finding something that’s like a spark and saying okay, there’s potential here, we can turn it into something. We have a sense of what buyers are buying, we have a sense of what audiences are consuming, this is something we can get behind.”
Barnsley eventually did make it to Ryerson for Radio and Television Arts, following up with a Masters degree in Communications and Culture at Ryerson and York University. His career as an independent producer grew steadily but truly took off after he produced the CTV sitcom Spun Out starring Dave Foley.
“It was hard to get that show going, but it got the ball rolling on all the interesting things that are happening now,” Barnsley says. “Interesting” is an understatement. Barnsley has worked on projects such as Jann (starring Jann Arden), his current show, Son of a Critch, and of course, the well-known, much-beloved Emmy-winner, Schitt’s Creek.
Schitt’s Creek’s introduction to Netflix, around season four, propelled the show skyward and changed the conversation internationally. Yet those involved with the show knew they were on to something long before that happened. In that now-famous scene in season one where Dan Levy describes his sexuality in terms of bottles of wine? That illustrated just how special the show would be. “We realized wow, this show is connecting in a way that is very impactful,” Barnsley recalls. “Dan recognized that, he understood there was something there, that it was worth kind of moving in that direction.”
Partnerships with Canadore College and CION open up new opportunities
As the head of the Toronto Film School, Barnsley now has the opportunity to help foster and educate up-and-comers in the field—something he believes to be crucial for the industry. “When I started, independent film and television was really in its infancy,” he says. “Now it’s a real industry. You look at the numbers, the volume of production that’s made in Canada. It’s staggering. It’s an enormous economic engine.”
The partnership with Canadore was founded to create creating pathways where the two schools can work together, and also serves to introduce the Toronto Film School community to northern students. ”We do virtual events, where we’re interviewing people,” explains Barnsley. “We’re doing town halls, where we talk about in the industry. We’re doing Q&As, bringing industry experts in. This is something where we want to share that with our partners."
New this year is another partnership: this one between TFS and CION. The two organizations have entered into an agreement with the goal of fostering and growing the creative industry in Northern Ontario. This collaboration will involve a series of workshops on topics like screenwriting, among other initiatives. "When we look at these relationships with Canadore and CION we ask how do we add value, how do we build more relationships?” Barnsley says.
“There’s an industry that needs talented and skilled workers, and there are stories that need to be told. There are diverse voices that we need to elevate. In the north—North Bay, Sudbury, Parry Sound—these are places where we want to see Toronto Film School graduates on these sets, making a difference and creating a positive impact.”
Barnsley is one of dozens of producers who have discovered Ontario's North as the perfect shooting destination—but the secret is out, and more and more productions are moving to the North. To discover everything Northern Ontario offers producers, or get help setting up your production here, contact CION's film supervisor, Rob Riselli.
Find out more about how CION can help your production in the North. Check out our guide for producers, regional resources and services, crew database, and the Hotlist of films currently in production.