“Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street …” from the Battlefords?
Christopher Redmond can. His journey from being a high school student in the Battlefords at John Paul II Collegiate, to a film and TV career that has taken him to Ottawa and around the world, is remarkable.
He did make it to Sesame Street from the Battlefords, but he took a detour through Rwanda.
“I work as a freelance director and writer now, so I work mainly in the TV space, directing TV shows,” said Redmond. He’s mainly done children’s shows as of late, but also sports shows and fashion/entertainment work.
Redmond moved to the Battlefords from Alberta around age 13 after his dad was transferred to the local RCMP detachment.
Redmond was active during his days at John Paul II Collegiate. He was senior ring in his final year there, and in his off hours played hockey for the Battlefords Barons and was in a garage band.
“But I was still trying to figure out what to do,” said Redmond. He knew he wanted to get into film and TV but it seemed like a pipe dream. “The first step wasn’t very obvious,” he said.
Redmond credits Mrs. Fransoo, a guidance counsellor at the high school and mother of radio personality Nic Fransoo, for steering him on his path. Around this time his dad was being transferred to Ottawa with the RCMP. Mrs. Fransoo told Redmond that in Ottawa there was a journalism program at Carleton University.
Redmond applied, and was accepted. He was trained in writing for print journalism during his first couple of years at Carleton. He came out of it with a marketable skill, something that opened doors later on.
He finished his degree and opportunities opened up soon afterwards. One was teaching journalism to students in Rwanda that came about soon after he graduated. It was a volunteer opportunity where the participants would write articles for their paper, and then act as instructors the rest of the time.
“The idea was to kind of teach them our principles of journalism,” Redmond said.
Eventually, a Rwanda-based freelancer for CNN pitched Redmond on the idea of opening a similar school in nearby Burundi.
“They just ended their civil war last year, we could start a whole film industry there,” Redmond recalls him saying.
Redmond went back to Ottawa, and recruited a few people to go back to Burundi to start up the journalism school there in 2007.
“We’ve been able to keep it going over the years without any formal funding,” said Redmond, with money coming in from independent fundraising and from some corporate sponsors for documentaries and different projects.
His work with the film school, called the Burundi Film Center, led to him being named as one of “Canada’s Top 50 Champions of Change” on CBC.
Back in Ottawa, opportunities opened up for Redmond in the advertising world, something he had not even considered.
He answered an ad for a copywriter, and eventually produced and directed commercials in Ottawa.
Not surprisingly given where he was located, much of that advertising work was government based. Redmond said he did writing for those “annoying Economic Action Plan ads you saw during the Harper years,” and also wrote ads on the subject of elder abuse.
He also did a mixed bag of work for the Canadian Armed Forces, the Ottawa Senators and other projects. Redmond said that this gave him a reel of work to seek out other assignments.
Since then Redmond has racked up credits in many projects as a producer, director or writer. Directing stints have included Life in a Day, which was a time capsule of life on July 24, 2010.
He was later hired for Bell Media’s Ottawa channel TV1 in 2015, helping launch that channel as senior producer for 17 different shows. “I could cherry pick the ones I wanted to direct, which gave me a very good reel when I went back to freelancing.”
The station closed down in 2017 but Redmond continues to do Game Changers, a Bell show, for the company as a freelancer.
His resume includes several short films. According to his IMDb page his films have played at more than 100 international festivals including at the Festival de Cannes.
Redmond also writes movie reviews, and you can find those at www.dearcastandcrew.com.
Serving him well in his career has been his French language ability, which has come in handy on many projects.
“At the TV station I ran, half the shows were all in French,” said Redmond.
That French skill got its start, too, in North Battleford, through French-immersion classes. In fact, his French skills are so good it surprises the people he works with on the set. “It shocks people every time I tell them where I’m from,” said Redmond.
“They can’t get their head around the idea that someone from North Battleford, Saskatchewan speaks French.”
Back to Sesame Street. Redmond’s latest project was shooting a short piece that aired as part of that iconic show.
He was at the Toronto International Film Festival’s “TIFF Kids” festival in March, which attracts broadcasters from North America and around the world.
Sesame Street was one of those there and they took pitches from filmmakers to do minute-long segments for the show.
As people know, the “commercials” on Sesame Street are actually about numbers or letters of the alphabet.
“Instead of a commercial, they cut to a short film about the ‘number 5’… five ducks. And there would be an animated thing about five ducks,” said Redmond.
And “they commission those from filmmakers around the world.”
Redmond describes the pitches as American Idol-style. He had about seven or eight minutes to pitch them on a segment about the letter “B.”
“They had specific requests they were looking for,” said Redmond. His pitch was for “B is for Bus Driver,” a live action piece.
Redmond said his pitch “went kind of sideways” on him, as he got choked up describing how his own child was starting to go to school that year and was having a hard time, and now was afraid of taking the school bus.
He explained he wanted to make a short film for kids like his son “who were intimidated by the bus.” But when making the pitch he got emotional about it.
“I lost a good chunk of my presentation just by not being able to talk for a bit,” said Redmond. “From what everyone said, it didn’t hurt my final presentation.”
In the end, Sesame Street said, “yes” to his pitch. Redmond received a budget as well as a host of technical requirements he had to follow to deliver his piece.
“They have a very rigorous technical process to make sure the sound levels and everything are up to snuff,” said Redmond.
His finished piece, B is for Bus Driver, is due to air next month on Sesame Street.
As for what is next for Redmond, he wants to delve even more into the “feature film game,” as he puts it. While he’s figured out how to get to Sesame Street, he’s also looking back at the place where it all started, Saskatchewan, for inspiration on what to do next.
He’s involved in one project with the National Screen Institute. It’s a story about a big-city DJ from Toronto who has an on-air meltdown and must rebuild his career “working with the worst radio station in broadcasting history in small town Saskatchewan.”
“Now we’re getting the script to the point where we are really happy with it,” said Redmond, and hopes to get it made.
Redmond loves his life in Ottawa with his wife and children, but he is proud of where he grew up and likes to tell people he is from the Battlefords and from Saskatchewan.
He says when people find out he is from Saskatchewan, the reaction is always positive. People “kind lean in and want to talk to you about it. ‘What was that like?’”
“It’s kind of been a strength in my life in a lot of ways. It’s something that I’ve leaned on in a social setting, but even professionally, a lot of the projects I’m dealing with,” said Redford.
“They say ‘write what you know.’ What I feel I know is Saskatchewan.”