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Sarnia native launches blue-collar comedy series 'The Trades' this month

After spending decades honing his craft, learning from a wide variety of talented Canadian and international filmmakers, and putting in hard work – whether in screenwriting, producing, creating his own projects, even performing stunts – perseverance has paid off for Sarnia-born showrunner Ryan Lindsay.

The Northern Collegiate grad is currently overseeing a passion project, a television series heavily influenced by his hometown, shedding a comedic light on the inner workings of a community’s blue-collar workers. 

The show, which features a ‘who’s who’ of Canadian comedy icons, is called The Trades, and it premieres on March 22 on Crave Canada.

Lindsay recalls being bitten by the screenwriting bug during his teenage years.

“As use of the Internet grew, scripts became more accessible,” he said. “I’d often read scripts before I watched the movie because I wanted to see what paths the creative teams took from the writing to the screen.”

After graduating from Northern, Lindsay found himself at a crossroads. He wanted to pursue his passion for filmmaking and screenwriting, but there were few options available in Sarnia. He spent a couple years at Lambton College, first studying computer programming and eventually getting a hospitality degree before deciding at 23 to pack his bags and gain firsthand experience in both filmmaking and life.

“(Pursuing screenwriting) wasn’t really an option being from Sarnia,” he said. “Everyone knows this town is propped up by industry, and those companies employ a lot of my family and friends so we’re grateful for that. My grandfather was a fitter and my dad an operator, and the path was always available to me, but I balked.”

Lindsay knew that he needed to be in Toronto — a film and television production capital of Canada. He backpacked across Europe with one of his best friends to prepare himself for a big change, and moved to Toronto shortly thereafter.

Much like a quintessential Hollywood story, Lindsay started at the bottom and took any and every job to keep him in the big city.

“The first day I got to Toronto I handed out resumes and got a bar job. I worked multiple restaurant and bar gigs at once and founded an ad agency with my best friend and roommate to keep me there.”

After being involved in a steady stream of studio projects, Lindsay said he realized film school wasn’t for him, so his plan was to find every way to be near Video Village — the filmmaking epicenter of Toronto — on a working set.

“It’s where the directors, producers and performers spend most of their time on set — where big decisions are being made. I wanted to observe filmmakers like David Cronenbergs and my idol Guillermo del Toro and their teams… the people who were pioneers, people making the creative decisions,” he said.

Lindsay tried his hand at acting and soon became a full ACTRA member. He landed a number of commercials, which led to him getting the opportunity to do some background acting and stand-in work, which led to firearm work and stunts. 

"The great thing about joining a crew as a stand-in, a photo double, or a stunt guy, is that you get to read the scripts and witness the decisions being made in realtime, so it was the ultimate learning experience for me,” said Lindsay, who worked was a double for established actors like Sam Rockwell and Charlie Day.

After spending several years developing his craft in Hollywood North, Lindsay crossed paths with Gordon Weiske, a well-connected and highly respected Canadian producer. Weiske recognized Lindsay’s talent and employed him in several projects, further building his confidence and experience in the business.

“(Gordon) gave me my first chance at a long form writing project. It allowed me to move to Europe for three months and research the project in France,” Lindsay recalled. “I enjoyed working on historical fiction, and jumped into a follow-up project about Charles Dickens that never came to light… Gordon also did a documentary in Havana that I helped produce. He became a close friend and colleague.”

After a stint of back-to-back studio projects, Lindsay made a pair of short films, produced a feature horror film, and moved back to Sarnia in 2017. He met his now-wife in Brights Grove and found virtual contract work with Ubisoft and a VFX Studio based in Los Angeles. He partnered with local entrepreneurs on a few projects while he packaged his own TV concepts, including the blue-collar comedy series which later became The Trades. Lindsay received a Canadian Media Fund grant and filmed a demo in town with local talent.

“That is a whole story for another day (how the project came together) but working with Robb Wells and the Trailer Park Boys helped push it over the finish line,” he said.

Debuting on Crave March 22 and set in a small town reminiscent of Sarnia, The Trades is an eight-part, half-hour comedy series that sheds light on the colourful, dark, and offbeat humour found in refineries. Starring a lineup of Canadian comedy all-stars — including Robb Wells, Tom Green, Jessie Camacho, Susan Kent, Raoul Bhaneja, and Enrico Colantoni — the series was inspired by Chemical Valley and the tradespeople who work there. 

“I interviewed over 200 tradespeople over the years and spent a lot of time talking to my brothers Tyson and Kellan. Those two guys along with James Williamson put a lot of great people and ideas together for the creative,” he said. “In my industry they say write what you know… and having close friends and family working in the refineries was a massive influence.” 

Lindsay had another Sarnia-native join the project, comedian and actor Andrew McMicheal.

The two knew one another from their high school days and became inseparable throughout all phases of the project.

“Andrew is a riot – always has been. He acted in the original demo and spent a lot of time with me early during the days bouncing ideas and interviewing tradespeople,” Lindsay said. “He joined the writer’s room and we co-wrote an episode together.”

McMichael was co-executive producer on the project and spent the summer with Lindsay and the crew in production. 

Lindsay is the creator, writer and executive producer of The Trades, and the series was filmed in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, with select days in Hamilton, Ontario. 

“It has been a dream twenty years in the making come true.”

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