Open Sky Pictures
By Mari Sasano

Humble Beginnings

When he was in grade six, Fred Kroetsch and a couple friends decided to make a movie for a school project. It was an adaptation of a Doctor Who episode.

“I don’t remember which one,” he says. “All I remember was I was dressed up as a Cyberman. Basically, since that point, every school project ever since we did as a movie.”

He kept in touch with his school buddies over the years, recording countless hours of tape. With that experience under his belt, Fred went to Concordia University in Montreal for film school. Another of his friends, Dean Davey, headed west to the Vancouver Film School. After graduation, they both came back to Edmonton. Fred got a job producing shows for Shaw and started scheming.

“I wanted to work with my group of friends and keep developing things. The mentality at the time was that gear is so expensive, and everyone’s fighting for it.”

You can’t try harder than we’re trying right now. It’s surprisingly awesome. It’s not work. It’s fun. - Frederick Kroetsch, producer
Documentary TV, film, corporate video
Filming underwater is a fun challenge for the Open Sky production team.

Building Relationships

Aside from his friends, one of the things that lured him back home was FAVA, the Film and Video Arts Society of Alberta, a cooperative that makes film gear accessible to its members. There, he and Dean met actor/director/writer Kurt Spenrath. Two years ago, Fred and Kurt started Open Sky Pictures, a TV and film production company.

“We were both going through a breakup and we were bored and we wanted something to do. I met these guys, these wrestlers through CTV, and we made a documentary.”

The documentary, called The Match, is about two prairie wrestlers — one Muslim, one a “redneck.” It was made with the support of an award called Bravo Factual.

“We were the only guys in western Canada to get one. It went on to get best Alberta short doc at the Edmonton International Film Festival, and it’s now doing the international fest circuit.”

They hit the ground running, developing ideas and pitching to broadcasters and funders.

“At first, it was very difficult to get my foot in the door. I sort of realized it was about building relationships with broadcasters,” he says. But he’s excited about the opportunities that are opening up with the changing broadcast paradigm, including new channels, online and streaming services.

Documentary TV, film, corporate video
The Open Sky production team on the set of Kitten TV.

The Next Big Thing

The company has now finished three projects: The Match, Journeys of Hope (a documentary he made through an aid organization called A Better World Canada about development workers in Kenya), and a series called Invincible, which is about the remarkable life of a quadruple amputee. Invincible is now production for its second season, and he is currently shooting a concept called Kitten TV.

“It’s like the fire log channel. Apparently the fire log is the most popular thing on Telus. What’s the next big thing? We’re telling a story with real cats,” says Fred.

It turns out, though, that procuring a cast for Kitten TV had its challenges.

“We kind of called everyone on Kijiji. We’d call people and ask how much to rent a kitten? And then they would hang up, saying “You creep!” So we went through shelters, and Morinville had a bunch of kittens we could use. There was a bit of a learning curve to explain to people what this project is.”

Typical of production houses, Open Sky is constantly developing new ideas and hustling to get corporate contracts. It’s keeping Fred busy — his phone never stops ringing and he’s constantly troubleshooting on set and off. But he’s been able to quit his day job and loves the pace of it.

“You can’t try harder than we’re trying right now. It’s surprisingly awesome. It’s not work. It’s fun.”

Documentary TV, film, corporate video
Filmmaker Fred Kroetsch experiments with some equipment out at sea.
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