10 to Watch: Meet the class of 2022

The newest cohort of Playback's annual 10 to Watch spans creative and executive talents across film and television.

Playback’s annual 10 to Watch is always a treasure trove of emerging voices and this year was no exception, with a whopping 217 submissions. Today we’re pleased to introduce the diverse and enterprising 2022 cohort. Stayed tuned for individual profiles with a deeper dive into their careers.


Writer-director Tope Babalola

tope-babalola-01A TikTok creator with over 2.1 million followers, the Winnipeg-born Babalola is also a creative executive at Toronto’s Little Engine Moving Pictures, where he’s developing a coming-of-age tween mystery series and a 3D-animated preschool series on which he’s also writer and director.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be? Create more serialized narrative television geared toward tweens and young teens.

The most exciting content trend right now is… The increase in interest in limited series. I love a good, solid and character-driven narrative wrapped up in 10 episodes or less.


Writer-director-producer Josiane Blanc

josiane blanc headshotThe co-founder of Oakville, Ont.-based Sahkosh Productions who hails from Montreal has been a star in short form, with credits including web series Ainsi va Manu (Hogtown) for TV5 and TFO and doc Tales of Ordinary Fatphobia. Upcoming projects include the doc Words Left Unspoken and scripted series Hotel Beyrouth.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? To find my voice, my niche. Not to try to be someone else or to make projects according to what I think people are looking for.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be? Create more of a bridge between emerging filmmakers and established people in the industry.


Creative executive, producer Ryan Bobkin

ryan-bobkin-02Head of development at Toronto’s Film Forge, Toronto-born Bobkin has also been an associate producer and production coordinator on features such as Haya Waseem’s Quickening, and has lined up a slew of roles, including associate producer on Brandon Cronenberg’s forthcoming Infinity Pool.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be? I would make the process of hiring and finding work within the industry more transparent and open.

The most exciting content trend right now is… The sustained power of weekly episodic releases. While many binged series throughout COVID, I found myself gravitating towards episodic content (mostly HBO) that would release episodes on a weekly basis.


Development producer Kelsey Espensen

kelsey-espensen-01As development producer of unscripted entertainment and formats at Toronto-based marblemedia, Espensen has created and developed series including Best In Miniature (CBC Gem, Discovery+ U.K. & Ireland), and ideated and developed Race Against The Tide (CBC, CBC Gem). She also co-developed Netflix’s Drink Masters, debuting in fall.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? At a young age my dad taught me that no matter what project or what size of task, to always give it your all. When you’re done, ask what else you can do to lend a helping hand.

The most exciting content trend right now is… The big push into dating and social experiments. While dating series have always been trendy, the additional element of a social experiment has added a new layer of authenticity.


Production executive Mitch Geddes

mitch-geddes-01This Hamilton, Ont.-born production executive for drama and feature film on Bell Media’s original programming team has a laundry list of credits, including CTV’s Transplant and Lindsay MacKay’s TIFF-bound The Swearing Jar. Future projects include Crave/APTN’s original limited series Little Bird.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? “Staple well.” It was a short, but meaningful, piece of advice that has stuck with me. It’s a reminder to always output your best work regardless of the scope or reach of the project, as you never know who may take notice.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be? We should continue to double down on the creation of meaningful, sustainable, capacity-building talent incubation and fellowship systems for emerging and underrepresented talent, both for our creative and production teams.


Writer-director-showrunner Sasha Leigh Henry

sashaheadshot2022-01A Toronto-born executive producer for Toronto’s Sunflower Studios and Hamilton, Ont.-based Admiral Productions, Henry has produced acclaimed shorts including Black Bodies. She’s also producer on Kelly Fyffe-Marshall’s debut feature, When Morning Comes, debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival, and showrunning the first season of Crave original Bria Mack Gets A Life.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? Rejection hurts, but it’s part of the game, so don’t let it take you off the field.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be? The level of overwork that we present as a rite of passage. Not enough effort is being done to find another way to creatively achieve success without draining all the energy of our crews and teams.


Screenwriter Abdul Malik

abdul-malik-02As co-writer on Jonathan Keijser’s film Peace by Chocolate, director of development at Toronto/L.A-based Fae Pictures and writer on CTV’s Transplant, Malik has already made a big mark. But the Edmonton-based scribe is just getting started, with many upcoming projects including the feature Queen Tut.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be? Eliminate the scarcity mindset that’s often drilled into young creatives. There are thousands of shows in development, hundreds being shot, and if work feels scarce, that’s a structural problem to be collectively addressed with, not against, your colleagues and peers.

The most exciting content trend right now is… Complex, literary series and miniseries like Station Eleven and The Bear.


Filmmaker J Stevens

j stevens headshot - credit perrie vossThis Calgary-born talent has racked up major credits including co-creator, director and cinematographer of OUTtv and IFC’s Slo Pitch, and director on Syfy’s Astrid & Lilly Save The World. Their future looks even brighter, with production about to begin on their first feature film as a writer-director.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be? The unwillingness of a lot of producers and networks to take chances on newer talent. I get it, when you start working in the union, the budgets go up and so risk for producers goes up. But I would love to see more mentorship programs.

The most exciting content trend right now is… The rise of LGBTQ+ characters that are complex and serve a purpose other than coming out or supporting a straight lead character.


Writer-director-actor Adrian Wallace

adrian-wallace-01From his Canadian Screen Award-winning documentary Black Sun, to his lauded web series Courtside and a writer credit on Paramount+/MTV’s Hip Hop My House, Toronto-based Wallace’s star is already soaring. He’s now developing a short film billed as a Black rom-com, as well as an original television series and his directorial debut feature film.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? Time is the most valuable asset and non-renewable resource that you have – until you don’t. Assets like people and technology come and go, but time is gone forever once it’s used. Create with all that you have in the now.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be? In addition to creating more accessibility to project funds and opportunities for first-time coloured creatives in directing and producing, I would make a strenuous effort to get more racialized bodies behind the decision-making at every tier of the industry.


Producer Kristina Wong

kristinawongToronto-born Wong’s talents spread wide. She’s currently assistant to the EVP of current at Boat Rocker Studios (L.A.), has made short films on the Asian experience, was associate producer on Amy Jo Johnson’s film Tammy’s Always Dying, and is working on an Asian-Canadian crew database as well as a feature adaptation of Ann Hui’s book Chop Suey Nation.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be? I would love to see more research done on individual diverse groups — especially behind the scenes — so we have a baseline for their growth.

The most exciting content trend right now is… LED volumes. It’s going to, if not already, change the way we make films

This story originally appeared in Playback‘s Fall 2022 issue

Photo of Tope Babalola by Liam Cushing; photo of Ryan Bobkin by Calvin Thomas Studio; photo of J Stevens by Perrie Voss; photo of Adrian Wallace by Shak