NSI New Voices students on their six-week classroom training

Our NSI New Voices students recently completed their classroom training and are working on their short film projects.

As they head into their eight-week internships we asked them to reflect on their time in the course so far.

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NSI New Voices is our course for young Aboriginal adults aged 18-35 with a desire to work in the film and television industry.

Workshops and seminars in the classroom phase are led by industry experts. Students intern with a broadcaster or independent production company giving them firsthand knowledge of the business. Training also includes the production and screening of three short films. Minimum wage is provided throughout the course.

Frances Koncan

Frances-Concan

I had just finished grad school and had been working as a writer in science and tech for about a year when my mother forwarded me a link to the NSI New Voices program.

Being a freelancer, I’m used to throwing myself at any opportunity that comes across my desk, especially if it’s relevant to my interest in the arts: writing for science and tech pays well, sure, but I don’t find it particularly inspiring or fulfilling, and being passionate about the work I do is extremely important to me.

I had always been interested in film and television, and been told by many people that my writing would be a good fit for those mediums, so I submitted my application with some hesitation, feeling concerned about my lack of experience in the film industry and totally out of my depth.

When I was invited for an interview, I was completely terrified. I wore a royal blue dress with three-quarter length sleeves that made me feel confident, even though I wasn’t confident at all. It must have worked because, a few weeks later, I was sitting at a coffee shop in New York City when I got the news that I had been accepted in to the program! I truly could not believe it.

My experience with NSI New Voices has had its share of ups and downs, which is fantastic because I learn much more from the downs than I do the ups.

It has been educational, frustrating, inspiring, defeating, exciting and draining all at the same time. I’m sad to say goodbye to the first phase of the program – it’s been fun being back in a classroom – but excited to get started on some practical, hands-on work making our short films.

I’ve neglected the gym, my hair, most food and the entire concept of sleep in preparation for filming, and now it’s time to find my balance and get into the right headspace so I can be an effective leader on set for the next few days.

I’ve got my coffee, my expertly colour-coded shot list breakdown, my roots finally touched up and found the perfect dress that I totally can’t afford but is exactly what I need for my first day as director of a short film.

I am ready to roll.

Vince Fontaine

Vince-Fontaine

Vince Fontaine’s mother is from Keeseekowenin First Nations and his father is from Sakeeng First Nation. He grew up in Clear Lake, Manitoba and moved to Winnipeg at 13. He is currently a student at the University of Manitoba and wants to obtain two degrees: one that majors in film studies and minors in philosophy. He doesn’t want to stop there and hopes to also study food science and entomology.

He loves all forms of creativity including film, paintings music and literature but has a background in photography. He loves the horror genre, animals and people with a great sense of humor. He wants to be a writer/director/visual artist/production designer/videographer and is inspired by the likes of David Lynch, Dario Argento, David Cronenberg and Stanley Kubrick. You know, all of those brilliant dudes.

My name is Vince Fontaine and I grew up in Clear Lake, Manitoba. It’s a beautiful and fun place to be in the summer but cold and uneventful in winter.

My parent’s house was pretty isolated. I wasn’t well liked in elementary school, and we only had three basic channels on TV.

It was at a very young age that I knew I just loved cinema. My mom and dad would rent me as many VHS tapes as possible and I couldn’t get enough of movies. They were always there for me, especially during hard times.

By the age of 10, I pretty much became known in my family as a huge cinephile. In 1996 I remember my dad bought me a copy of VideoHound Golden Movie Retriever and it was my internet before I had access to the internet. I would spend hours reading this clunky book.

I moved to Winnipeg in the fall of 1998 with dreams of becoming involved in the industry but I was this chubby little 13 year old, naïve and awkward beyond belief.

I knew I had a lot of adjusting to do after a year of embarrassing times. Years passed as I went through my teens with dreams of becoming a filmmaker constantly in the back of my mind. I would often tell the eventual friends I made in high school that I was going to be a director someday.

I’m grateful that some even said they knew I had it in me to do it. I was doing a lot better by the time I was 18 but that was just adjusting from a small town boy to a city teenager.

Once I hit 18 I quickly started to realize that my plans of being a filmmaker would have to be put on hold as I needed to figure out how to start becoming a responsible adult and function on a daily basis without much screwing up, never mind attempting a filmmaking career.

I’ll be honest. It took many years after that to just figure out who I was and what I really wanted to do in life. But never once did I lose my love of film and what I would consider an encyclopedia of film knowledge.

I tried to get involved in the industry but floundered and tried modelling and extracurricular improv drama meetings. Still, I felt I wasn’t as responsible as I needed to be as evidenced by my graduation from the Academy of Broadcasting in 2006 and not doing the hard work needed to finally start a career.

Things came to a halt in the summer of 2007 when I was at a crossroads. What do I do from here?

Money was becoming a major issue and rent needed to be paid. I finally took a job that was about as far as you could possibly get from the industry, with Child and Family Services. It wasn’t the work so desired by yours truly but as the weeks turned into months and then years the job helped me become the responsible, dependable, financially stable adult that I needed to be. This position was helping me grow and giving me the time and freedom to pursue my interest in film and art.

I grew up watching all of the filmmaking greats and one aspect that appealed to me was the visual element of filmmaking.

I was always so happy seeing what my friends tease me about [what they thought of] as ‘pretty pictures.’ There’s something so exciting about seeing aesthetically pleasing images. Architecture at the right angle. A cemetery in the bright sunlight. The face with the perfect, not necessarily happy, expression. Landscapes at certain times of the day. All of my favorite films could be guilty of style over substance (almost!) but I just love good-looking pictures.

So in 2010 I picked up a camera and just started taking – at first – awful pictures. But click after click I begin to develop my own personal style.

Still, I was getting pretty comfortable with my work routine and photography was still strictly a hobby that I did on the weekends. But the clock was ticking.

I started thinking more and more about one of my favourite movies and its message. I first discovered Clockwatchers at the age of 15. (Movie plug time. Please watch it. It’s so underrated.) It’s written and directed by a philosophy major and also reinforced my decision to minor in philosophy. It’s the story of office workers stuck in the daily grind, watching the clock as you do the same thing over and over, your life slowly but surely passing you by.

It began to dawn on me that I was letting my twenties pass me by and before I knew it was turning 29. I had spent seven years at the same job and, although I’ll always be grateful for it, I was getting too comfortable and felt safe not taking many risks. I was starting to sink back into my shell and not be the person I wanted to be.

The spring of 2014 came and I was at another crossroads. What do I do from here yet again? I was now a much stronger, responsible and happier adult but I was still nowhere near my goal of working in the industry.

I had started to do freelance photography work and begin to actually get paid for some of it which felt really good. But I still wanted to move to the next step: telling stories visually (and hoping to direct my stories too).

I decided enough was enough and began to start my new journey. I realized I wanted to further my education to be able to tell my stories with intelligence and an understanding of the world that audiences would sense and, hopefully, respect.

I enrolled at the University of Manitoba as a first year student and began to select the classes that interested me, but that still wasn’t enough so I became a member of the Winnipeg Film Group.

It was here in the autumn of 2014 that things began to move very quickly and, once again, I had a lot of adjusting to do.

I was still working my office job in the day, taking U of M courses at night and [attending] as many Winnipeg Film Group workshops at the weekends as I could.

It was here that I met two people who made all the difference in my world and I will never be able to thank them enough. Ben Williams, the production centre director, became a huge help in providing guidance and confidence in my abilities. He got me enrolled in one particular workshop with an amazing instructor, Rebecca Gibson. I pitched a two-page screenplay which the entire class would take turns to direct. My pitch got chosen.

This was the first time I would get to direct my work, but also have a chance to see other passionate people work on my work. It was only two nights but it changed everything. During the workshop Rebecca herself told me about the NSI New Voices program and after that it was only a matter of patience as I waited for the application process to start.

It wasn’t too hard a wait as I was basically up at 6 a.m. and working nonstop until 12 a.m. every day (always making sure I had me time to watch a movie before bed). Time flew by and there I was submitting my application.

I got a call back from Trinity Bruce and the interview was booked. I had butterflies in my stomach when entering the NSI office and tried not to come off as too nervous. I quickly realized there was nothing to be nervous about as Trinity introduced me to Ursula Lawson and Lisa Meeches.

The warmth that radiated from these three individuals was more than enough to make those butterflies fly far away. I left the interview feeling so good. A week went by and I got the call back from Trinity. I was in the program! It was an overwhelming moment of joy. It was yet the start of another journey.

The first day of the program arrived and we had the opening feast and took individual and group photos the rest of the afternoon. I got to meet the students who I would be spending the next six weeks with. We were all strangers at first but as the days passed I begin to get a feel for who these new people were and all of their incredibly unique personalities.

Classroom training started and here was another transition for me as a growing human being that I felt was very crucial. Something that was missing from me prior to 2014. I could say I was shy around my new classmates but the teachings made us interact on a daily basis, sharing personal stories and our own ideas.

It was a very liberating experience developing and hearing other’s ideas. We were taught to respect each other’s ideas. The first week covered script writing by Jordon Wheeler and we were shown Stephen King’s Stand by Me and Jordon literally broke every aspect of the script down for us explaining everything. It has made developing my ideas all the easier and I can’t wait until I can start pumping out dozens of ideas.

Winona Wheeler taught me about my cultural roots and colonialism, really interesting stuff that has reinforced my decision to take native studies at U of M next fall.

I could spend pages writing about all the instructors who shared their invaluable knowledge. I’m not kidding but they literally covered everything.

Every day that passed by focused on another role of the filmmaking process and later that night I would watch a movie and try and focus on that one aspect and remember what the instructor had said.

There was also the other side of the industry that I hadn’t given much attention prior to this course: the ‘paperwork’ – from acquiring permits to applying for all kinds of different grants.

There was the whole process of developing a pitch and then pitching it. Of course there were only three winners out of nine but this was yet another valuable lesson for the ones who didn’t get picked which was to quickly brush it off and charge ahead to the next pitch, idea, project, story, whatever.

There are so many venues to attempt to tell a story and [it’s important not to take] the first rejection as the end of your career.

Despite my pitch not being selected, there was still this brimming undercurrent of joy that once my training and internship was over, I would take all of the new knowledge and apply it, attempting the rejected pitch idea, and any idea I could think of for the rest of my life. There will be plenty of more rejections and eventually acceptance if I just keep charging through it.

With my background in photography and love of visual design, I kind of knew that cinematography and lighting would be of special interest to me (taught by the awesome Andrew Forbes). And they most certainly were but I was also really fascinated by production design (taught by the very funny Taavo Soodor). This is something I’ll hopefully get involved with in future.

Auditioning actors with Darcy Fehr was also another really fun day that I have to confess really helped me get over my shyness and fear of speaking up. Toastmasters also helped me better articulate myself.

After classroom training, my team director Cody Blacksmith and fellow Academy of Broadcasting alumni Melissa Raven and I started to prep for our short film. It was yet again a very hands-on experience that provided us with the opportunity to actually use the skills we were being taught.

The days begin to count down towards actual production and, while I can’t speak for the other teams, my team was very organized and we constantly communicated and supported each other through the audition process, script breakdown, location scouting, getting all of the required paperwork written up and signed, gathering all of the props and make-up effects, and getting our call sheets ready.

We were provided with awesome guidance from mentor camera dude Kim Bell (aka KB). The 48 hours that followed were intense, exciting and, despite hiccups, stress and hostility, just the atmosphere of making a short film was worth all of the time and effort that got us there.

It will not be something I will ever forget. I also found myself growing so attached to my classmates and I am going to miss everyone while I’m out doing my internship. A wonderful, life changing experience.

Matthew De Paz

Matthew-de-Paz

NSI New Voices was the best thing that I could ever have signed up for. I remember when I was applying, I was typing up my cover letter thinking I didn’t have any ‘real’ experience. I remember thinking that the age group might be out of my league (after I did some background checking on the previous classes).

I was a carpenter. What could a kid who’d spent the last two years working in ghetto basements and hot attics do? The course helped me unleash the potential I had nearly abandoned, and introduced me to so many dedicated people in the industry I always dreamed of being in.

I was completely floored when I got a call from Trinity saying that I made it. That was it, everything changed. I started focusing on volunteering and thinking about what my life could be like if I actually followed through with the course and stuck with something involved with film and TV and not necessarily being a carpenter after all.

I counted the days and told everyone about it, including quitting on my boss and my job working on reserves across Manitoba.

When we started the first day I was bombarded by so many more people than I expected but I liked it. We sat in class listening to guest speakers from all aspects of the industry.

It was great fun because, as a class of individuals who all wanted to learn, we would teach each other just by talking, by disagreeing and explaining. The point of this was to help us prepare and build up our stories and ideas for our short films that we would pitch to five people in the first two weeks of the class.

I poured so much of myself into writing and coming up with how to present my story. I’m not surprised my idea was one of the three chosen. I remember trying to absorb everything I could from every guest. Squeezing out questions even if they were just some of their personal opinions.

I remember thinking that I had never really taken any kind of real schooling for this but, somehow, I knew exactly what the guests were talking about when it came to what it really takes to make a film short or feature. It takes passion and will with a sprinkle, heap or helping (whatever you have) of knowledge. And whatever you lack there you’d better have people on your project who can make up for that.

Finishing my film was the hardest part because I didn’t even have an ending at the time it was chosen. I constantly asked my classmates for feedback on what could be improved or removed to make the story better.

By the end of classroom training I was so ready to start shooting. I had finalized and envisioned the film so many times that I couldn’t wait any longer.

The first day we filmed, everything was finally real. All the shots and ideas that I’d been planning for weeks were coming to life. People were telling me that I was a director on set, that I was the boss and what I wanted was the final say. It was crazy. So many obstacles and bumps in the road were overcome along the way, now we just have to edit.

I’m excited for the internship because it’ll feel like we’re actually working (I hope). I’m not sure where I’ll end up yet but I know that I’ll do my very best. I know everyone else in the group is probably just as anxious as I am. I’m going to miss greeting Ursula [Lawson, program manager] and Trinity every morning, but they’ve done all this so I can move on and for that I’m grateful. I’ll never forget what they’ve done for me.

Melissa Raven

Melissa-Raven

FROM HERE TO THERE: THE JOURNEY BEGINS

The moment I knew I wanted to be in the film and television industry was when I was on my internship at Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) while I was getting my television and radio broadcasting diploma.

I specialized in audio and when I went to APTN my eyes were opened to the television side of the industry, but I was still inexperienced in that area. I started volunteering at various film and television events around Winnipeg and that’s when I knew I wanted to be in film and television.

I applied to NSI New Voices after hearing about it from people I met in the industry. I read the program outline on NSI’s website and immediately knew this program was perfect for me.

The interview was nerve-racking and I had my doubts, but the moment I got the call from Trinity telling me I was accepted into the program I was so happy and excited to be chosen for this opportunity.

I remember walking into class on the first day scared and excited at the same time. We met with Colin Mousseau (NSI Elder) and had a pipe ceremony with our sponsors. I met so many amazing people that day including the other students who I would be on this journey with.

The next six weeks of classroom training was condensed and intense but in the best possible way.

Every day we got to learn new things taught by experienced industry people. That’s the part I loved most because we got to learn from the people who know about the various positions and what it takes to be in the industry day-to-day.

We got to learn from people who have years of experience, not only in Canada but the United States too. Every day I was asking questions like crazy and picking at their professional minds to gain as much as I could from them. It was not your typical classroom setting, there was a lot of hands-on participation which kept it very interesting.

I loved how they kept the cultural component throughout the program. We went to the Manito Ahbee spiritual grounds in Whiteshell, MB and it was an absolutely amazing experience. It was my first time being at “the place where Creator sits.” Although the ticks were my weakness that day, I felt a peace and relaxation I hadn’t felt in a long time.

We had the privilege of going with Lisa Meeches and the Manito Ahbee crew. Lisa gave us the history of the place and I am so thankful for her wise words.

I literally just finished shooting for our short film project and it was everything I imagined it would be. It was challenging and rewarding. From permits to being a boom girl to using the camera to framing the shots.

Our camera mentor was awesome and without him we would have been running around with our heads cut off. I cannot wait to start editing and see the finished product.

I am one lucky woman for being part of this significant and one-of-a-kind program because I now have knowledge of the industry and know where I want to go in it.

I am especially thankful to Ursula Lawson and Trinity Bruce for being there for me every step of the way and helping me to be successful not only in the program but in life as well.

I am also grateful for my classmates. If it weren’t for them I wouldn’t have been comfortable opening up in class.

Lastly, thanks to the NSI staff who were so supportive of us.

I am so grateful for the NSI New Voices program because I now have the networking and professional contacts within the industry. The program confirmed what I want to do and gave me the tools I need to succeed.

I don’t think I could have learned what NSI gave me from anywhere else. I will never forget these first six weeks as I will take everything I gained with me in my life and career.

Now, we commence the second part of the program and start our internships. So stay tuned for the next generation of filmmakers as we go out and put to use what the NSI New Voices program gave us!

Cody Blacksmith

Cody-Blacksmith

I had heard of the NSI New Voices program a few times over the past few years but never applied. I was focused on my schooling, but my friend said he was going to apply for it this year. He suggested we take it together. So, of course, I was selected for the program and he wasn’t.

The first few days were a little nerve-racking. As most people do, or at least introverted people, we didn’t talk to each other for a while.

Throughout the course we learned about each other’s backgrounds. We all had different backgrounds, beliefs and points of view. Good or bad, it made things interesting.

Coming into the program, I had a bit of knowledge about certain aspects of filmmaking from university. But I’ve learned a few things about filmmaking I didn’t get to learn in school. Stuff like permits, grants and other paper work.

The fun stuff was hearing peoples’ stories from different shows. How problems were solved, how things worked; just various war stories from the instructors.

As the classroom portion of the course has come to a close and we finish our short films, I can’t wait to start the internship. Though I’ll miss seeing some of my fellow students everyday, I think those of us that choose to stick with filmmaking will have people to call on for a new project.

Hope to see good things over the next month and put what we’ve learned to good use.

Kelsey Smoke

Kelsey-Smoke

The NSI New Voices program was recommended to me. I have a background in music and acting with Nu-Media.

During the first few days I was thinking I wouldn’t make it through but the whole team and coordinators were very supportive, especially Trinity.

I’d like to thank every speaker who came in to tell us about their personal experiences inside and outside the program. I loved when Richard Cloutier from CJOB came in. It was the best day I’ve had so far.

I’ll be very happy to be here at the end of the program to watch my fellow students graduate and go on to their careers. I’m proud of each of them. And to my fellow students who won their movie pitches: I’m very thankful to work with all of you. It’s gonna be great to go on and see where we all end up.

NSI is very supportive in a lot of ways, mostly in the well-being of students. If something’s wrong they tend to find solutions. Thanks to Ursula, Brendon Sawatazky [programming director] and the rest of team NSI for letting me join the team.

I’m really looking forward to my internship. I know I’ll show them there is reason to be proud for pushing me when I was failing. Thanks for the new friends I’ve met and those yet to come.

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NSI New Voices is funded by Presenting Sponsor Manitoba Tourism, Culture, Heritage, Sport and Consumer Protection; Program Partners Telefilm Canada and the Centre for Aboriginal Human Resource Development (CAHRD); NSI Aboriginal Training Programs Partner Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries; Strategic Sponsor Shaw Media; Supporting Sponsors Entertainment OneSuper Channel, Corus Entertainment and imagineNATIVE; Provincial Sponsor Manitoba Film & Music; and Industry Partners Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television (ACCT) and the Directors Guild of Canada.

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