Meet the 2019 NSI Features First students

Lauren MacKinlay, James Fanizza, Kulbinder Saran Caldwell, Muna Deria, Nick Schelle, Gemma Holdway, Gharrett Paon and Andrew Dryden Mortimer

The National Screen Institute – Canada (NSI) congratulates teams selected to the 2019 NSI Features First training course. Beginning next month, participants will develop their film projects with the best industry experts in Canada.

  • Lauren MacKinlay (producer) and James Fanizza (writer), Toronto, ON – In Vein
  • Kulbinder Saran Caldwell (producer) and Muna Deria (writer), Toronto, ON – Black Gold Muslimah
  • Nick Schelle (producer) and Gemma Holdway (writer), Vancouver, BC – Reminiscent
  • Gharrett Patrick Paon (producer) and Andrew Dryden Mortimer (writer), Halifax and Whitney Pier, NS – The Undertow

“I’m excited to welcome these four talented teams to NSI Features First,” said program manager Shelly Quade. “They’ve been selected from a record number of applications – narrowing down the selected teams from the shortlisted applicants was a difficult job. I look forward to meeting them and kicking off the next year of training and mentorship.”

NSI Features First faculty are program advisor Al Magee and program manager Shelly Quade. Industry experts include award-winning playwright and screenwriter Corey Mandell, Mehernaz Lentin of CBC Films, Andrew Hunt of Raven Banner Entertainment, Gosia Kamela of Bell Media, Dan Lyon of Telefilm Canada, and more. Training boot camp takes place in installments over the next two months in Toronto, beginning with attendance at the Toronto Screenwriting Conference on May 4 and 5.

Accepted teams also receive up to $10,000 in-kind in lighting and grip equipment rental from William F. White International and up to $7,500 in in-kind post-production support from Deluxe.

“The education we received was absolutely instrumental in getting our first feature film made,” said NSI Features First graduate Scott Westby. “It shone a light on the development process, gave us a foundation of contacts in various parts of the industry, pushed us to hone our pitching skills, and ultimately gave us a huge leg up that has kicked off our careers.”

NSI Features First provides development training for writer/producer teams looking to produce their first or second feature film with strong commercial appeal. Over 20 feature films developed through the program have been produced since 1997.

Most recently, Level 16 from Danishka Esterhazy and SuperGrid from Todd McCauley and Hugh Patterson have been released in festivals and theatres, and are streaming on a variety of platforms. All-In Madonna from Arnold Lim and Susie Winters completed principal photography last month in Victoria. A Small Fortune from Adam Perry and Jason Arsenault has been green-lit for production.

NSI Features First is funded by Presenting Sponsor Telefilm Canada; Supporting Sponsors CBC Gem, Super ChannelCorus Entertainment and Breakthrough Entertainment; Provincial Sponsor Creative BC through the Daryl Duke and William Vince Scholarship Fund; and Industry Supporters William F. White and Deluxe. NSI Core Funders are Manitoba Sport, Culture & Heritage and the City of Winnipeg through the Winnipeg Arts Council.

All media enquiries

Laura Friesen, Manager, Communications & Alumni Relations
Phone: 204.957.2999 or email:

Meet this year’s participants

Lauren MacKinlay

Lauren MacKinlay

Lauren MacKinlay is an award-winning producer, performer, digital content creator, and one of the co-founders of Women On Screen.

She was nominated for a 2017 Canadian Screen Award for her work with notable Canadian television production company Sphere Media Plus and was awarded an IPF producer bursary for the 2018 Banff World Media Festival.

With Sphere Media, Lauren has produced cross-platform digital content for on-air series, as well as Sphere’s first original web series, Earthling House Huntress, for CBC Comedy. She served as associate producer for Sphere’s one-hour dramas 19-2 (CTV) and Bad Blood (co-produced with New Metric Media for Citytv), and will act as supervising producer for the upcoming medical drama Transplant (CTV and NBC Universal).

Lauren has produced half a dozen short films which have toured the festival circuit and won prizes internationally. With Women On Screen, Lauren collaborates on and oversees programming that encourages a greater representation of women in the entertainment industry on all sides of the camera.

James Fanizza

James Fanizza

James Fanizza is an award-winning writer and filmmaker from Toronto whose primary focus is creating LGBTQ-oriented films for a mainstream audience.

James has written and directed three short films and one feature, and was the inaugural recipient of Inside Out’s Short to Feature Award. His first short screened at over 15 festivals worldwide including Melbourne and Palm Springs Film festivals, and was distributed via Air Canada’s EnRoute entertainment system, on board all national/international flights.

James’s first feature film, Sebastian, was a worldwide success, screening at festivals around the world. It was picked up for distribution by Wolfe Releasing, the largest distributor of LGBTQ films in the US where it was released on all major digital platforms.

Kulbinder Saran Caldwell

Kulbinder Saran Caldwell

Kulbinder Saran Caldwell is the producer/founder of REALLIFE Pictures Inc., an award-winning production company in Toronto.

She supports female filmmakers, particularly women of colour and diverse writers. Kulbinder serves as their producer and shares her business acumen with them to help market and build an audience for their film/TV projects and themselves through digital campaigns and platforms.

Kulbinder worked on Brown Girl Begins as co-producer and crowdfunding campaign manager (over $40,000 raised) with director Sharon Lewis, on the web series Anarkali as co-producer with filmmaker Rakhi Mutta, and other projects as a producer. She recently optioned a Canadian novel, Can You Hear the Nightbird Call?, which she intends to adapt into a limited series.

Kulbinder has felt fortunate to collaborate with a number of talented female filmmakers. As a result, she is producing a diverse and varied slate of projects from indie films to a political thriller to a teen sci-fi television series pilot, many of them with her REALLIFE Pictures members.

Muna Deria

Muna Deria

Muna Deria is a writer and director who focuses her work on topical and entertaining content that is inclusive of the North American black Muslim experience.

She studied for a master’s degree in film and television at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Los Angeles. She was chosen for the 2019 Cinefam Feature Film Incubator and is also a juror of the 2019 North Hollywood Film Awards.

When she’s not writing and directing, Muna is tackling the intricate art of stand-up comedy.

Nick Schelle

Nick Schelle

Nick Schelle is an award-winning director, writer, producer and, in his spare time, an artisanal fruitcake baker based in Vancouver.

In 2000, he co-created a live musical called Circus! The Musical that premiered at the Victoria Fringe Festival and won a viewer’s choice award at the festival in 2004.

After graduating from Vancouver Film School in 2002, he went on to write, direct and produce a number of short films and comedy sketches that went viral, aired on CBC and the Comedy Network and screened at festivals in Canada, New York and Milan.

In 2011, he was invited to direct a retrospective short about Terry Fox as part of a permanent art installation by Douglas Coupland at Terry Fox Plaza at BC Place in Vancouver.

Recently, Nick has directed commercials for one of the largest brands in North America, earning one Hermes award, two Stevie awards and two silver Dolphins from the Cannes Corporate Media & TV Awards.

Gemma Holdway

Gemma Holdway

Gemma Holdway is a British-Canadian writer whose credits include The Murders, The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco, Cardinal, Ghost Wars and Gracepoint.

Gemma is currently developing projects with Omnifilm Entertainment, Lark Productions and Unique Features. She has a bachelor of journalism and a minor in politics from Ryerson University and studied writing for film and television at Vancouver Film School.

In addition to winning a Corus Writer’s Apprenticeship and the PSP Toronto Screenwriting Conference Fellowship, Gemma earned a coveted spot in the National Screen Institute’s Totally Television program.

Her pilots have been shortlisted by the BBC Writersroom initiative and the Sundance Episodic Lab. Her shorts have premiered at Edmonton International Film Festival and Whistler Film Festival, among others. Gemma is represented by The Alpern Group and William Morris Endeavor.

Gharrett Paon

Gharrett Paon

Gharrett Patrick Paon is an actor/producer with Acadian and Mi’kmaq ancestry from Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is a recent alumnus of the Canadian Film Centre Producer’s Lab and holds a bachelor of commerce degree from Dalhousie University.

In 2018, he won Telefilm Canada’s Pitch This! competition with writer/director Bretten Hannam at Toronto International Film Festival for Wildhood, a two-spirit, coming-of-age road film currently in development with CBC Films.

Gharrett is the president of Rebel Road Films Inc. The company is in production on season one of Spirit Talker, a 13 x 30 minute documentary series for APTN. Gharrett recently produced Wildfire, a short film version of Wildhood, which had its world premiere at BFI Flare, the largest LGBTQ+ film festival in Europe, and was one of 10 Canadian shorts selected for Telefilm Canada’s Not Short on Talent showcase at Clermont-Ferrand.

In 2017 Gharrett was the recipient of the prestigious Nova Scotia Talent Trust Young Artist of Excellence Award and The Shelagh Mackenzie Award for filmmaking.

Andrew Dryden Mortimer

Andrew Dryden Mortimer

Andrew Dryden Mortimer is a screenwriter from Whitney Pier, Nova Scotia. He has spent the past three years working in Halifax, and the Annapolis Valley as a production assistant for film and television.

While working as a PA, Andrew wrote scripts in his free time. In 2017 his television pilot Space & Tide was shortlisted for NSI Totally Television, was the wildcard winner of The Pilot Project, and in 2018, earned him a trip to Toronto to work in the Mary Kills People writer’s room through the Screen Nova Scotia Screenwriters Internship Program.

Andrew is a member of the Director’s Guild of Canada, the Writer’s Federation of Nova Scotia, and is an alum of the Atlantic Filmmakers Cooperative’s FILM 5 Program.

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