NSI Features First students at Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2019

NSI Features First is presented by the National Screen Institute in association with Telefilm Canada

Muna Deria (centre) with Black Women Film! Leadership Program members

Above: Muna Deria (centre) with Black Women Film! Leadership Program members

Students from our current edition of NSI Features First recently attended Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Below they share their experiences and tips for future festival-goers.

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Muna Deria, writer | Black Gold Muslimah

During TIFF I participated in a number of activities which contributed to my career development, including a directing workshop led by Sharon Lewis, a social media take over at the Canadian Film Centre BBQ, and numerous panels and networking opportunities. At Content Canada, I had the opportunity to pitch Black Gold Muslimah to potential executive producers, meet the CBC comedy team, and meet executives from Bell Media.

The festival was a wonderful opportunity to gain an overview of industry trends, take in panels, pitch and learn. I’m lucky to have also participated in the Black Women Film! Leadership Program – a program I was chosen for as a direct result of my activities this year, including my acceptance to NSI Features First.

TIFF also provided an opportunity to see a few of the other NSI Features First students as they navigated the festival with their own projects and objectives. My personal highlights include seeing the Dolemite Is My Name premiere with an Eddie Murphy led Q&A and the Just Mercy panel discussion with Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan. Can’t wait for TIFF 2020.

Lauren MacKinlay, producer | In Vein

James Fanizza Lauren MacKinlay

Five TIFF takeaways

For the final stage of the NSI Features First program, writer/director James Fanizza and I attended TIFF with our feature screenplay, In Vein. Armed with industry passes and a well-practiced pitch, we spent the better part of five days Ubering back and forth between meetings all over downtown Toronto. Here are our top five takeaways:

1. Have a purpose

James and I were at TIFF with a specific goal in mind: we’d developed our script through NSI and wanted to connect with production companies who could help us get it made. If learning is your objective, get a conference pass; TIFF hosts exciting panels and masterclasses all throughout the festival. If soaking up cinema is your jam, an industry pass will allow you to attend as many P&I screenings as you can fit in your schedule. Name your goals, then use your time at TIFF to actively work towards them.

2. Do research

I hate wasting people’s time. Before we requested meetings with production companies, we spent days going through company profiles, filmographies, websites, IMDb pages, press, anything we could find to ensure we were approaching like-minded teams whose work we admired and who, in turn, could potentially see the value in our work.

3. Be a scheduling wizard

Map out your meeting schedule and give yourself ample time to get from point A to point B. Keep in mind that King St. West is shut down during the first five days of TIFF and traffic in Toronto is generally the WORST. Meetings are scheduled down to the minute during festivals, so protect that valuable face time and be punctual.

4. Find discounts

Especially for out-of-towners, TIFF can be an expensive. See if any of your memberships provide discounts for passes. My WIFT membership, for example, allowed me to get the industry pass for the price of a conference pass – a savings of around $300. Also, there’s no need to break the bank on expensive dinners. TIFF’s industry cocktail hours are a good time to connect with fellow filmmakers AND they can also be a source of free snacks!

5. Kindness is key

Do yourself and everyone else around you a favour: don’t be an asshole. TIFF staff and volunteers work grueling hours – I know because I once was one. The staff and volunteers are also passionate about film and are most likely pursuing careers in the industry. You never know, the person serving you champagne at a TIFF party today (did that, too) could be interviewing you for a job tomorrow. Invest in good karma.

Lauren MacKinlay

We’re so grateful to NSI for giving us the tools we needed to approach TIFF with confidence. We hope our takeaways help your future festival experiences – ones that will hopefully include a screening of our film, In Vein!

Andrew Mortimer, writer | The Undertow

I had a great time attending TIFF. It was my first time at the festival and it was very overwhelming.

I got to see some fantastic movies, meet new friends and learn new things. I got to see The Lighthouse at its North American premiere, which was really special because it was made in my home province with a crew full of friends and coworkers.

It was an inspiring trip and I’m so thankful to NSI for allowing me to attend.

Gharrett Paon, producer | The Undertow

TIFF was an incredible experience for The Undertow team. This was my third TIFF. Last year I was there representing another film in Telefilm Canada’s Pitch This! competition so, in comparison, I felt less pressure in pitching this year.

The Undertow is being eyed as a Quebec-Nova Scotia inter-provincial co-production, so my strategy was to meet Quebec producers who may be interested in partnering on the film. I met with a number of partners who were excited by the story and who I’ve since sent the script to and started to begin relationships with. We also met with an actress we’ve been eyeing as the lead in our film for some time. She’s since read the script and is excited to be involved.

Andrew (Mortimer, writer) and I also used TIFF to gain inspiration, seeing as many films as possible. Honey Boy, written by and starring Shia LaBeouf as his own father in a film about his childhood, had us talking for days.

It would feel wrong to report on TIFF without a nod to the parties and Papa John’s pizza. All I’ll say is that the Directors Guild of Canada/Canadian Film Fest party was the only one that turned into a dance party, which I may or may not have started. Only Papa John knows the real answer. 😉

Until next year, TIFF.

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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.

NSI Features First is funded by Presenting Sponsor Telefilm Canada; Supporting Sponsors CBC Gem, Super Channel, Corus 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.

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