NSI alumna Karen Lam: without NSI, I would not be writing and directing as a career

Karen Lam

At the National Screen Institute, we’re blessed to see firsthand the difference training makes in the lives of storytellers. Throughout December we’ve been sharing impact stories from our talented alumni who told us how NSI training transformed their lives and careers.

Today’s featured alumna is Karen Lam who made The Cabinet through NSI Drama Prize in 2006, and also developed Bruised Fruit through NSI Totally Television in 2008 – Karen Wong was the producer on both projects.

Karen has worked full-time in the film and television industry since 2000. Starting her career as a producer and entertainment lawyer, she has produced five feature films, eight short films and three television series.

Since making The Cabinet, she has written and directed seven short films, a music video, Very Bad Men (2012) a true-crime documentary series for Investigation Discovery (US), a web series Mythos (2015) created for TELUS and three feature films: Stained (2010), Evangeline (2013) and The Curse of Willow Song (2019).​

In 2016, Karen entered into the world of television drama, first working as a story editor for the SYFY series Van Helsing under showrunners Neil Labute and Simon Barry. She was a staff writer and writer on two episodes of Simon Barry’s SYFY series Ghost Wars, now streaming on Netflix worldwide.

In fall 2018, she was commissioned to write and direct a short film tribute to Sandra Oh entitled Sandra Oh: Inspiration, which premiered at the Governor Generals Performing Arts Awards in Ottawa in April 2019.

Karen is currently in development on two true-crime series.

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How did your training through NSI help you get to the place you’re at in your career today?

Without NSI, I would not be writing and directing as a career. NSI Drama Prize was the first program I applied to for writing and directing training after working a decade as an entertainment lawyer and producer. Being chosen made me feel like I was capable of being on this path. It felt like an invitation to the creative table.

What was most memorable or helpful about NSI training?

The NSI training was done by industry professionals so everything I was being shown and taught was from hard-won experience. It was immersive, supportive and encouraging. It gave me the confidence to achieve more than I thought possible.

Did you make enduring connections with peers and industry folks?

The connections I made in both the NSI Drama Prize and NSI Totally Television programs have led to lifelong collaborators, peers and friends. It’s amazing how many people I am still connected with and how our careers are interwoven.

Have you continued to work with any of those people?

My first feature film Stained was a co-production with Angel Entertainment. I met the late Bob Crowe during NSI Totally Television and he invited me to consider shooting in Saskatoon, eventually making it happen. I owe a debt of gratitude to him – and the whole team at Angel – for giving me my first steps.

My NSI Drama Prize and NSI Totally Television producer Karen Wong remains my partner in crime after all these years. I know I wouldn’t be doing any of this without her.

What advice or encouragement would you give a prospective applicant considering NSI programs?

Apply, apply and if you don’t get in, get some objective feedback on the applications, improve your work and then keep applying. It’s so worth it.

What has your career trajectory looked like between when you completed training and now?

I wish I could say it was a steady upward movement but man, it’s a tough industry. I still wouldn’t trade it for the world.

What was the most transformative part of your learning experience?

Being selected is honestly the most transformative part. Yes, you learn and yes, you meet people. But none of that matters if you aren’t confident that you should even be there.

What project(s) are you currently working on?

I have just finished writing and directing my third feature film, The Curse of Willow Song and we’re currently applying to film festivals. Fingers crossed! I’m in development on other projects, but those are in a cone of silence.

Where can people find out more about your work online?

Karen Lam Films.

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