Getting to know the NSI Business for Producers students of 2020 (part 1)

Top row from left: A.J. Demers, Andrea Feltrin, Ervin Chartrand, Fonna Seidu, Jacob Pratt, Kate Fenton, Stuart Matheson; middle row: Carmen Forsberg, Bram Timmer, Flore de Bayser, Ian Bawa, Jen Viens, Richard Agecoutay, Priyanka Desai; bottom row: Alex Sangha, Carla Robinson, Alex Duong, Hedyeh Bozorgzadeh, Jason Arsenault, Kulbinder Saran Caldwell, Seth Williams

Top row from left: A.J. Demers, Andrea Feltrin, Ervin Chartrand, Fonna Seidu, Jacob Pratt, Kate Fenton, Stuart Matheson; middle row: Carmen Forsberg, Bram Timmer, Flore de Bayser, Ian Bawa, Jen Viens, Richard Agecoutay, Priyanka Desai; bottom row: Alex Sangha, Carla Robinson, Alex Duong, Hedyeh Bozorgzadeh, Jason Arsenault, Kulbinder Saran Caldwell, Seth Williams

Last week NSI welcomed 21 participants via Zoom to begin the NSI Business for Producers training program – a distance learning and mentorship program designed to help emerging producers nurture creative ideas (of all genres) while navigating the logistics and legalities of screen-based storytelling in a COVID-19 environment. Read more about this year’s participants.

Each was tasked with a writing assignment at the end of their first week. We asked about why they applied for the program, what they hope to get out of it and a little about the project they’re developing through training.

Since there are 21 talented participants, we’re rolling out the writing pieces in three separate posts to avoid publishing a very long post.

Read: part 2 and part 3.

• • •

Richard Agecoutay – Spirits of Summer (Toronto, ON)

Richard Agecoutay

I’m Saulteaux/Assiniboine/Cree from Saskatchewan.

I’ve been visiting the NSI website for a few years now and I’ve always been intrigued by the  program offerings. I’m employed by CBC as a full-time video producer in Toronto so I don’t really have a flexible schedule to take part in some of the NSI programming.

That was until I read about NSI Business for Producers – an online training program. I figured this may be an opportunity for me to keep my full-time job and develop my producing skillset. Fortunately, I have a supportive manager and he agreed to support me if I was accepted.

To my delight I was accepted into the program and I have the ability to arrange my work schedule around the online training sessions.

By delivering the program online, NSI allows participants to upgrade their skills without having to worry about costly travel and living expenses. The price points are reasonable, allowing a lot more candidates to participate.

I’m hoping to develop a solid, useful skillset that will allow me to bring my projects to market. The line-up of teachers and lecturers NSI chose are top notch industry professionals. I enjoy learning from people who can share their lived experiences. It’s important that these experts share their knowledge and experiences with others in order to build a stronger Canadian filmmaking community.

No man is an island, I’m looking forward to networking with other participants in the future.

I am focusing on a project I call Spirits of Summer – a powwow road trip documentary about cultural discovery, kinship, spirituality and resilience.

Spirits will follow a hard-headed Indigenous mother of three scrappy pre-teen girls. She is fiercely determined to make sure her girls learn the ways of their ancestors.

Spirits has been in my mind’s eye for over 30 years. I first ventured out on the powwow trail to document this unique subculture with my SLR camera. With a grant from the SaskArts Board I eventually held an exhibit of 20 black and white photographs. I called the exhibit Spirits of Summer.

I love the diversity and equity of the participants. It’s encouraging to see that NSI has taken steps to strengthen the Canadian film community by picking up the torch and leading the way to social justice. Eagle feathers to NSI!


Jason Arsenault – Off The Wharf (Charlottetown, PEI)

Jason Arsenault

I applied to NSI Business for Producers for a couple of reasons. Having nearly finished my first feature film, I’m looking to expand my producer toolkit by learning how to develop my first television series called Off The Wharf.

NSI Business for Producers helps each student by tailoring training according to each producer’s individual needs, along with mentors who can help with specific goals. All of this in addition to having an excellent series of lectures from industry experts, a place to work out ideas with peers, and networking opportunities, makes this a unique opportunity to develop a project with support and direction which isn’t easy to access. It’s often so easy to feel like you’re spinning wheels with new ideas, unsure of what to do next.

I know this from experience, having been part of the 2016 NSI Features First program. That program was instrumental for me in making the leap as a producer of web content and short films to feature films by clarifying the process of feature film production. With all of this support, and my previous experience with NSI, my expectations for NSI Business for Producers are very high; I’m sure they’ll be met. I know I’m going to finish knowing much more about producing with a clearer direction about my own project and a new list of friends and networks.

I’m developing a project called Off The Wharf. It’s a 30-minute single camera comedy-drama set in a blue collar fishing village on Prince Edward Island. It follows a reluctant lobster fisherwoman who struggles to take care of her eccentric family by running the family fishing business while dealing with the challenges of living in a small town whose residents think she’s responsible for her own mother’s accidental death. While PEI’s film industry is small, it’s quickly growing and often punches above its weight in terms of creative talent. I’d love for this to be the first homegrown comedy television show to be produced on PEI.

While COVID-19 has moved many parts of our lives to online platforms, it hasn’t really affected my expectations of the program thus far. NSI staff have managed to create an open and friendly environment that lives up to my past experiences, and so I’m very excited for the coming weeks of learning.


Ian Bawa – The Amazing Alan Cassavettes (Winnipeg, MB)

Ian Bawa

I’ve always felt that I’m a natural producer. By this I mean that, for many years, I have had my own definition of what a producer is: someone that gets s*** done; is intuitive with a large amount of foresight; and is a clear communicator with above-average networking skills.

After dropping out of law school and pursuing a film career for the past nine years, I can definitely say that these are only some of the aspects of being a producer. My reasoning for applying to NSI Business for Producers is to truly teach me what it means to be a producer and to produce.

There’s an administrative and business side to the process I’ve always avoided in fear of looking like a fool while sitting in a room of my peers / industry professionals. ‘You don’t know, what you don’t know,’ is a statement that I think really applies to producing.

It’s a job that is almost indefinable at times because, depending on the scale of your project, your role can vary. NSI Business for Producers seems like a natural next step for me and my film career and I aim to take advantage of every facet in being part of it.

NSI Business for Producers will allow me to identify my place within my film career and help me strengthen and grow into becoming an established producer. I believe this program will fill in the blanks for things I don’t know about producing.

Learning producing through books, websites and YouTube videos can only take you so far. The real way to learn is through industry professionals where you can engage and connect with people. My biggest expectation out of this program is to find my people, find my tribe, and find my colleagues who I can produce and collaborate with in the future.

The film I am trying to produce is entitled The Amazing Alan Cassavettes – a narrative feature film about Alan Cassavettes (20s), an escape artist with little experience and no actual training, trying to prove himself in an already judgemental and critical field of work.

On a cloudy fall day in the late eighties, Alan prepares to perform his most dangerous and daring escape: being buried in a coffin beneath the earth and having to successfully get out alive within an allotted time. However, while Alan is performing, questions arise over whether his escape has been compromised, leaving it up to his self-proclaimed ‘aura,’ Olivia (50s), his stage assistant, Jones (16), and a local-access news team led by reporter, Kelly Graves (30s), to decide if Alan is in need of saving or if this is just part of his elaborate show.

The Amazing Alan Cassavettes is a personal film that I wrote, inspired by my employment on the documentary reality TV series Escape or Die where I had the opportunity to travel the world with local Manitoban and the ‘World’s Greatest Escape Artist,’ Dean Gunnarson. Dean is an opposing character to Alan and has made a living as a working escape artist and, during our travels, successfully performed the ‘Buried Alive’ escape in Udupi, India, that the film is based on.

Alan’s attempts to prove himself as an escape artist relate to those working and trying to establish themselves in the arts community (filmmakers, writers, painters, etc.), and the attempts they make to get their work seen by an audience.

As a lifelong resident of Manitoba, the city-town community that this province offers can be seen as both an advantage and a disadvantage when presenting your work in
 an already competitive field. Alan’s story displays an individual looking for public acceptance and approval, but only gaining it through his attempt at risking his own life.

Being part of this year’s NSI Business for Producers program is exciting but also bittersweet. I’m excited to be part of a prestigious program and meet with industry professionals that I wouldn’t normally get a chance to meet. However, as a natural extrovert, I am going to miss having people in a room and feel their energy as they share information with us.

Additionally, things like having small talk with your peers get left out when you’re in an online class. I say all this knowing that this is our world right now. Adjustments have been made and, despite all the disadvantages of being in an online class, I am happy there is a class at all.

I am excited to sit, take notes, meet new people and advance my career as a South Asian, Canadian producer. NSI Business for Producers will be the next step in getting The Amazing Alan Cassavettes produced and finally made.


Flore de Bayser – The Outsider (Waterloo, ON)

Flore de Bayser

I am a female, Toronto-based, emerging producer and the co-founder of Velvet Icons Productions.

I applied for the NSI Business for Producers program to get the Velvet Icons’ first feature film The Outsider off the ground. While developing this project, I became very much aware of my responsibility as a producer towards the artists we collaborate with, the people who will work on the film, and the $1.5M of public funding we plan to invest in it. It became clear to me that we could not realistically expect to bring the film to the screen – engaging other people’s work and money – without the involvement and guidance of experienced people to back us.

NSI provides exactly the kind of support my company and I need to safely move this project forward into production: intensive and high-quality production training, the resources to fill the gaps, the industry network and a label that will allow us to stand out in a highly competitive market.

This program will give me the tools and the confidence to start off the production of The Outsider on the right foot. I hope to gain creative and business insights into pitching and developing a story, and managing a production in the COVID-19 era.

I also hope to find the right mentor for The Outsider. This program is a very unique opportunity to learn about all aspects of production from expert professionals, making me more attuned to what I know and what I don’t know, better able to assess the risks associated with a production, and aware of where to find the information and experience necessary to achieve our goal.

Beyond serving our current project, I see this program as a launch pad for the Velvet Icons and for my career in the Canadian film industry. I expect to build lifelong professional relationships with the NSI family, including my fellow participants and the speakers, and to get the inspiration, advice and tools that will make me a better producer and play my role advocating for diversity and social change within the industry.

The Outsider is exactly the kind of meaningful and stylish story that we, at Velvet Icons, want to bring to the world. It is a horror film, currently in its final phase of development (V4), written by a talented team of writer/directors. Their first feature film, brought to life with a micro-budget of just $25K, won the audience choice award for best Canadian film at Fantasia Film Festival.

In The Outsider, the soft-spoken Sam must defend her entire family from a deadly creature which has forced its way into their house. What makes the film unique is that the original sin that brings consequences in any classical horror movies is, in this case, ‘good intentions.’ The protagonist, Sam, is both the ‘good person’ of the story, and also the one whose mistakes lead to the death of her loved ones. The film is at once a well-constructed classic genre piece and a thoughtful exploration of how what are commonly seen as ‘good intentions’ are actually quite often shaped by a personal or social need to be seen as ‘good.’ In a very subtle and efficient way, The Outsider addresses an urgent need for questioning the social status quo.

In times of COVID, I feel very good about joining a group of 20 others online. On a practical note, the online format will save commute time and help me manage my different professional and parenting commitments.

I also believe the virtual format won’t compromise the quality of the program. I find these months in lockdown have brought, with all the frustration of not being able to physically interact, a deep sense of solidarity in the industry, and hunger to support, inspire and collaborate with each other. The first week at NSI, seeing the quality of the speakers and being given the chance to work in smaller groups, reinforced my conviction that we will be able not only to connect with each other, but also to make our projects advance as well as everyone’s careers.

I do hope to meet with everyone in person when the pandemic is over, but I am also glad that NSI didn’t wait for better days to make us all connect and move forward together.


Hedyeh Bozorgzadeh – Brother, Man (West Vancouver, BC)

Hedy Bozorgzadeh

I have completed quite a few producer trainee internships in the past but, unfortunately, came out with gaps in my producing skills. Even basic things like budgeting, which was part of the internship objectives, were not met and overlooked by the mentors. Some would talk about going over them but never did.

So, when the NSI Business for Producers program came up, I wanted to make sure I finally bridged these gaps in my knowledge, which I hope will go a long way as I apply them to my first feature film project.

Like other producers, I create my budgets and finance plan for each project, but I need an established producer to look them over and make sure they are solid and address all the needs of the project. Like other filmmakers, I read and re-read the ever-changing funding guidelines, but I am uncertain as to whether I have understood them clearly as I apply them to my own projects.

Over the years, I have learned more about the legal and business affairs side of producing, but I need to know more about negotiating deals and contracts. These are some areas where I need to build my skills, knowledge and confidence, and I am glad we will be focusing on these areas and more while addressing (post) COVID production challenges.

With all this in mind, this opportunity couldn’t come at a better time and I feel blessed to have the chance to be a part of an institute and NSI family that continues to nurture up-and-coming talent and creatives. Special thanks to Ursula Lawson [program manager] and Jeff Peeler [program advisor], our mentors, and the hard-working team at NSI for creating a distance learning program at such uncertain and disruptive times when we need the support the most. With gratitude – Hedy


Ervin Chartrand – Highway 45 (Selkirk, MB)

Ervin Chartrand

I applied to NSI Business for Producers because I wanted to become more educated and informed about producing. I didn’t enter the film industry to be a producer, necessarily. Being a producer is a role I have undertaken somewhat reluctantly; my passion is writing and directing.

I find producing to be very daunting and stressful. I prefer the stress that comes from working on the creative side of things. I believe the program will give me the skills and insight I need to embrace the producer role with greater confidence.

I’m hoping to gain skills to help me produce my own projects because the hustle to get the next gig is almost endless, and there are days when it seems there are more opportunities than I have time.

NSI Business for Producers allows me to use Highway 45 as the choice project, which is my first feature funded by Telefilm Canada. I have been passionate about developing this story into a screenplay since I discovered the book Nowhere to Run in 2015, after which I acquired the rights to the book.

In 2018, I produced and directed a documentary about the story of Constables Dennis Strongquill and Brian Auger, which was also entitled Highway 45. This allowed me to investigate the crime, including the impact that the tragedy had on Constable Brian Auger, the victim’s family and the communities.

I’m really grateful to be included in this program and for the opportunity to connect with this rich group of seasoned professionals. Hearing different perspectives and learning from their experiences is very motivating and reassuring. Despite the pandemic, I feel that I am in the right place in my career path and not alone.


A.J. Demers – Old Growth (Toronto, ON)

A.J. Demers

With content creation and the media industry changing so rapidly, lifelong learning isn’t a passion, it’s a necessity.

After spending the last few years focusing purely on creative work, I applied to the NSI Business for Producers program to expand my feature film producing skills. Through the program I’m seeking to refine my feature film project to position it strongly in the marketplace. I want to ensure that the film has an appropriate budget and financing to support the strong creative that has been established. As a passionate creative producer I believe that keeping my business skills sharp is essential to bringing my vision to life and my content to audiences.

Through the program I will continue developing a supernatural thriller/horror feature film from my slate entitled, Old Growth. The project is an elevated monster/survival movie set in the old growth forests of the Rocky Mountains. The film has elements of paranoia and isolation, themes of division, unity, and environmentalism, an excellent monster, and strong visuals. These factors will make Old Growth a scary and thrilling monster movie than will rise to become an allegory about how we are destroying the planet and ourselves.


Priyanka Desai – Fearless Inks of the Nisga’a Nation (Vancouver, BC)

Priyanka Desai

I am a journalist turned executive producer with extensive work experience in India in reality TV and documentary film.

When I moved to Canada, in spring 2018, I either had to change my stream of work or start afresh. I chose to give my career a fresh start – working as a production assistant on film sets, as an assistant director on independent films and occasionally volunteering to build my Canadian work experience. My creative journey in this new country is leading me to be a producer for stories that impact and entertain.

I want to learn Canadian producing from the very best in the industry. I want to grow my network of industry professionals. I seek to gain validation for my skills and knowledge. These are the very reasons I applied for NSI Business for Producers.

With this program’s help and guidance I aim to direct and produce my first feature documentary film in Canada. I look forward to collaborating and making use of each other’s potential for future projects and to having a thorough understanding of budgeting, scheduling and funding for documentary projects in North America.

In the last two years I was fortunate to work as a story producer, production coordinator and producer on some prestigious projects like the six-part TELUS STORYHIVE docu-series Red Chef Revival, a pan Canada video documentary for the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, a wheelchair boxing documentary for Accessible Media Inc. and an artist’s profile video series for BC Achievement Foundation’s First Nation Awards 2020.

As a BIPOC filmmaker, I seek to take greater control of the narrative. And in order to do so, I understand that I must equip myself with the business aspect of producing.

The project I’m developing through the program is Fearless Inks of Nisga’a Nation. I see myself as a representative of the project which I am developing with an Indigenous artist Nakkita Trimble. More than being a film about tattooing and reclaiming identity through body designs, this film is about shedding the idea of fitting in and challenging the culture of shame.

This film is dear to me for several reasons. It gives me unique access to the community. I feel COVID changed the course of our lives in more ways than one. There was a serious loss of opportunity to network with people in the industry. During COVID, I felt the need to connect with more people, to battle my loneliness and to reach out and find more work. This program has brought those opportunities and people to me, in my home. I feel grateful to learn from such a talented bunch of individuals who are extending a sense of camaraderie and kindness towards each other. There is also a sense of purpose and discipline that the program is adding to my daily work schedule. I am enjoying every bit of it.

• • •

NSI Business for Producers is funded by Program Partner Canada Media Fund (CMF); Strategic Sponsors Telefilm Canada and The Winnipeg Foundation; Supporting Sponsors Corus Entertainment and Super Channel; Industry Consultants Executive Education Centre, Asper School of Business, Facilitated Solutions and People First HR Services. NSI Core Funders are Manitoba Sport, Culture & Heritage and the City of Winnipeg through the Winnipeg Arts Council.

Leave a comment