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.
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Alex Duong – Breaking Bread (Burnaby, BC)
I’m the writer/producer of a rom-com feature film called Breaking Bread.
My short-term goal, as a visible minority and emerging producer, relates to breaking into this ﬁeld: I want to gain knowledge and fully understand what being a ﬁlm producer entails. It is essential to know the do’s and don’ts, to gain trust, credibility and learn multiple skillsets with an experienced team of producers.
My long-term goal is simple and straightforward: to be a full-time producer. I want to release movies with meaningful and engaging content that I have written with diverse casts. While the short-term goals are a priority now, the long-term plans will ignite my desire to work hard in this ﬁeld.
Breaking Bread is inspired by a personal story.
I was born and raised in France. My family owned a Chinese restaurant and, instead of serving the traditional fortune cookies, we would serve sesame balls or almond cookies for dessert.
Two stores down the street, there was this fantastic Boulangerie baking fresh croissants and baguettes every morning. The smell was so exquisite and delicious that I had to go there and get a croissant. However, I was not allowed to go to that French bakery because they were our competition. One day I snuck out and got caught red-handed when I still had some croissant crumbs on my chest.
Breaking Bread is a tale of passion and greed, backstabbing and double-crossing, desperation and determination, truth and destiny. It is hopelessly talented versus the doggedly determined, and the outcome is a naturalistic rom-com.
I’m thankful for NSI to have made me part of this online program with other emerging producers. As a producer, networking is really important and I’m glad I can share my project with them.
Andrea Feltrin – Natural Habitat (Vancouver, BC)
I’m a writer, director, and comedian based in Vancouver, BC.
The project I’m developing through NSI Business for Producers is Natural Habitat – a half-hour scripted comedy series about a Banksy wannabe who ventures out west to join a commune. It’s both written and created by me.
I have over seven years of experience working in the industry, mainly on an independent, zero-to-low-budget scale, but I’m striving to expand my skillset and learn how to play in the big leagues.
I generally act in my own projects as well, mainly out of necessity but I also really enjoy it as I have a background in theatre, stand-up and improv comedy. I’ve been working for Trish Dolman [NSI alumna] at Screen Siren Pictures for the past two and a half years which has been an invaluable learning opportunity and has given me insight into the more administrative side of filmmaking, both in the scripted and documentary space.
I’m so excited to be part of the NSI Business for Producers cohort along with so many great people with interesting projects and backgrounds. Through the program, I hope to gain a deeper understanding of the business affairs side of filmmaking, specifically surrounding contracts, chain of title, budgeting and financing for scripted projects.
I hope to learn and employ pragmatic strategies and make industry connections that will ultimately help take my project from development to production. I also hope to better familiarize myself with the pitching process.
I look forward to connecting further with the other producers in the program and hearing about their individual experiences working in the industry. Even though the program is online, it has been so refreshing and energizing to be in a virtual room with so many ambitious and dedicated people from all across Canada. It’s been a weird and wild year but there’s never been a better time for Canadian content to shine so I’m optimistic about the future.
Kate Fenton – Filmores (Toronto, ON)
Why did you apply for NSI Business for Producers?
I applied to NSI Business for Producers with a commitment to transfer my skills from creating and producing in the theatre and in digital series, into a strong career in film and television.
I am excited to participate in discussions and debates about the industry in a more intimate setting while also establishing new and important relationships with people more experienced than me. Furthermore, I hope to strengthen my producing skills, particularly in the areas of managing people and productions and ultimately to develop a global understanding of the industry with broadcasters, distributors and development executives.
What do you expect to get out of the program?
I hope to gain lifelong holistic habits that prepare me for every aspect of the film and television industries starting with a strong network of colleagues, mentors and resources.
Tell us a bit about the project you’re developing through the program
Adam Seybold approached me with the initial idea. After living and working in Regent Park and experiencing first-hand the collision of culture, socio-economic status, systemic racism and gentrification, we decided to form a writer/creator team including Thirza Cuthand, Monica Mustelier, Adam Seybold and myself.
Inspired by the history of Filmores Hotel and Gentleman’s Club, a 250-year-old structure located on the edge of Regent Park, we started with the question: “How do we live together in a place that was never ours to begin with?”
Slogan: You are a guest here.
Logline: From longhouse to strip club, Filmores is a genre-bending anthology web series about the 400 years of characters who pass through a mysterious plot of land and the ageless Indigenous woman who witnesses it all.
Format: Told in 6 x 20-minute episodes. Each episode is its own short film, populated by a new set of characters, except for one central and unifying thread woven through the entire series, Nadowa, the most mysterious and vital character.
Story: Nadowa, a young Huron woman, gains immortality as her people are decimated by colonial settlers and absorbed into the Seneca nation. She falls in love with a Seneca woman, raises a family and watches as they all die while she is fated to remain on the grounds of her lover’s grave for centuries as the land becomes a building filled with mysteries, sex, ghosts, murder and the history of the city we now know as Toronto.
How do you feel about joining a group of 20 others online during COVID?
My 2020 lockdown has so far included directing a play, premiering a series, developing a new series and producing a short film, all over Zoom! So, joining a group online feels quite familiar.
Although, it might not be ideal, in the sense that you don’t spend the whole day together, sharing stories over lunches and chatting over coffee, instead we have the privilege of working with producers and content creators from across the country.
People who would not normally be together in the same city are now interacting over these online platforms. It means for us – this year’s cohort of producers – we have contacts from coast to coast, not just in our immediate towns and cities.
Also, as a mother, actor and content creator I might not have been able to manage participating in a full-time course like this. By conducting it online over several weeks NSI has allowed me to incorporate such a program into my otherwise ‘bonkers’ schedule! I think it’s great!
Carmen Forsberg – #generation:ocean (Richmond, BC)
As soon as I read NSI was bringing back the NSI Business for Producers program, it immediately interested me. Producing is ever-changing, with formats, platforms and audiences being some of the larger shifts – and then 2020 happened!
Being part of an incubator lab allows every one of us to not only strengthen the projects we came in with, but also those on our slate. The program brings to the table up-to-date insights, knowledge and strategies and, at the same time, the ability to connect with peers and industry at a roundtable level. These connections are priceless, and as we work together receiving feedback and giving feedback, relationships are built.
The first week was interesting and a great foundation for the weeks to come, with a special focus on diversity in the workplace and our commitment to inclusion on the screen and behind the camera. Equally as important, the thorough understanding of how to work with Indigenous communities and stories, and I would even take the license to say that this respect and collaboration should be applied with Indigenous communities in every country.
The project I’m currently developing is a documentary series which includes a significant amount of travel. I was ready to shoot a sizzle reel on location in early March but when COVID hit, everything paused. The challenge now is how to adjust and re-shape development. Personally, this is how I want to approach the lab “producing internationally in times of COVID.”
While this year has created significant challenges, it has also opened a new way of communicating. Online conferences and video solutions have allowed us to tap into a larger network, from master classes and panels to communicating with friends and peers with much more simplicity and a willingness to appear on-screen. I look forward to the coming weeks as we dive deeper into all aspects of the producing role.
Stuart Matheson – True Hearted Punk (The Pas, MB)
I am an emerging producer and filmmaker living in The Pas, Manitoba.
I applied for the NSI Business for Producers to develop my project and my abilities as a producer. I also applied hoping that I would be meeting new people with similar interests to myself. I hope this program will help develop my skills in filmmaking as well as create long-lasting connections within the industry. I also hope the program will open doors that lead to my project becoming a reality.
The project I’m working on is an animated fantasy-adventure series called True Hearted Punk. It’s set in a steampunk-esque world called Ama where the forces of science and magic are in conflict with each other. The story focuses on a pilot and a girl with a metal arm who go on an adventure to stop an evil force from destroying Ama. The themes of the show will revolve around subjects like the old world vs the new world, industrialization and its consequences, duty and loss. The animation style of this series would be a mix of western and eastern, similar to how the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender was made.
I am very excited to be working with such a large and driven group of individuals. An opportunity to work online would have been incredibly rare pre-COVID and I hope more opportunities like this come up post-COVID for individuals living in remote areas.
Jacob Pratt – Lands Wandered (Regina, SK)
I am Dakota and Ojibway from the Cote First Nation in Saskatchewan. My career started in the entertainment industry as a performer. I was a powwow dancer, then started hoop dancing, training in ballet and advancing to become a choreographer.
I am also a traditional native flute player and won an Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Award with my first album. All my experience as a live performer revolved around storytelling. As my career developed I grew into becoming a film and television actor.
As an actor I had some success as a lead animated character for Louis Says, hosted Wild Archaeology, and even acted in large productions like Outlander. However, as an actor it’s a very passive position to be in because you are simply reliant on other people’s projects and hoping you are chosen to be a part of a project.
My problem as a storyteller is I wanted to tell more stories and didn’t want to wait for somebody to choose me to help maybe tell one of these stories one day. This naturally led me to explore my career development [opportunities] and become a director and producer.
My education has been a huge help to me. However, I never went to film school of any kind. I actually got my undergrad from the First Nations University of Canada in business administration. After completing this I moved to Southern California where I was accepted into the University of Southern California master of science in social entrepreneurship. I chose this program because it focuses on creating successful businesses that strive to make a positive social change in the world.
I focused on how to create diversity in the entertainment industry. This was my focus due to my understanding that as an Indigenous man the only opportunities I have been given were acting roles in period pieces and we don’t exist in modern society based on the entertainment industry. It’s obvious that the entire industry does not provide opportunities to People of Colour or women the way it should. So, my goal is to make a difference in that through creating high-quality entertaining content.
I applied to this program because, despite the fact I have learned a lot and been actively working within the entertainment industry, I have more to learn. There are specific areas like where to find funds and technical skills I would like to improve. I think this program will help me with that. I also want to establish more connections through the program because I am well aware of the fact the most important part of being successful in this industry is developing relationships.
Lands Wandered is my project that I developed as a web series for APTN. It is currently on APTN lumi but I still feel like this project can be improved and developed. I would like to expand the concept and pitch it to other broadcasters, and perhaps even to Disney. It’s an adventure series that explores the most well-known places across North America but also takes a look at the Indigenous history that is often forgotten either intentionally or unintentionally.
So far I have been very happy with joining the [other producers]. They seem like a great group with a host of different experiences. I think it’s great because there may be a chance we will work together in the future. I look forward to the rest of the program.
Carla Robinson – Bully (Brantford, ON)
Yowtz! Hello! I’m from the Haisla and Heiltsuk nations in northwestern BC. I’m extremely happy and grateful to be part of NSI Business for Producers.
I applied to NSI as I’ve always been impressed with its programs and the achievements of its graduates, and this program seemed like a perfect fit for my career goals of launching my own company; Wassum (“heart” in Haisla) Productions Inc., and taking the lead on developing my screenplay, Bully into a feature film.
Since graduating from Sheridan College’s film program in 2018 I have mostly focused on writing and producing in consulting, advisory and production roles. I’ve worked on projects such as Trickster (2020) and Monkey Beach (2020) and a one-year story-editing mentorship through imagineNATIVE with the Harold Greenberg Fund.
I am hoping through this program to develop executive-level producing skills such as project planning, pitching, forming partnerships, negotiating, building teams, budgeting, managing tax credits and assessing market and distribution trends. I also want to find more people I can connect with and collaborate with on projects.
My film Bully is based on a personal story and is about a young, funny, awkward and ambitious First Nations woman struggling to stay in university and get out of the world of bulimia and bad relationships crafted by her manipulative alter ego. Beyond my own experiences with these subjects, I hope to also draw on the humour I have grown up with in my communities that has helped lift us through many heavy or painful situations.
I am looking forward to being online over the next few months with my 20 talented classmates developing our ideas together and learning from the many experienced and generous presenters, teachers and mentors, and as a community making the most out of this unprecedented time in history.
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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.