Gemma Holdway: I’ve been a full-time writer ever since my NSI Totally Television training

Gemma Holdway

Storytelling is more important than ever as we all face the unique challenges this year has brought us.

Stories entertain, inspire and transform. They remind us of where we come from and where we can go. We need more stories to free our imaginations and open our hearts to create a path of understanding and healing.

To mark the season of giving during December, we’re sharing impact stories from our alumni and board members to show the power of story in action.

Current NSI students are blessed by the commitment of NSI’s Board of Directors – 100% of whom have donated to NSI’s annual fund. Please join them in supporting our students by donating today and making the power of story even more powerful.

Today’s impact story comes from writer/producer Gemma Holdway – NSI Totally Television and Features First grad.

Gemma’s training through NSI Totally Television helped her become more connected to her work. She was given the tools to improve her project and challenge herself to take her work to the next level.

Gemma’s pilots have been shortlisted by the BBC Writersroom initiative and the Sundance Episodic Lab. Her shorts have premiered at festivals like Edmonton International Film Festival and Whistler Film Festival.

Note: Gemma refers to training boot camp sessions as labs.

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If you could describe your experience with NSI in three words what would they be, and why?

Demanding, informative and professional – because the labs are jam-packed with guests from every facet of the industry and high-pressure opportunities to pitch your project and get insightful feedback.

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

People like to say this business is about who you know and it’s true. The NSI labs opened a lot of doors to people I wouldn’t otherwise have access to and I’ve stayed in touch with a number of those people and also worked with some of them.

How did your instructors, mentors and peers influence you to become a better storyteller?

The mentors and instructors challenged me to know my project inside and out. By the end of the lab, I could talk about it confidently off the cuff because I could answer any question about the world I created.

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

Listen to all the feedback you receive and sleep on it. Be willing to reframe the way you see the big picture while never losing sight of the initial intention you had when you started writing the project. At the end of the day, the choice is yours whether you take someone’s note or not.

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

When I started the NSI Totally Television program, I had just finished my last script coordinating gig and I was determined not to go back to that role and I didn’t. I’ve been a full-time writer ever since.

What was the most transformative part of your learning experience?

The labs require you to step up. On the one hand, I became more comfortable talking about my project with just about anyone. And then there were days when you received intense feedback from a story editor that required a page-one rewrite but you still had to pitch the project the next day and leave a good impression.

The labs force you to learn to adapt to new and challenging circumstances quickly and work with what you’ve got. Those skills are invaluable to a working writer.

What project(s) are you currently working on?

Right now: a fantasy drama with Whistler Film Festival Screenwriters Lab, two horror features, one with NSI alum Chris Hill, a rom-com, a pilot I’m writing with my sister and I’m about to start adapting a YA thing that I can’t talk about yet.

Where can people find out more about your work online?

My IMDb page.

What is your favourite Canadian film / TV show / web series?

Incendies – it’s a beautiful and poignant film about the ravages of war through the eyes of a mother and her children that will shake you to your core.

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