Part 1: NSI Business for Producers students tell us how it’s going

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

In October 2020, the National Screen Institute welcomed 21 participants to the NSI Business for Producers training program – a distance learning and mentorship program designed to help emerging producers nurture creative ideas while navigating the logistics and legalities of screen-based storytelling in a COVID-19 environment. Read more about this year’s participants.

Right now, participants are working with their mentors but, as last year drew to a close, we asked each of them how things were going.

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.

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Richard Agecoutay – Spirits of Summer (Toronto, ON)

Richard Agecoutay

Mentor: Christina Fon – Rezolution Pictures

This [program] was an important professional opportunity for me. I made connections with many new diverse Canadian producers.

I am grateful that I have a manager at CBC who believes in me. We all need spiritual brothers and sisters who work hard to give us opportunities that allow us to reach our potential.

The Canadian production ecosystem is small. In the future I know I will work with many of the 20 producers in this group.

NSI did a yeoman’s job utilizing Zoom in the delivery of their programming. In these troubling times, NSI found a way to achieve their mandate. [This program] provided a way for us to connect and share. NSI displayed nimbleness, found a work-around and secured the best and brightest to deliver content for participants.

I was surprised that, despite our remoteness, we all had an opportunity to connect. We shared our wisdom and experience: the true meaning of storytelling.

I was f—ing blown away by the sheer honesty of the conversations we had and, yes, sometimes those conversations were uncomfortable. The remoteness of Zoom may have led us to share an intimacy that we may have not had in a face-to-face meeting.

One of my personal highlights was having an opportunity to see the other side of production. I’m a video producer for a major broadcaster, distanced from the decision-making process. I gained insight into why we do what we do, what motivates decision making and why some stories get greenlighted and others die.

Ask yourself: who is in the story, who is not in the story, who is telling the story, who benefits from the story and why should our audience care?

During these troubling times, we need to see more BIPOC persons on screen but, more importantly, we need to see many more BIPOC persons in decision-making roles who make the hard democratic and ethical decisions.

How can we bypass the gatekeepers? Who are the people making those meaningful decisions that affect the fabric of Canadian cinema culture. More importantly, why do they arrive at those decisions? How can we change that?

Eagle Feathers to NSI for developing the next generation of BIPOC leaders and, most importantly, nurturing future gatekeepers. Hey hey!

I’m on the ground, I’m a frontline worker, an image facilitator, I do best when my moccasins hit the warpath. I like getting dirty in production, fishermen say “bloody decks.” I thrive in the battle of production. I’m a production warrior.

I found the business sessions most helpful because I don’t regularly see that part of the equation. Filmmaking is 90% paperwork and 10% film stock.

I’m looking forward to working with my mentor, Christina Fon, during the second phase of training. Christina is a perfect fit for me. I envision working with her on many of my passion projects in the future. As a side gig, I will pursue my passion projects, using what I learned at NSI on my own terms.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to have participated in the NSI Business for Producers program.

I would like to continue my work with NSI and share my 30+ years of production experience.


Jason Arsenault – Off The Wharf (Charlottetown, PEI)

Jason Arsenault

Mentor: Sherry White

Going into this program, I was unsure whether it was possible to receive the same high-quality training NSI is known for through a virtual classroom.

I had no doubt the presenters and information provided would be top notch, but in all honesty I was a little worried I’d miss out on the opportunity to build personal connections and future collaborations because I wasn’t in the same room with the instructors and my peers. This wasn’t the case at all.

NSI’s staff and the program leaders did an amazing job making the experience feel as comfortable and natural as possible, making meeting 20 new, diverse producers from across the country both smooth and enjoyable.

I met filmmakers from all regions of the country working in all formats, and I have no doubt I’ll go back to my classmates for support, advice and collaboration in the future. This is truly the best part about NSI’s courses and my experience in this program didn’t let me down.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the variety of workshops offered beyond the traditional producer offerings. Further, the workshops I thought would be least interesting actually became the most insightful into problems I’ve faced in the past while offering strategies to avoid these issues in future.

This is especially true of the conflict negotiation and leadership and collaboration workshops. I went into the program assuming what I really wanted in my producer’s toolbox was more information on budgets, tax credits and financing (which I do), but the sessions listed above helped me really see a large gap in my own producer skills. I was glad to have the opportunity to recognize some of my blind spots.

During the online training, I learned many things, almost too many to remember without going back deep into my notes a second and third time (probably more), but the one thing that sticks out is that the process of becoming a great producer is constantly adapting and learning. We saw this highlighted in 2020 with the new COVID protocols. You can’t stop learning because the landscape doesn’t stop changing, and sometimes what you need to learn are things you didn’t expect. Stay open-minded.

I’ve learned an incredible amount in these past few months. I’m excited to dig into new projects using everything I’ve learned.


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

Ian Bawa

Mentors: Graham Ludlow and Ellen Rutter

I am of two minds about learning online with 20 other producers from across Canada. I miss the energy one feels from actually being in a room, the natural social interaction that can occur and the improv involved when you are surrounded by strangers.

I am an extrovert, and any sort of school that does not allow me to sense those around me was always going to be difficult. That said, there are benefits to learning online.

For one, I am able to research as one is talking. Many of our speakers will say something that I instantly want to look up to better understand what they are saying; I am able to re-watch lectures I miss or was not able to attend; and I can easily roll out of bed and be ready for ‘school.’

Despite the class size sometimes being uncomfortably large for Zoom calls, I very much appreciate fellow students’ comradery and friendliness, as well as their diversity in both geography and experience.

The biggest surprise in the program thus far has been the introduction to a few names I had not heard of, despite being a fan of their work – namely Richard J. Lewis. As someone who strives to make/direct/produce premium television and films one day, hearing someone speak who’s truly ‘doing it,’ was a real inspiration and made me think the impossible dream can happen.

The most important lesson I’ve learnt so far is that no two producers will tell you the same story about how they got to where they are. There are many paths to becoming a producer and to producing itself. To me, this means that producing is whatever you want it to be and make of it.

One of the most memorable sessions was on packaging. I believe we had a balanced table with Charlotte Engel, Chris Bell and Noah Segal, and I took a lot away from their discussion. Packaging, distribution and marketing are things I think don’t get talked about in programs such as these, so it was nice to have a dedicated session where we could better understand all sides of this area.

I believe that ‘school’ or any area where we are forced to sit and learn is, and will be, beneficial for anyone at some point in their life. Being part of the NSI Business for Producers program will definitely have an impact as I shape myself into a producer and further my career in film and television.


Flore de Bayser – The Outsider (Waterloo, ON)

Flore de Bayser

Mentor: David Miller – A71 Productions

Learning with 20 other producers from across Canada was a very stimulating, instructive and reassuring experience.

It was stimulating to learn the job under the guidance of NSI and keep moving my film project forward during a pandemic. It was instructive to get professional insights into all aspects of production, as well as the roles and key skills of a producer.

Learning with fellow emerging producers with different projects, perspectives and backgrounds has been extremely valuable, and provided a safe environment to ask questions and share doubts. It really felt like being part of a family united by a common passion.

I was amazed by the commitment of NSI’s supervisors, as well as their concern that all the participants get the most out of the program. The program succeeded in striking a difficult balance between being generalist and responding to specific concerns about each project.

Although online, I connected more personally with certain participants, and I have a feeling these connections will last. We’ve helped each other with contacts and advice, and intend to cultivate our relationships through weekly online meetings as we make our way into a notoriously tough industry.

The most important thing I learned relates to my responsibilities as a producer towards the creatives, and the financial and advising partners of a project, as well as the people my company will hire. The program gave me a clear sense of the risks associated with a project, and the necessary partnerships.

The session with Andrew Barnsley opened my eyes to the position of the producer as a liaison between the creative and the market worlds. It gave me a new perspective on the job and how to approach the business side of things at this stage of my career. I was able to apply a few tips and principles to guide the development of the story for our current project.

The amount of information delivered within a few weeks has been impressive, and has left me with a clear sense of a timeline and production plan for the Velvet Icons’ (female-led production company co-founded by Flore) first feature film The Outsider. The knowledge and awareness gained about issues around human resources and non-discrimination at work will affect the Velvet Icons’ policies and long-term positioning within the industry.

I consider this program to be the start of a new phase of my career, supported by new, lasting friendships – which are so fundamental within the film industry. The network and resources will accelerate the making of our first feature as well as future projects.

The program has already affected my producing career as I now approach the production of The Outsider with more maturity and I feel more confident in my capacity – with the Velvet Icons – to carry out an ambitious film project.


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

Hedy Bozorgzadeh

Mentor: Christine Falco – Les Films Camera Oscura

I’ve never been in a lab with so many participants. I wish I had better acquainted myself with everyone but it was overwhelming trying to keep up with two labs simultaneously and trying to stay afloat. I hope I can get to know more of the lab participants during phase 2.

Thanks to [fellow participant] Kate Fenton, we got a weekly NSI hangout and it’s nice to talk in smaller teams and just know that you are not alone in your frustration, confusion and struggles. Really, what I keep learning and being reminded of is that you need to be patient with yourself, with passion projects, and an industry that is broken and in the process of revolutionizing itself.

Over the holidays, I was reviewing notes from the lab and it has reminded me of the tremendous responsibility that comes with being a producer and the risks. It can be overwhelming and scary.

NSI Business for Producers is for filmmakers working on ambitious projects who want to take advantage of all the resources and infrastructure in place in the industry. So for me, as a first-time feature filmmaker, it comes down to mentorship and working with established producers, pro-cos and professionals that are like-minded and interested in championing projects I believe in. It’s time-consuming and can be a slow process, but it comes down to networking and relationship building. Unfortunately, I didn’t take the latter as seriously in the past (busy as I was with my writing) but this will change moving forward.

The biggest pleasant surprise was getting access to the Digital Marketing for Media online course with Annelise Larson of storypreneursunite.com.  This four-part course was so useful and important in helping me put together the marketing and distribution plan for my project and can help with distribution strategies for projects moving forward. I think these sessions with Annelise should be mandatory for any serious producer.

Even if you have a distributor, it’s important for producers to be involved in marketing and distribution from the development phase. This will change my producing career in terms of my responsibilities, role and involvement. Thank you Annelise!

I also enjoyed the conflict resolution session and hope to do a better job handling issues that arise from productions moving forward.  Communication is key, as they say.

In terms of relationships, I would like to thank fellow participant, Flore de Bayser, who put me in touch with important contacts that had a ripple effect on my networking … especially with professionals in Quebec. Thank you Flore – you are the best!

Thank you Ursula Lawson [program manager] and Jeff Peeler [program advisor] and the hardworking NSI team for supporting and mentoring us through to the next phase of the lab. The timing is crucial as we push these passion projects forward amid deadlines. I look forward to the mentorship!


Ervin Chartrand – Highway 45 (Selkirk, MB)

Ervin Chartrand

Mentor: Andrew Rosen – Aircraft Pictures

I’ve learned that to be a successful distance learner, you have to be self-disciplined and work well independently. Since you don’t physically attend a class each week, you can take part from the comfort of your own home. It helps if you are self-disciplined because the instructor isn’t there to remind you to stay focused.

Overall, I liked the program because the instructors were all straightforward and very concise. However, I felt a little overwhelmed juggling writing my screenplay and taking the program. But I believe I have more knowledge about producing; I can use what I’ve learned, or at least what I can remember, in one of my projects.

The program was everything the National Screen Institute said in the description. I enjoyed meeting new people and listening to their points of view. I honestly never expected to learn so much from an online class; I now see producing in a whole new way. I know I could have done better but, in the end, I learned that an online class could be as much work or more than a regular class. However, I still enjoyed it very much.

For me, I learn and retain much more through being physically present with my peers. But there is nothing I disliked about the program. If I could retake it, I would likely benefit from a second round to retain all the presented information.

The experience of this class was nothing but positive. I thought the program outline was beneficial. The budget was huge for me; we couldn’t have asked for a better instructor than Rhonda Baker. She was a plethora of information and knew her S&@%!

I also gravitated towards the creativity during COVID-19 (roundtable). I get inspired listening to professionals talk about their career journey. We all have to start somewhere, and it puts our struggle into perspective. I wished we could have had more time with them talking about the industry and answering more questions.

I give credit to all the producers out there; it’s a very daunting industry to work in, and it can be overwhelming at times. I’m sorry I didn’t make a connection with anyone. I feel that this was my one minor complaint. I missed the personal connection you make with another human being when they are physically in front of you. I’m sure some people enjoy the online thing, but I like to be physically present with the person in front of me. But I guess we all have to adjust through these trying times and learn to adapt.

Miigwech for having me and all the hard work NSI did in putting this program together.


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

A.J. Demers

Mentor: Daniel Bekerman – Scythia Films

With the pandemic disrupting everything, these have been challenging times in the industry and our personal lives so having an amazing group of professional mentors, leaders and friends come together to learn was a blessing.

Even remotely, the weekly meetings with our fellow producers were an excellent opportunity to connect, learn, and expand our craft and skills. Connecting with leading industry professionals was so helpful in refining our work and understanding budgets, financing, marketing and all the other aspects of producing.

With so many highlights it is hard to pinpoint which session was the most important to my work and career. Certainly the work with business affairs, getting into the fine details of tax credits and building financing plans will be invaluable as I move my film and television projects forward. The scope of the program will affect all aspects of my career from dealing with human resources to engaging with distributors and buyers.

Most important was the opportunity to connect with colleagues and friends. This industry is collaborative. Having mentors to contact for knowledge and guidance, having a group of producers to work with on upcoming projects and having friends to lean on and celebrate with is invaluable.


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

Priyanka Desai

Mentor: Alex Lazarowich

I think the best outcome of 2020 is that we have all gotten mostly comfortable with online meetings, learnings, networking, etc. Digital video calls are just another way of connecting and communicating. Suddenly we are in someone’s living room, bedroom, make-shift home studios; spaces we would never have been introduced to at all, ever.

This program was part of this new-found experience. Learning and networking were my two primary intentions. The scheduled classes helped build a routine for my pandemic life. It was great to have this sense of discipline during the mostly solitary days of home confinement. Attending classes and making notes were sometimes the highlight of my day. I am very grateful to NSI for bringing onboard the best industry talents who candidly shared their experience and knowledge with us, the new emerging producers.

As a journalist-turned-content-producer, I have been working mostly in the creative aspect of storytelling. NSI’s program provided a great start for me to familiarize myself with the business aspects of producing in Canada – my new country of residence for the past three years. The sessions that stood out for me were the ones on budgeting, funding and grant applications.

As any newcomer would, I initially struggled with understanding accents, and deciphering the choice of words people use to express their thoughts and opinions. I found this program provided me with a welcoming group and a non-judgemental environment to learn in.

As much as I am new to Canadian storytelling I am also new to understanding the industry. Through the invited guests and speakers I learned more information about the broadcasters and big players in the Canadian media industry. Barring a few sessions, all were engaging and informative.

I am now starting to prepare for building my own production company. The knowledge shared in this program will definitely help me make the right business decisions moving forward. Also I am confident that my fellow producers and the new friends I made during the program will help me create valuable Canadian content.

During this program I did have great conversations with [fellow participants] Alex Sangha, Kate Fenton, Carmen Forsberg and Bram Timmer and I hope to see the relationships [become] enriching work collaborations. I am looking forward to being in touch with each and every producer involved in the program that made this a shining experience for me 🙂

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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.

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