Part 2: 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 (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.

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 1 and part 3.

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Alex Duong – Breaking Bread (Burnaby, BC)

Alex Duong

Mentor: Paul-E. Audet – Item 7

NSI Business for Producers is a well-rounded program for emerging producers. I’ve learned a lot more than I thought I would and I can’t thank the NSI team enough for putting this program together and choosing me. The only thing I would say is that having too many people in the program limits us from asking questions as every guest is on a schedule.

The number of guests brought in for the program is actually surprising, I didn’t expect that many guests to show up and share their experience and expertise to us newbies.

Budgeting and tax credits were the sessions that were the most important for me as I was lacking in this area and it was very well taught.

[The program has] definitely boosted my producing knowledge, which I’m currently using now in my internship. Giving me this edge makes me look less green when working at the production company.

Unfortunately, I was not able to mingle and collaborate with others but I do have all of their emails and some of them on Facebook and Instagram.


Andrea Feltrin – Natural Habitat (Vancouver, BC)

Andrea Feltrin

Mentor: Carrie Mudd – Peacock Alley Entertainment

Overall, I genuinely loved doing this program along with the 20 other participants from across Canada. It was such a pleasure to learn and network with this special group from the comfort of home, which somehow made the whole experience seem much more intimate.

It was so nice to have some consistency in an otherwise flailing year, it made me excited to sit back at my desk each morning.

I’ve been absolutely delighted by the NSI staff and how supportive and encouraging they’ve been along the way. The lineup of sessions, panels and guests has been impressive and I really appreciate all the hard work that went into creating our schedule for the program.

[Thinking about the most important thing I learned during training is] a tough question. I have pages upon pages of notes from the program so I don’t think I could narrow it down to just one thing. There was always a golden nugget to take away from each session.

The most valuable sessions to me personally were probably the business affairs, tax credit/financing, budgeting and finding the audience sessions. These were all topics that I was not well-versed in let’s say, so it was nice to get a more in-depth understanding. That said, I really loved the creativity during COVID panel as well as the negotiating session, working collaboratively and the conflict resolution session. Did I just list them all?

I generally feel way better equipped to actually go out in the world and produce things properly. Definitely more than I did before I started the program. Suffice to say, I now have a renewed sense of confidence!

I’ve been trying to connect with as many of the other participants as I can. I’ve had a few virtual coffee meetings which were really nice, and the informal NSI Zoom hangouts have been great to connect as well.

There are so many awesome individuals with various skillsets and backgrounds; I love hearing about everyone’s personal experience in the industry and how they got to where they are. It’s definitely a supportive and friendly bunch. I look forward to getting to know everyone better throughout the year.


Kate Fenton – Filmores (Toronto, ON)

Kate Fenton

Mentor: Tara Woodbury – Sphere Media

Learning online with 20 people was not ideal. However, I enjoyed the regularity of this program.

As much as we have discussed and compared the benefits of intensives and full-day boot camps versus weekly virtual sessions, I have actually appreciated the weekly sessions during this incredibly unstable and unpredictable time. It has been nearly impossible to feel normal or have any routine in my life due to the disruption of COVID and these weekly sessions provided me with a community and a way to focus my day and my week. Thank you!

The friendships I have established are always what you hope to gain from these kinds of programs but are always a pleasant surprise when they happen.

The leadership and conflict resolution sessions were particularly helpful since I had just come from producing two projects. Creative tensions and conflicts always arise. The content of these sessions was very timely and easy to implement immediately.

[When thinking about which sessions were the most valuable to me as a producer] it is hard to pick one session over others. Budgets are their own mountain to climb and I will always rely on a line producer for detailed budgets, but having a better understanding is always helpful. Pitching is a fun way to become familiar with everyone’s projects but is one of those skills you just have to keep perfecting and is ever-changing depending on who you are pitching to and whatever the context may be.

I think hearing from other producers at different levels and just seeing the perseverance in play is helpful. Our office hours were very direct and specific so they had an immediate impact on decisions I was making in the moment.

I think the biggest takeaway for me is the Indigenous protocols session and the 80-page document we received. This information is particularly important and relevant to Filmores but, more importantly, it is a huge contribution to the industry as a whole and will impact the way I enter a project from here on in. As a writer and content creator, actor and producer, the distribution or allocation of power and of ownership has always been troubling for me. And this document is comprehensive, honest and clear.

Our breakout rooms really helped to establish relationships right away. But even above and beyond that, many of us were reaching out to each other on social media and via email almost immediately.

As the program progressed and the amount of information increased, we all felt a bit overwhelmed and disconnected and so we finally took the advice of Ursula Lawson [program manager] and began meeting on our own once a week for an hour or two. I think I would have benefitted from more of these sessions earlier on but I am so grateful that we did get them going and have continued to connect over the past weeks and into our mentorship phase.

Some specific relationships that have emerged through this process include: Kulbinder [Saran Caldwell] and I have provided each other with helpful support from budgets to feedback on our writing. Jen [Viens] and I have connected and shared resources and we both have sought out financial advice and guidance from Carmen [Forsberg]. Jason [Arsenault] has been a huge help in every session and I intend to continue to reach out to him and hopefully continue to develop a friendship and working relationship.

So many friendships are emerging. We have connected on many levels. And I hope we continue to meet over Zoom and, eventually, in person whenever possible.


Carmen Forsberg – #generation:ocean (Richmond, BC)

Carmen Forsberg

Mentor: Andrew Williamson – Cedar Island Films

NSI really went above and beyond to put together the NSI Business for Producers program.

The program brought together expert panelists and 21 producers from across the country – over Zoom.

Ursula Lawson and Jeff Peeler [program advisor] took into consideration various time zones and technical requirements, and delivered a fully fleshed out program on all aspects of producing. They moderated and organized it incredibly (and were so good at navigating all tech glitches that, if anything, it just added to our common learning experience on how to manage very large teams).

The program covered many areas of our everyday roles, from the important recognition and commitment to diversity and inclusion in the workplace (with various human resources panels) to detailed sessions on movie magic budgeting, business affairs and finance.

The program allowed all participants the perfect refresher on some areas, new insights on others and a completely new look at key strategies that many perhaps overlooked and were ‘always functioning on go.’

David Falks’ session on conflict resolution was absolutely fantastic: allowing everyone to experience first-hand how we perceive the same situation in different ways. This simple exercise puts so much into perspective when the dynamic on set is running at an all-time high. It is in these moments we must realize how important receptive communication is in such a fast-paced, creative field.

Nghia Nguyen’s take on business affairs was also exceptional. His light take on the otherwise heavy aspects of contracts and negotiations goes to show we should always strive to make these moments enjoyable for all parties at the table.

There are many more stories to share and I am positive that when we do get together, at a festival or NSI event in the future, we will remember our Zoom sessions with much enthusiasm. At this point we are all looking forward to the last and final stage of the program, working one-on-one with project mentors.

I am so grateful. I can truthfully say I started this program with a strong concept of what I wanted my project to be, but I feel as if I have unraveled the many components which I know make it strong, and am now ready to connect these powerful pieces together.

I think I speak for everyone when I say it would be incredible to meet up in person, as a group, and hopefully we can do this soon. Perhaps at Toronto International Film Festival this year or next?


Stuart Matheson – True Hearted Punk (The Pas, MB)

Stuart Matheson

Mentor: Shaleen Sangha – Boat Rocker Media

We had a very in-depth learning experience that allowed people from across the country to get together to learn from speakers who were great distances away. It was a great feeling to connect with people who share similar career interests without geography limiting it.

What gave me a pleasant surprise in this program was how nice and helpful everyone was in the breakout sessions and in general. When the program began, I was very nervous about being the youngest and least-experienced filmmaker in the group, but everyone was very welcoming and it surprised me in a good way.

The most important thing I learned during the online training sessions was that partnering is essential to get anywhere in producing. A lack of experience/financing/networking can be made up for with a good partner who believes in the project you’re working together to create.

The most valuable sessions for me as a producer were the ones that covered financing and budgeting. They were very valuable to me because they highlighted the challenges in getting productions made and also how to overcome them.

I think what I’ve learned so far will have a very positive influence on my producing career. It’s helped me learn how to approach partners to produce projects, how to organize the work in order to complete it, and also how to budget a production to see it be successful.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to bond or begin working relationships with the other participants. Hopefully I will be able to attend some future meet-ups with the group and get the chance to network more.


Carla Robinson – Bully (Brantford, ON)

Carla Robinson

Mentor: Christina Fon – Rezolution Pictures

I really enjoyed being with a group of up-and-coming producers who are passionate about developing their projects and who have many of the same goals, questions and obstacles I do. It’s helped me stay on track developing my project and I am looking forward to working with my mentor in the upcoming semester.

One of the best things about NSI Business for Producers was the high calibre of speakers we had access to through the online sessions. Many were the top people in the industry who push new boundaries and it was good to listen and learn from their experiences.

I was pleasantly surprised by how helpful, sincere and generous all the presenters were with their time and resources. They covered a lot of material in their sessions, offered up precious forms and documents that we could use for our projects and did their best to answer all our questions.

I found the sessions around entertainment law and conflict resolution extremely valuable, as well as the budgeting and tax credit segments. Those were the areas in which I wanted to strengthen my knowledge base and it was good to ask the presenters questions and be pointed in the right direction when I needed more information.

I realized in this program that I don’t need to do everything. Producing is one of the most collaborative roles in filmmaking, and forming and maintaining healthy partnerships is one of the most important skills you can have as a producer. While it’s good to have a handle on how each step of the process works, it’s better to focus on my strengths and partner with people whose strengths and passions complement mine.

Through the formal and informal Zoom meetings I’ve deepened friendships with some of the classmates I already knew, and have been able to see ways we can collaborate on our current and future projects. I’ve also formed several new relationships where we are exploring collaborating or simply helping each other with brainstorming or sharing resources. I also found our informal chats very helpful in terms of having a place we can just talk, listen and support each other through these uncertain times and the quickly changing film and TV environment.

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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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