Part 3: 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 2.

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Alex Sangha – Emergence – Out of the Shadows (Delta, BC)

Alex Sangha

Mentor: Avi Federgreen – Federgreen Entertainment & Indiecan Entertainment

I had a wonderful learning experience as part of the NSI Business for Producers program with 20 other producers from across the country.

I am an emerging producer and absorbed as much knowledge, expertise and skills as I could. I also live with a back injury and had to lay flat with a laptop to get through the program. NSI was understanding and accommodated my needs. Learning from the other producers was very valuable: they all have different and diverse backgrounds and are in different stages of the production process.

I was really surprised with the calibre and experience of the guest speakers. Some of the top producers and filmmakers in Canada were part of the panels and presentations. I followed up with some of them on LinkedIn and a lot of them added me as a contact and provided me with further guidance.

I was also very happy that Ursula Lawson [program manager] said that once you train with NSI, you’re “part of the NSI family.” This means that NSI is interested in following our careers, promoting our achievements and providing further learning opportunities. I really feel comforted by this because I did not feel alone in the film industry.

My two favorite sessions were about pitching and post-production. I managed to further refine my pitch and it came in handy when I was trying to market and sell my film for acquisition to major Canadian broadcasters. All the Canadian broadcasters I approached said they would consider my film for acquisition after they viewed the festival and/or locked cut.

My film is currently in the editing stage and is soon to enter post-production so it was valuable to learn step-by-step the different tasks that need to be completed. It helped me put the appropriate post-production team in place.

I received an excellent overview and learned the basics of producing in this program. If I need further information as part of my professional career as a filmmaker, I will know who to turn to and find the information I need. We received a lot of resources and information to help us.

I managed to reach out to Priyanka Desai who is another student in the class. She recently immigrated to Vancouver from Mumbai. I also live in the Vancouver area and I am making a movie about queer South Asian issues and I really want my film to enter the Indian market. Priyanka was very helpful. We connected on social media, I have her phone number and she put me in touch with a number of high-profile LGBTQ+ activists in India who provided me with guidance and advice on how to distribute and release my film there.

I am very grateful to NSI for giving me a chance and allowing me to participate in this program. As a BIPOC and queer filmmaker I really felt acknowledged, welcomed and embraced in the program. Thank you.


Kulbinder Saran Caldwell – The Nightbird (Toronto, ON)

Kulbinder Saran Caldwell

Mentor: Christina Jennings, Alexandra Finlay and team – Shaftesbury

It was a great experience meeting and learning with/from other producers. I met a number of producers I would love to collaborate with and support one another in the future.

What pleasantly surprised me about the program was how fast the time went. At the beginning, I thought it would be difficult to be in front of the computer for so long for all the sessions. However, the information was great and the presenters were really willing to share their experiences and answer our questions.

The most important thing I learned during the online training was that it was possible to connect and create relationships in a virtual classroom setting. It helped that we were all in the same position – not being able to travel – and our instructors were all very engaged and generous with their time.

Both the budgeting and business affairs sessions were very valuable. Getting more information about the budget and tax credit processes really helped me consider all my options for co-productions and inter-provincial productions, especially since my project is set in Vancouver, BC and I’m located in Toronto. Plus, [presenter] Nghia Nguyen was so much fun and informative. I definitely want to work with him in future. If you read this, please call me!

This program will profoundly affect my producing career since it relies on building relationships which get solidified by working closely with one another. Even though we are all working on our own projects, there is much to be learned by sharing stories and experiences. The good, the bad and the ugly can allow you to make sure you take everything into consideration so you don’t make the same mistakes, but educate yourself by being forewarned about the pitfalls.

Friendships and collaborations have already started. During the budgeting breakout sessions, I was in a group with Kate Fenton and Jason Arsenault and they were both kind enough to share their project budgets with me so I can use them as a reference for mine. I appreciated the gesture and I know I can always approach them with questions which makes me feel part of a community.


Fonna Seidu – What Comes After (Toronto, ON)

Fonna Seidu

Mentor: Nathalie Younglai

This program has been very transformative in how I look at film production and overall project management. Learning alongside other producers was a unique experience, especially knowing I was in a room with other people who are intentionally honing their craft and face similar challenges and obstacles in their work as producers.

I was grateful to learn about how seasoned producers execute their projects and dive deeper into the processes and practices that benefitted them throughout their careers.

My favourite sessions were those that focused on communication (i.e. conflict resolution, negotiation and human resource management). This industry is all about collaboration where clear and effective communication is essential for making a great project so, of course, I was most excited to learn about these soft skills.

Additionally, as a kinesthetic learner, I found the sessions with templates and hands-on activities most helpful. In the past I’ve spent hours putting together writer contracts, deal memos and production checklists that I now use, but having templates such as assignment of rights agreements, pre-filled tax credit calculation documents and option purchase agreement templates really helps build my producer toolkit for future projects and streamlines all aspects of production.

For the next phase of the program, I look forward to working with my mentor to expand my experience.

I’m excited to see how this cohort continues to grow and shift as we apply our learnings from the program to our future productions.


Bram Timmer – Netherworld (Calgary, AB)

Bram Timmer

Mentor: Jessalyn Dennis – Seven24 Films

When I originally set out to learn the ins and outs of producing, I had one paramount concern: learning from books in solitude about a skillset that’s inherently collaborative gives way to the feeling of being stranded on a deserted island. This program is an understated opportunity to learn from some of Canada’s very best and, in 2020 for me, it has become accentuated against the backdrop of a global pandemic.

But the power that drives the momentum of the course is the personal touch from producer Jeff Peeler [program advisor]. The program had a $50 application fee and a $250 tuition fee, and it’s billed by my peers and I as insane value. For the math enthusiasts out there: $300 for 35 hours of learning in 20 sessions where the guests average 20+ years of industry experience. Did I mention there’s a six-week mentorship phase that NSI facilitates? Between you, dear reader, and I … I’d have paid that just to have coffee with a mere fraction of the talent we met and learned from.

The hype surrounding some of the faculty added pleasure and pressure that comes with tracking down details of past work and processes to arm yourself with inquisitive questions. Luckily, everyone was extremely gracious to bring their experience and lessons to us.

Ok, so a bunch of glitter and glam just shot out of a rocket but what did we actually learn? Well, among other things we learned about protocols, pathways, pitching, packaging, storytelling, leadership, collaboration, budgeting, conflict resolution, budgeting, negotiation, budgeting, creativity, tax credits, finance structures, cash flows, diversity, post-production, workflows, business affairs, human resources, sales, distribution, networking and did I mention budgeting?

For me personally, the hustle and leadership from Andrew Barnsley, Adrienne Mitchell, Richard J. Lewis and T.J. Scott were all very insightful as it most relates to my career path but I tumbled down the rabbit hole with Rhonda Baker‘s budgeting lectures. I remember in my application that it was something I’d like to learn because, as a creative person, I’ve always steered clear of budgets but it’s a skill to master on the producer side.

Prior to taking the program, I had already been studying workbooks from Women in Film and Television mixed with resources from the Producers Guild of America and the Canadian Media Producers Association, books such as Edward Jay Epstein’s The Hollywood Economist and Gregory Bernstein’s Understanding the Business of Media Entertainment, and workshops led by the Canadian Audio-Visual Certification Office and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. It certainly helped act as a strong foundation for this program but the incredibly diverse topic course load, mixed with the connections made, the friendships created with my peers who will all surely be calling on one another as we progress in our careers, together with being shown new possibilities and doors opened, you see how intimate the Canadian media landscape really is. I’ll see you out there!


Jen Viens – Autonomic (Montreal, QC)

Jen Viens

Mentor: Carrie Mudd – Peacock Alley Entertainment

The past several weeks have been an amazing experience. I’ve met so many talented and successful professionals in the Canadian film industry. I’ve also had the incredible opportunity of getting to know the other producers in this program who will hopefully become colleagues and friends for many years to come.

I wasn’t sure what an entirely digital version of a training program for producers would be like. I was unsure whether or not I’d be able to build connections with my fellow cohort members, or if it would be as fruitful as an in-person experience.

I can honestly say I was pleasantly surprised by my experience. Despite the fact we were only meeting digitally each week, we forged connections, found common ground and shared insights and experiences from our journeys as producers.

Truthfully, if this program hadn’t been entirely online this year, I might not have been able to participate due to scheduling constraints on my end. Even though we were all very much socially distanced behind screens and often many provinces away, I felt we were still able to build a community of support and solidarity.

It’s hard to pinpoint one single thing I learned as ‘most important.’ Each week I felt like I was taking in a wealth of information that I wouldn’t otherwise have had access to. Though I was often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of knowledge, I felt like I was learning and growing at an exponential rate. I’m truly looking forward to putting everything I’ve learned thus far into action.

In terms of my producing skills, the areas I’ve identified as opportunities for growth have had to do with formal paperwork, such as shopping agreements, contracts and budgets. It was incredibly insightful to have experts in these fields instruct us on the particulars. They provided facts and advice that would have been impossible to garner from a Google search.

I believe everything I have learned so far has boosted my confidence as a producer. Though I don’t yet know everything (that’s impossible) I feel I now know who to ask and, more importantly, what questions to ask about a myriad of different things. I feel more confident in my ability to navigate a wider range of productions, and less nervous about encountering particularities and ‘special cases.’ I also think the connections I’ve made, with both members of my cohort and guest speakers, will benefit me greatly going forward.

Everyone has been so open and willing to share their knowledge, as well as their fears and hopes. A few of us had the opportunity to have separate ‘jam sessions’ outside of formal workshops for which I am grateful. I was even happy to discover I have some personal connections, via a few degrees of separation, with a handful of my group members. I look forward to getting to know each of them more, and to having the opportunity to collaborate with them in the (hopefully near) future.


Seth Williams – Baiter (Canmore, AB)

Seth Williams

Mentor: Scott Lepp – Prairie Dog Film + Television

Phase one of this program has been a new, exciting and sometimes challenging experience. There has been an exceptional amount of knowledge imparted upon us and, if I’m honest, at times it has felt a little overwhelming.

Each guest speaker has been an excellent wealth of information and, on average, each guest has had a career spanning 20+ years. As we often have multiple speakers in a session, that’s a LOT of info. It is sometimes difficult to digest in one short session, so I look forward to combing through all the material at a slower pace.

After chatting with fellow colleagues, I’m pleasantly surprised to discover I’m not the only one who feels this way. However, as I review the classes and begin applying them directly to my project, I’m confident what I’ve learned will help propel my career to the next level.

I’ve learned so many cool things that I will be applying to my project, but a real eye-opener has been listening to BIPOC storytellers. As an immigrant to Canada I’ve yet to work with any First Nations, Métis or Inuit communities. Learning about different protocols, concepts and traditions has been fascinating. I look forward to working with a diverse mix of cultures in the future.

On the subject of diversity, it has been a humbling experience to listen to many of my fellow participants, particularly women of colour, discuss the challenges they’ve faced in the industry.

It’s clear that woman in leadership roles are not afforded the same respect as their male counterparts. This has saddened, angered and ultimately inspired me to be a voice for change.

I endeavour to collaborate with a diverse crew of key creatives on all my future projects.

Being part of the NSI family is a badge of honour I will carry with me throughout my career.

When I’m in need of guidance, I know there’s an army of passionate creatives I can turn to for support and wisdom. Sometime, in the not too distant future, I hope I’ll be able to offer other emerging filmmakers the support they need as a proud NSI alumni.

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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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