Shaw Media Diverse TV Director students report on training bootcamp

Above: Elise Swerhone, program manager, and Gail Harvey, program advisor, with the students at the DGC

Also see: In pictures: Gail Harvey documents bootcamp | Elise Swerhone describes the development of the Shaw Media Diverse TV Director training

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The inaugural Shaw Media Diverse TV Director training course in association with the National Screen Institute kicked off its bootcamp earlier this month. We asked students to tell us about their training experiences.

The program is designed for participants with directing experience who are interested in making the leap to directing scripted television series.

Note: we don’t give students a rigid outline for writing about their bootcamp experience so each student does it a little differently. This applies to all course blog posts.

Gloria Ui Young Kim

I had the best time at bootcamp. I was nervous going in. As a working director/producer in branded content (my fun day job), I didn’t have much time to prep but I soon realized that going in with open eyes, heart and mind was really the key.

Meeting the guests was incredibly rewarding. Everyone was so generous about sharing their knowledge and wisdom. Some of it was tough to hear – the producers were particularly honest about how tough the landscape is for those starting out. But they had great tips for us about building trust and finding side ways of getting into directing.

It was also incredibly inspiring. Hearing each director’s story and how persistent they were made me feel like I can do this! I AM doing this!

Each director had such a unique path and they all had to make sacrifices and it all took time, and this made me feel kindred with them.

I feel like the more I direct, the more creative work I do, the more I see this as my life’s journey, a creative odyssey that brings me closer to knowledge of myself and humanity.

I feel really blessed that I was able to go to bootcamp and participate in the program. Thanks NSI and Shaw Media for caring to mentor us diverse directors.

Melanie Orr

Melanie Orr

I was very excited to be chosen as one of the participants of Shaw Media Diverse TV Director.

The timing of this initiative could not have been better for me. I am currently at a career crossroads and am transitioning into solely directing.

I have been a script supervisor in the industry for over 15 years and have also directed a number of films and TV shows during that time. I am standing at the crossroads and need to make the leap.

Day 1

Hearing from a number of directors today was very entertaining. What started as a very casual panel turned into a barrage of fun stories, gossip and great tips on pursuing directing in TV. As much as I enjoyed this session, I was the most eager to hear from the agents – Carl Liberman from The Characters and Tina Horowitz from Vanguarde Artists.

As the introductions went around the table, I grew more and more frustrated with my own progress and then I let it out. Carl and Tina helped me hit the nail on the head with the hammer about what was holding my success back. I left that day feeling very clear and very confident about my opportunities.

Day 2

[Today was] reality smackdown day!

We had producers on a panel who made it very clear that the chances of getting hired are very low. This is the reality, yes.

However, I look at it as an obstacle and something I can find a way around. There are other producers, right?

Larysa Kondracki was great today. I absolutely loved her demeanor and enjoyed her take on the industry immensely. Again, she has a lot of harsh reality in her truths.

Continuing with a writer and editor and Gail Harvey [program advisor] running through the politics of TV directing. Gail was very forthcoming about the political side of things and how ridiculous it can get all while keeping us hopeful. Reality smackdown all day. I left feeling slightly discouraged.

Day 3

A new dawning. Debra Goldblatt-Sadowski changed me.

When I sit and think about Debra, part of me thought that I should have just spent $1,500 on a publicist. I am sort of joking.

For some reason, I didn’t think about having a personal publicist. My problem is that I didn’t see myself as a director at the beginning of the bootcamp and how I described myself in my introduction obviously showed that. Then something Debra said really struck me, and I can’t even remember what that was exactly because I was too busy believing in what I do.

I am a director – not a script supervisor who directs. I owned it and confidently.

Then I started talking about my infertility road to have a child and how that relates to my career and how I had lost confidence somewhere. Suddenly the energy in the room shifted and everyone started getting excited about my idea of making a film about that. I found it very empowering. Consider me changed!

Day 4

Many emotions. Most of today we heard from actors. It was a great panel and I cried while watching Maria del Mar’s reel. She is an amazing actress.

I love crying when I watch stuff. I am still on a high from yesterday. Gail made a really strong point about websites today and critiqued our websites. I agree – I need a new website – I am on it.

Day 5

Old friends. Today I felt like I got to hear from a bunch of old friends telling stories of the industry. Lots of listening – I feel like I need to move around more.

Day 6

Let’s block a scene. Warren P. Sonoda was a fantastic person to have in for the day to wrap up the week. He came uber prepared with a filmmaking master class and worked with that to suit where we were professionally.

Warren has had a great career so far and I loved [hearing about how he got] to where he has. Warren, like Gail, is very candid and tells it like it is. I really appreciated that. I was very excited to start blocking comedy scenes today.

I loved being able to work with actors for these scenes. I also really enjoyed watching the other participants’ block out their scenes too. I have really grown attached to Randall [Okita], Lindsay [MacKay] and Gloria [Ui Young Kim] and I want to see them succeed in everything they do. They did a great job.

After the full six days, when I look back at this experience, I am truly grateful for the time I have spent transitioning from a script supervisor who directs to solely a director.

All I did for six days is think about who I am, where I am and where I want to be. It was just what I needed.

I look forward to the next phase.

A huge shout out and thank you should go to Gail. She really put together a great number of speakers for us and she moderated the panels with such grace. Gail really was a perfect facilitator for this program. She is a strong person to look up to both personally and professionally.

And a big thank you also to Elise [Swerhone, program manager] for making it all come together. It was a very jam-packed week and it came together perfectly to feel like a professional and informative program.

Randall Okita

Randall Okita

What a session! Our cohort included a passionate, talented group full of humour and humility. We were guided through the sessions by the incredibly talented, funny and generous Gail Harvey, who shared her multi-career experiences fearlessly in a great effort to let us know what it’s really like inside the industry.

Very early on we established an understanding of what details would stay inside the room, which I thought was a great idea as it allowed us all to discuss stories both good and bad, in the interest of sharing and learning, but not spoiling any reputations.

Early in the week Karen King reminded us that diversity is a plus; our different perspectives are something attractive and desirable for audiences and producers. And we should remember that and keep it in mind when presenting ourselves to employers. She also spoke about the idea that we can communicate and encourage the entire production team from top to bottom to embrace the value of a diverse team of storytellers.

We gained valuable insight into careers that are as varied as the people building them in conversations with inimitable directors just starting out in TV or who have been plying their craft for years, and sage-like agents who discussed how to get to the next stage, and stay there.

We heard from producers and showrunners who work to create shows and bring on the best talent to realize their ongoing stories; what they are looking for in guest directors who come in to join the team and try to elevate a story that may have sometimes been unfolding for a few years before their arrival and will continue after their departure. No small task.

We heard from all sides about what makes a good director collaborator. From the actors on the floor sharing their emotional lives to the stunt teams in the cars risking theirs to the VFX teams that save the day by minimizing costs and danger and the editors who have to put it all together, (even when it’s not there) all in the service of story, entertainment and making your days [count].

We learned about promoting ourselves, our visions and our uniqueness. These sessions were illuminating, inspiring and a great reality check. There are a lot of paths and a lot of ways to get there.

This week reminded me that as we work to realize our visions on screen and to create collaborations and careers that will sustain us, we can feel isolated. This is a by-product of leading teams and forging your own way and it can be hard.

The greatest pleasure of this program was to be able to share some fears and hopes with my now dear friends attending the course with me, and to hear from some heroes about how they navigate similar waters even if, at times, they seem far away.

Thanks to James Crouch [production manager], Elise, Shaw Media, the Directors Guild of Canada and NSI for putting together this wonderful time. It was an eye and a heart opener.

Lindsay MacKay

Lindsay MacKay

On our first day Karen King taught us the ways we, as directors, can help make our industry more inclusive and a reflection of the world we live in.

We also met some great directors – Stacey Stewart Curtis, Ron Murphy and Charles Officer – who were kind enough to share some insight on the television industry.

It’s so rare to get a bunch of directors together to talk about the craft, and throughout this course we were fortunate enough to have that opportunity a few times.

Carl Liberman and Tina Horowitz both did a mini career guiding session with all of us. This was amazing – I feel like I rarely say out loud or to other people the direction I want my career to go and the kind of work I’m interested in making.

It was really great to hear feedback and advice on that. It was also great to hear what the other members of the course are interested in. Goal group!

Day two was packed with really insightful guests. We started the day with some amazing producers: Susan Alexander, Ilana Frank and Peter Meyboom. I really appreciated their perspectives and honesty.

Then Adrienne Mitchell and Larysa Kondracki talked about their experiences in the industry. This was a really great session – both had great advice and had different paths to their own success so it was great to hear.

Waneta Storms and Paul Day gave us great insight on how to work with series writers and editors when you come on to a show as a guest director. Collaboration is key.

On day three we had the wonderful Debra Goldblatt-Sadowski from Rocket Promotions talk about our career goals and how to work with PR agencies.

She gave great advice that I should probably be better about taking, but social media scares me and so does the fact that this is going to get published on the NSI website. Baby steps, I guess.

Tim Southam talked about his career and walked us through his process of directing television. It was great to see his process and hear his thoughts on POV. I was impressed by his preparation and his drive – definitely going to ‘borrow’ a few tricks of his.

Day four started with a great session with actors – Ron Lea, Maria del Mar, Katie Boland and Eric Roberts (via Skype). It was wonderful to hear their thoughts on how to approach actors when working as a guest director on a series. I really appreciated their honesty and willingness to share.

Then we were lucky enough to get Gail Harvey [program advisor] take us through her process. She shared some dailies from a show she was on and I found that to be very helpful to see the angles she chose and how much she had to shoot in one day on TV.

Anton Van Rooyen and James Crouch talked about how to approach production and DPs in series. It was really helpful to hear some of the main things they would focus on when they’re directing. We talked a bit about the best way to use two cameras which I found to be very useful.

Day five we moved to the Raindance Studio and had a some excellent guests. We started with Clint Green who shared some of the great work he had done on shows. It was really exciting to see how simple something could be and a little overwhelming to see how complicated other things can be. Really impressive work.

Then the charming Colin Brunton talked to us about his career and the work he’s doing on Schitt’s Creek. It was really great to hear about his experience in the industry and how great it seems to be working on Schitt’s Creek.

The afternoon was Eddie Queffelec from Stunt City – who was kind enough to bring in two stunt performers and talk to us about stunts and safety. Great session – really informative and wonderful to hear about how to work with your stunt coordinator to achieve the best shots.

The lovely Amy Jo Johnson came in and hung out with us. It was a great informal session and lovely to hear about what she is up to.

On day six – our last day – Warren P. Sonoda spent the whole day with us. It was inspiring to hear about his career and work ethic. He shared some great tips and walked us through his process.

In the afternoon we had four wonderful actors come in and we got to try our hand at directing a few scenes from the work that Warren has done. This was a great exercise and wonderful to see the other directors at work. Really great way to finish the week.

The whole week was really inspiring. By the end of the session I was really excited about the supportive filmmaking community in Canada and eager to get to work. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

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Shaw Media Diverse TV Director is supported by Presenting Sponsor Shaw Media; Industry Partners the Directors Guild of Canada and the Directors Guild of Canada Ontario; Supporting Sponsors Entertainment OneSuper ChannelCorus Entertainment and the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television; and Service Sponsor William F. White International.


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