Above from left: Tanya Lemke, Adam Garnet Jones, Gail Harvey, Tricia Lee, Elise Swerhone, Tarique Qayumi and Amy Jo Johnson
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The 2016 Corus Diverse TV Director training course in association with the National Screen Institute kicked off its boot camp 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.
Tricia Lee (Toronto, ON)
The Corus Diverse TV Directors boot camp was one of the best courses I’ve taken. The program was less about learning the steps of how to direct but rather the realities of directing television.
My peers in the class were all directors of successful films already, and being in their company was also a great and inspiring learning experience.
Together, we listened to the great panel of people that Gail Harvey [program advisor] brought in. The variety of backgrounds was the best part.
We heard from directors that direct Canadian TV, directors that direct American shows, an editor, an agent, a publicist, a showrunner, a producer, a network executive, VFX, stunts … Every person and aspect of TV that a director would encounter.
Hearing their honest perspectives really gave a full picture to inform us about what we can do to navigate the world of television.
I can definitely say that I am heading into the TV world with my eyes wide open after this course. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in directing TV.
Elise Swerhone [program manager] organized a seamless flow that generated such a great environment for us to take in all the info being given to us. We are so lucky to have mentors like the people who taught us in this course who support new and upcoming directors [to help us] take the next step in our careers.
Tarique Qayumi (Whistler, BC)
The Corus Diverse TV Director program is exactly what I need at this point in my career. In the week-long boot camp in Toronto, I learned how to better myself technically, personally and publicly.
After graduating from film school six years ago, I made sure to put myself in an environment where I was behind the camera as much as possible.
Technically, you improve as you gain experience but everyone grows into their own system of doing things. The main question I had was if I had gained the right skills to work in a highly demanding environment such as TV directing.
And, furthermore, how could I refine my skills to prepare for TV production?
What I learned – from who I consider to be some of the best Canadian directors who came to talk to us – blew my mind. It is rare that you get to really look into the mind of a director and see how they formulate their decisions.
The directors who talked to us where very open and giving. The program managed to demystify the process of TV directing and I walked out feeling as though I am a better director.
Having the technical aspects of directing is important but I learned that our relationships and character are also a strong component for being a successful working director.
During boot camp we spent a great portion talking about how other directors broke into the industry and how to navigate the politics of working as part of a large team.
All too often in one’s life most people take a back seat and let life happen. The successful directors we met in this program didn’t do that. They fought every step of their way to meet the right people.
We were encouraged to really get out there and network with those who would get us to the next step. The program gave us a great start by helping us connect with agents, writers, editors, actors, directors and producers.
Once one gets the job then there’s a whole new paradigm to one’s relationships during production and a fine balancing act when navigating on-set politics.
When successful directors get a gig they come prepared to do their best, listen to their collaborators and get the project done on time with the best quality.
However, if things don’t go smoothly then this can lead to conflict. We got first-hand tips on how to navigate these issues in a positive manner and put the success of the show first.
If you have chosen to be a director, there is a public aspect to what you do but, all too often, us creative types don’t put emphasis on this. We spend many hours on our craft because this is what we want, enjoy and believe we should be noticed for.
However, the world doesn’t necessarily work in that order. There are many examples of artists who get work because of their public profile. We learned that if we were a little more savvy and worked just as hard to build our profile as we do for our creative work, then it would help us achieve our goals in the future.
You may be talented and committed to filmmaking but if you have trouble letting people know these wonderful things about you then it may be best to work with a publicist to do the talking for you.
In conclusion, the Corus Diverse TV Director program is one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
It came at a perfect point in my career where I had just moved back home to Canada after many years of being away and finding that I needed more gas in the tank to get to where I want to be.
Educationally, the brilliance, camaraderie and openness that each speaker offered to us was profound. I am still pondering what they said and how to relate it to my professional life.
And equally important, for a person like me without many relationships, it was a great starting point for meeting many key people in the industry. I am now looking forward to the shadowing portion of the program to gain even more experience.
Adam Garnet Jones (Toronto, ON)
The Corus Diverse TV Director program was a gift, a challenge and a kick in the butt.
Having finished one feature film, and closing in on finishing a second, I didn’t expect the basics of directing television to be much different from directing my own films. Sure, I would be working for someone else, but the principles are pretty much the same, right?
No. No. No.
Over the course of the workshops we tried to wrap our minds around the idea that we need to be decisive and command respect while also respecting our place as guests on the show. It’s a far cry from the world of indie features where I’ve been the writer, director and often one of the producers. It’s a complicated dance and I’m still figuring out the steps.
Our levels of optimism rose and fell throughout the week. One day we were told it was impossible to break into the business and the next day we were told there is more opportunity than ever. One day we were told TV is a medium that kills creativity and the next day we were told TV can be an incredible, freeing, fast-paced and rewarding medium for directors.
I’m sure you can guess which version I chose to take with me.
I won’t lie – the Corus Diverse TV Director program was tough for me. It challenged who I am as an artist. It exposed my strengths and weaknesses, and made me realize just how much muscle I’ll need to push down that door and make my own way in television.
But the most powerful take-away for me (and I bet it was the same for the other participants) was the certainty that I can do this. I do have something to contribute.
As the TV industry undergoes radical changes with audiences accessing content on different platforms and niche content breaking through into the mainstream, the television industry needs diverse voices to stay relevant.
As soon as the Corus Diverse TV Director program ended, all I wanted to do was sleep. It had been six days of desperately trying to absorb a non-stop stream of information from some of the best directors working in television today: Gail Harvey, Tim Southam, Larysa Kondracki, Sudz Sutherland and many more. But instead of sleeping, I hopped on a plane to New York City where I presented my feature film, Fire Song, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
It was an incredible way to finish off the week but, the whole time I was there, I heard Gail Harvey’s voice whispering in my ear telling me to get home, there’s more work to be done.
Thank you to NSI, Corus, Gail Harvey and Elise Swerhone for giving all of us this opportunity to learn. I can’t wait to get on set for phase two!
Tanya Lemke (Toronto, ON)
I was struck, right out of the gate, by how generous, honest and almost alarmingly candid all of the director mentors were in their sharing of information and experiences navigating the industry.
They told us everything that came to mind, and pulled no punches. THIS is what you’re in for, THIS is how tough it’s going to be. And still, overwhelmingly, they came at it from a positive viewpoint (with very few exceptions) and all seemed to genuinely wish for us to succeed in the future.
I felt welcomed into the brother/sisterhood of TV directing and, even after all the tough-love warnings, there was only the sense that we’re all in this together. Refreshing and encouraging!
It was also often a layered lesson for me, having worked with some of these people before in the trenches, in that I could take what they were saying and view it through the lens of what I remember of their individual directing style.
I’m very much looking forward to our shadowing opportunities with this program. I’ll be watching everything very closely and with a mind to learning everything I can from every point and nuance.
The producers and broadcasters who joined us were also very honest and encouraging. They genuinely care about the work they do and, further, the work that YOU do. Everyone just wants to collaborate on quality work and, if you can bring that, the sense is you’re welcome to play in the sandbox with the big kids.
This is an incredible challenge of course. We’ve all seen the kind of quality work we’re putting out here in Canada and abroad, and the bar is VERY high. But it’s also wildly inspiring.
Every mentor who discussed the work with us – people of the highest calibre working at the top of their game (until they top that), both here and in the US – shared the best of what they do and how they do it. They gave us solid, practical ideas and insight into how we go about it in our own burgeoning careers.
I took copious detailed notes which I know I’ll be poring over again and again because it’s all pure gold.
I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to participate in this program. I must specifically thank Elise Swerhone and Gail Harvey for the detail and care they put into the program and for shepherding us through it with grace and unfailing honesty.
My one wish coming out of this boot camp (aside from the obvious of course – a fulfilling and lucrative career!) is that I will reach a point where I can give back to the TV/film community in as rich a way as all of these people have. Many thanks.
Amy Jo Johnson (Toronto, ON)
What an intense and inspiring six days of invaluable information on episodic directing.
Each day was filled to the brim with incredible people and their war stories within the industry.
Gail Harvey and Elise Swerhone were the captains of our boot camp ship and brilliantly facilitated panels and speakers including noteworthy Canadian directors, producers and other professionals.
It was six days of some hardcore honest truths about the intense world of TV directing. We dove into the realities of on-set life and the political dynamics that can make this world difficult to navigate.
The highlight for me was spending the afternoon with Larysa Kondracki. Her notable and fast-tracked TV directing career, with credits on The Americans, Better Call Saul and more, inspired me to see that one can maintain their creative integrity within the sometimes formulaic world of TV directing.
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Corus Diverse TV Director is supported by Presenting Sponsor Corus Entertainment; Industry Partner DGC Ontario; and Supporting Sponsors Entertainment One, Super Channel, Breakthrough Entertainment and the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television. NSI Core Funders are Manitoba Sport, Culture and Heritage and the City of Winnipeg through the Winnipeg Arts Council.