Above from left: Rob Ramsay, Kirsten Madsen, Alexandra Caulfield, Kelly Milner, Jon Mann and Gemma Holdway
Our current NSI Totally Television students just finished their week-long boot camp in Toronto learning from some of the best in the industry.
This year’s associate faculty included story editors Karen Walton (Orphan Black), Alison Lea Bingeman (Cardinal) and James Hurst (Wynonna Earp), as well as creative professionals from TV series Orphan Black, 21 Thunder and digital series Whatever Linda, Terrific Women and Running with Violet.
Here’s what the students had to say about the experience.
Rob Ramsay (producer), Wolfville
After what feels like a month’s worth of information crammed into six days I feel smarter, exhausted, but more than anything, eager.
I had high expectations coming into this course and it absolutely delivered. The wealth of things we learned and the depth at which we studied them was both challenging and incredibly rewarding.
Working with James Hurst, our story editor, made our script stronger, more relatable and more attractive to the market. He helped us push the story to places we knew were there but could not find.
The education I received from the business side of the industry was staggering. I did not know the number of things I did not know. We spent time with experts in financing, budgeting, business affairs, audience engagement, pitching and much, much more.
At the end of the day, our story has [moved forward by] leaps and bounds. We’ve made connections that we would not have gotten anywhere else, and we feel eager and capable of creating a TV show that can stand up with the rest. We are extremely grateful to have had this opportunity and excited to keep going.
Jon Mann (writer), Wolfville
After learning our project Wolfville was accepted to NSI Totally Television I was asked by a lot of friends and family about my expectations for the course. I was so blind with excitement that I never even put any thought into actual expectations.
From day one, the program was inclusive, transparent and effective. Joy Loewen (program manager) and Julie Di Cresce (program advisor) did an incredible job bringing in the industry’s best and brightest to help us gain insight into the ever-changing landscape of Canadian television.
From executive producers and broadcasters to financing and case studies – every minute of the program was meaningfully planned and professionally executed by the incredible guests and NSI staff.
In particular, working with story editor James Hurst was revolutionary for my writing career. James brought years of bonafide experience into our makeshift writing room to help us tell the story we were trying to tell with Wolfville.
With James’ help we broke down what worked in our script and constructively worked through what did not. With each note came a comprehensive discussion, and we quickly learned that James’ years of writing for television is going to be a major contributor to Wolfville’s success.
Kelly Milner (producer), Thin Ice
What a difference a week can make. When we started the NSI Totally Television boot camp I was feeling a bit intimidated. Both Kirsten Madsen (writer, Thin Ice) and I are new to the world of television production and we felt a bit like we would be fish out of water. But from day one the support we received from NSI and the encouragement and inspiration from the other teams helped us get over our initial nerves.
We came in with a solid concept: location, characters, plot and structure. Our pilot script was working, but not quite.
The opportunity to spend two days collaborating with Alison Lea Bingeman, a seasoned writer who not only liked but was excited by our project, was immeasurable. She helped us tear down our script and story arc and – using the same foundation and materials – build it back up again, only this time stronger. By the end we uncovered our real story – one that is unique and engaging and that I’m excited to push forward.
We also came in with notion of how to produce this, how much money we would need and where it would come from. But I quickly realized I had no idea how much I didn’t know. Getting a chance to talk to people like Beverley Bettens about business and legal affairs or Carolyn Allain about how financing for projects was helpful gave me a much better sense of how the business works. And hearing from other producers like Kenneth Hirsch, Kerry Appleyard and Samantha Traub was encouraging and helped me see the questions I need to start asking for my own project.
By the end of the week we were tired, but confident and – thanks to Mickey Rogers – able to pitch our project (again and again) to network executives and other production companies to get on their radar. As a producer from a far-flung corner of the country, the exponential growth of my network of industry connections was invaluable.
Thanks to all the great people who worked with us over the week, we were able to take three steps back, look at our project in a new light, and then start running again.
We are still going in the same direction, but with a much deeper understanding of our story, how it should play out, what (and who) we need on our team to take us to the next level and the confidence to do it. This was a master class for me and I will be able to apply all of the things I learned to the other projects I’m trying to lift as a producer.
Kirsten Madsen (writer), Thin Ice
I recently returned from a week of NSI Totally Television and still need a few more sleeps to process it all. That’s a good thing. It’s a sign that the week was jam-packed, intense and absorbing.
The boot camp managed to give me the perfect combination of feeling out of my depth, over my head and, at the same time, validated as a writer and someone with a creative vision.
The access to so many experienced and varied industry representatives was a huge, expected benefit of the program. What I didn’t expect was how incredibly generous the presenters would be: giving of their time, sharing their honest experiences and engaging in a genuine and supportive way with the program participants and our individual projects.
It’s probably no surprise that for me as a writer the most satisfying, thrilling – and yes, overwhelming – part of the week was our time with our story editor. I was excited to work with Alison Lea Bingeman but I had no idea how generous, smart and insightful she’d be. She was able to get to the heart and root of our story while challenging us to tell it (okay, structure it) better. A day with Ellen Vanstone was also a highlight.
The warmth (and shared anxieties) of the other program participants made the program a lot of fun. So did the steady, thoughtful guidance from Joy and Julie through it all. Now, time to get back to work.
Alexandra Caulfield (producer), DeGeneration
Although I’d been given a course outline – complete with a schedule and list of presenters – when I arrived in Toronto I wasn’t totally sure what to expect for the upcoming week.
Looking back on it after a few days at home, the NSI Totally Television boot camp week was a period of intense growth. Our script was broken down and built back up, all while we were given expert advice on how to pitch, market and finance our show.
I was blown away by the calibre of the professionals brought in to give us their candid assessments of the state of the television industry in Canada and how best to approach getting our shows made.
During our two days with Karen Walton as our story editor, we did a deep dive into our protagonists and got clear on their backstories, relationship and motivations allowing us to go through our pilot page-by-page to ensure everything is being driven by these characters.
I feel extremely grateful to have gone through this experience with Gemma, and the Thin Ice and Wolfville teams. Being in an environment with people who were enthusiastic about not just their own projects, but also the other teams’ projects was energizing and a lot of fun. I believe we’ve all made friends for life. I’m excited to get to work on our homework and making DeGeneration the best show it can be.
Gemma Holdway (writer), DeGeneration
Having worked in a few writers’ rooms, I generally don’t ask other writers to read my work unless they offer or we have some kind of pre-existing ‘script exchange’ relationship. It’s a big ask. You’re asking someone to sit down on their weekend and spend at least two hours reading and analysing your pilot script instead of spending time with their family. I already feel like an asshole just thinking about it. So, what I was looking most forward to was having a vastly more experienced writer do a deep dive on our series over two days. Boy, did NSI deliver.
Our story editor was Karen Walton and she was the perfect match for this project. Be warned, future applicants. It’s a DEEP dive. We went back to the heart of the beast: character and stakes. And on day two, we went through the whole pilot script page by page, sometimes tearing out scene after scene.
I like to think I’m awesome at taking notes but at the end of day two, I was winded. It’s hard – sometimes it hurts but then you have these moments when you pitch a new idea and something clicks, your whole team is on the same page and you can’t wait to put it into the rewrite. Those moments are golden.
I cannot stress enough, don’t take any of what’s said in these sessions personally. Listen, take notes and then sleep on it. Ultimately, the work you do with your story editor is going to make your script better. Now I have a better sense of the story we’re telling and can hone in on the core relationship of our series.
I can’t thank Joy and Julie enough for giving us such well-rounded insight into the television business in Canada. We met creators, network executives, producers, experts in financing, marketing and business affairs, just to mention a few.
It’s not easy to get into a room with a lot of these people. It can be nerve-racking. But it’s a great experience, especially if you’re an introvert like myself. The more you do it, the easier it gets. If you decide to apply for NSI Totally Television, I urge you to frame each challenge as an opportunity to grow. Test yourself, ask questions. As Julie says, there are no stupid questions in NSI Totally Television.
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NSI Totally Television is made possible by Presenting Sponsor Bell Media; Program Partner Telefilm Canada; Supporting Sponsors Entertainment One, Super Channel, Corus Entertainment and Breakthrough Entertainment and Territorial Sponsor Yukon Media Development. NSI Core Funders are Manitoba Sport, Culture & Heritage and the City of Winnipeg through the Winnipeg Arts Council.