Script Reading with Friends - Round One!

After five years of research and keeping the idea to myself, I finally got up the courage to share my drama scripted series with my group of friends.



KYLE reading descriptions | PHOTO BY RYAN COULDREY

KYLE reading descriptions | PHOTO BY RYAN COULDREY

I am so fortunate enough to have these people in my life who, even if shy or semi unwilling, brought my words to life!





I got to hear voices associated to what had been, up until this point, figments of my imagination that remained firmly in my head.



It was shocking, gratifying, and extremely rewarding! I couldn't have asked for a better group!



Thank you.

- Jenn

Coal Mine Theatre - Working with the Best

It's been two years since my journey with Coal Mine Theatre, Toronto's hottest rising east-end theatre company (in my humble opinion).

... Actually STAGE DOOR, THE GLOBE AND MAIL, and NOW MAGAZINE (NNNN) agree with my opinion too!

Chief Engineers Diana Bentley and Ted Dykstra have been SO open, patient, and kind and I feel very blessed to be a part of such an inspiring team.



You know how they (who is they?) say to place yourself around successful people who are doing innovative things? Well that is how I feel each and every day I get to work alongside the entire creative and artistic team.



After completing the website, Diana and I bonded over SM discussions and coffee! We began working on Twitter and Facebook, and saw a 73% increase over a year and a half!



We even ventured into producing video content this year and it was a pleasure to put together short vignettes about the BREATHING CORPSES cast.

We tried our very first holiday themed show and it was a blast. Louise Pitre and Kenneth Welsh on stage. Sweet melodious music mixed with a live reading of "A Child's Christmas in Wales."







We are half way through Season Three, and I couldn't be more excited to be a part of the team that is putting on the Canadian premiere of SUPERIOR DONUTS. Tracy Letts, the wondrously talented writer (August: Osage County, and KILLER JOE)



We close this season with what Diana likes to call, "our dark horse." - ORPHANS. We were at Evergreen Brickworks this past weekend shooting out on the train tracks. Actually let me rephrase. I was safely on firm ground while the cast and photographer, Shaun, were out on the train tracks.





Tickets are selling fast for the final two shows! If you like innovative, challenging, modern, and enticing art, Coal Mine is for you. If you like sheer entertainment - you have come to the right place!

Nominated for DORA awards three years running, I very much look forward to moving up and beyond in our next season of work!

- Jenn

A Morning with Patricia Rozema - Hot Docs Filmmakers Series

A friend of mine pointed me in the direction to a new and amazing filmmakers series at Hot Docs. She was most excited to see Patricia Rozema, and I instantly signed up - feeling her excitement and mine grow! The series is moderated by Linda Barnard, a journalist / writer who previously championed another series focusing on gender. 

Meeting and hearing Patricia Rozema was like eating a perfectly cooked Creme Brulee. Everything she said was liquid gold. She was eloquent, spicy, and just a bit fantastic.

Patricia shared her philosophies as a director and I was so inspired by her wisdom:


"art defines the human condition. So far, we have only defined the male condition" 
"there has to be intent behind the images"
 "I want to make people feel less alone. That's what drives me"

In discussing I'VE HEARD THE MERMAIDS SINGING, Linda asked Patricia how she came to write about the main character as she was so real and relatable. Was this person real and drawn from her own experiences?

Patricia answered that "character is story. If you know them, you know what they will do." This is how she wrote about Polly. "I knew she was out of fashion, and took the street car and liked film." BUT Patricia didn't want the film to be too self-reflexive (a film about a filmmaker making film) - so Polly became a photographer, and had Walter-Mitty-esque experiences through developing the negatives of the each photo.


One of the most compelling aspects of a Rozema film is the music. The dynamism in INTO THE FOREST coupled with the growing anxiety and Eva's dance practice to a metronome creates a sensual and gripping experience for the audience.

"people underestimate how powerful music is"
"it is important to find the right level of vibration with your composer"
"music is the art at which all other arts aspire"


Patricia shared insightful tips about story and arc. She said, "fiction is always examining morality." There is a tension and release - which she believes is the key principle of beauty. The tightness and expansiveness of breath. Finally, the choices the characters make are always moral

To find the heart of the story, you have to understand the push and pull in the universe. There is art even in the things that are not seen.

Patricia concluded with a wonderful thought, that the best images are the ones that are written. Coming from such a talented scriptwriter and director, I was truly inspired by this amazing Canadian filmmaker! Until the next series...

- Jenn

National Canadian Film Day & Hot Docs

What a crazy four months it has been for me and At Shutter Speed. It is officially the new year for my blog, but I am already a third of the way through the year. So happy 1/3 third of the new year!!

I think it is the perfect day to blog because tomorrow is National Canadian Film Day and next week Hot Docs International Film Festival begins.


If you are an avid movie goer, a film bluff, or a patriotic Canadian, then this day is meant for you!

What is this day you ask? All across Canada, theatres in select cities are screening only Canadian Film. Most screenings are free too!


Here are some in my hometown, Toronto, that I am most excited for:

  1. The Grand Seduction | CBC Atrium | April 20th | 7PM
  2. Ginger Snaps | Fox Theatre | April 20th | 7PM
  3. Corner Gas: The Movie | Brentwood Library | April 20th | 2PM
  4. Dr. Cabbie | York Memorial CI | April 20th | 9AM



North America's largest international documentary film festival is just around the corner and I could not be more excited.

Last year, I was able to watch 22 films (on top of working and attending all the parties and networking events). PHEW.

This year, I've been fortune enough to take advantage of film screeners, and will be telling you some of my festival favourites.

  1. How to Build a Time Machine | dir. Jay Cheel
  2. Holy Hell | dir. Will Allen
  3. Girls Don't Fly | dir. Monika Grassl
  4. Under the Sun | dir. Vitaly Mansky

Jay Cheel takes us on an extraordinary adventure between two characters obsessed with "time travel". One drawing inspiration from H.G. Wells novel The Time Machine, while the other, a professor of mathematics, wanting to find an equation that solves time travel.

Holy Hell is exactly as it sounds. Filmmaker Will Allen joins The Budhist Society in California with a hundred other members. What starts as an ideal retreat and community focused group turns into a nightmare. Watch as the leader of the group destroys each persons life in his own masochistic pursuits of an ideal society.

Girls Don't Fly drew my attention initially because of the title. I said to myself, what do you mean girls don't fly... of course we do. In a small Ghanaian town, a group of determined and strong willed young women attend a local flying academy. Their dreams of a better future for themselves and their families seem distant and far away, and they endure verbal abuse from the director of the academy. He is a British imperialist with archaic views of Ghanaian culture. At the heart of this sad story is white colonialism taking place today. Will the women prevail over the male white power? Watch and see!

Under the Sun is one of the most clever documentaries I have ever seen. Fighting strict filming limitations, the North Korean government and its control over the image, director Vitaly Mansky tells us a story and asks us to read in between the lines. In this case, I mean that he shows us footage in between each take - before the government official yells "ACTION". "WAIT," you say, "action?" "Is this not reality, is this not a documentary showing truth?" Truth for us is recognizing the lie in each scripted and practiced dramatizations. The government attempts to show us an ideal family through the perspective of an eight year old girl. However, there is nothing ideal about the situation or family or work environments. The horror unfolds and the pressure reaches its peak at the end, when the little girl is unable to contain her tears. We are left hearing the final words of the government official regulating the shoot, "tell her to stop crying. Think of something happy."

What am I most excited for? 

  1. Ovarian Psychos
  2. Mr. Gaga
  3. Ants on a Shrimp
  4. Sour Grapes
  5. Apology
  6. League of Exotique Dancers

The list really does go on but I had to hold back for the sake of making this a relatively short blog.


There is so much film action going on in Toronto this month. I hope you have the chance to go out and share in the success of all our great Canadian filmmakers!

- Jenn

Coal Mine Theatre | The River in review

The theatre is a unique space. It plays out in real time, without editing or cutting to improve the narrative flow. Stuff can happen (Murphy's law), and you have to role with the punches.

The world can feel so large and yet so small at times. Here's what I mean. One of my favourite English professors from undergrad met up with a fellow classmate in Ottawa for a seminar talk. They conversed and he mentioned his daughter's and her partner's theatre company, Coal Mine Theatre, and their need to build a website before the new 2015 / 2016 season. And presto, through fate and good fortune, my name got thrown into the mix and I got to go on an amazing journey with Diana Bentley and Ted Dykstra this past summer.

Working with two graphic designers, Catherine Erkinger and Kostis Pedritis, the three of us constructed and fashioned a website that is simple, easy to navigate, and rich in colour.

What is Coal Mine Theatre? It is a company that produces off-off broadway plays. Very indie, with large name actors occupying intimate spaces and creating an experience like no other for the audience.

"If you sit in the front row of the Coal Mine’s tiny theatre, a storefront venue on Toronto’s Danforth Avenue, you’ll get a close-up view of Ferry as he nimbly beheads and eviscerates a glistening silver trout while an instrumental version of Cole Porter’s I’ve Got You Under My Skin plays wryly in the background." - The Globe and Mail

The 2015 / 2016 theatre season is comprised of four plays: The River, The Winter's Tale, Killer Joe, and Instructions (to any future socialist government proposing to abolish Christmas).

The 2015 / 2016 season at Coal Mine Theatre

I watched "The River" (Jez Butterworth) this past weekend and I was mesmerized. My partner and I were struck with the mystique, the open ended plot, the brilliant stage direction (ahem Ted Dykstra) and the intense emotion evoked by each actor on stage.

"Butterworth’s style easily moves between mundane exchanges and a heightened poetic prose." - Stage Door

Post City captures "the man" (David Ferry) in the narrative hauntingly beautiful, showcasing the intricate and detailed set design and the uncomfortable and open ended story.

Truly a work that will haunt me moving forward. I canno wait for the rest of the season.


This is an experience like no other!

- Jenn, an enthusiastic theatre goer!

COAL MINE facebook

COAL MINE twitter

An Hour with Jia Jhang-Ke | TIFF Festival 2015

One of my favourite directors coming out of undergrad was Jia Jhang-Ke. Having watched and written about The World (2000), I was fascinated by his ability to capture human emotion by isolating characters in digitally and architecturally distinct spaces. 

When I looked at the programming this year for the TIFF 2015, I was flabbergasted when I saw his name appear. I wooped for joy. Loudly.

Jia Jhang-Ke and Cameron Bailey at TIFF 2015, Glenn Gould Studio, CBC, Toronto.

Jia was mesmerizing. Cameron Bailey was present to stir the conversation forward. Jia was calm, collected, and intelligent. He started by talking about his time in film school. China was changing socially, and people where struggling to understand themselves in this unsure environment. What really caught his attention is that people were NOT making films that reflected this movement.

Inspired by Hou Hao Hien (Chungking Express) and Vittorio Di Sica (Bicycle Thieves), Jia set out to capture a sense of beauty in realism. He described The Bicycle Thieves as

"[a film whose] visual moments are moving. [Moments we find] in every day life. [They are] both real and poetic." - Jia Jhang-Ke

They then discussed one of the major themes that runs through most of his films: alienation. Jia says that "loneliness is a big part of human nature." The Chinese culture before the social movement was group based. The shift to the individual is a strange moment. The struggle of the individual to create one's own self. The search for the self is often a lonely process.

This theme is captured in a very auteuristic style, if you will, one that we can see building over time in Jia's canon of films. Using mostly long takes, a certain sense of romanticism, and adding in fantasy / sci-fi elements to the story. With the advance of technology, devices are introduced into the narrative as a way to break up the plot. There is something futuristic about his films, poignantly heightened in The World. Not only do devices play a role in the internal plot, but also with the external world of the director. The advance of digital technology, Jia mentioned, is that he is able to achieve the look he wants with new equipment. The long take becomes economically viable.

The World (2004)

The World (2004)

Both the cinematographer, Nelson Lik-wai Yu, and Jia share the same desire to find beauty in everyday life. Having made every film together since 1998 and carrying this aesthetic forward.

Jia ended the conversation by saying that he and others have "responsibility as film artists." His focus is portraying change in people over time.

This is one experience that shall stay with me throughout life. Having heard him speak and being a long standing fan of his work, Jia's eye and directing sensibility stand top notch for me.

- Jenn

A Night with Jacob Tierney | Deanne Foley | Vic Sarin

After the 2015 DGC Awards Film Festival, TIFF hosted "Meet the Directors." This event featured three Canadian film directors: Jacob Tierney (Preggoland, 2014), Deanne Foley (Relative Happiness, 2014) and Vic Sarin (The Boy From Geita, 2014).

What delights me thoroughly at events such as this, is that they highlight Canadian talent, proving that we are indeed creative, strong, and innovative in the film industry.

Furthermore, when events ring FREE, industry people should flock to them... even if the Jays are in a playoff game.

What blows me away (still) with the three keynote speakers, is the diversity of talent on stage, and proving how creativity can play a major role in filming when the budget is small. Deane Foley admitted that they had 16 days to shoot the entire film.

I really felt attracted to each director in a different way. Jacob was at once personable, funny, and witty. Deanne was a major advocate for showing strong female characters in lead roles, and characters we don't normally see on screen. Vic Sarin was a WISE WISE man, offering philosophical advise that still resonates with me weeks later.

These are just a few of some of the words I heard:

"Gathering moments" in the editing room - Deanne Foley
"documentaries show, not tell" - Vic Sarin
"telling stories with unconventional female leads" - Deanne Foley
"documentary has to be as pure as possible. No narration. As is" - Vic Sarin
"I enjoy the journey of discovery. The idea has to grab me." - Vic Sarin
"each film takes me to a new place." - Vic Sarin

From dramedy, to strong female leads (who are flawed - yes, women ARE flawed too), to a powerful story, Canada sure seems to have it all.

Thank you DGC for organizing this event. I look forward to many more to come.

- Jenn


The Toronto International Film Festival 2015

The city was alive last week with the International Toronto Film Festival.

King street was a buzzin' from University to John street. The Hyatt was full of industry delegates and filmmakers from all over the world.

Here I found a home amongst other cinephiles - dare I say cinefilles

From entertainment, to networking, dining out, and watching a selection of 300 hundred, it's no wonder why Cameron Bailey loves his job so much:

"I invite everybody to 300 birthday parties and show movies" - Cameron Bailey, Twitter.

As an industry member, I was fortunate enough to witness keynote speakers from across the creative spectrum: 

  1. Justin Benson (Director, Producer, & Filmmaker) and Aaron Moorhead (Writer, Producer, & Filmmaker), the creators of SPRING (2014)
  2. Stephen Frears, director of THE PROGRAM (2015)
  3. Jia Zhang-ke, director of Mountains May Depart (2015)
  4. Bianca Goodloe, legal concierge - state of financing and co-production
  5. Nicolas Chartier, producer of A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS (2015)
  6. Michael Moore, director of WHERE TO INVADE NEXT (2015)
  7. Barbara Twist (Art House Convergence), Mark Fishkin (California Film Institute), and John Vanco (IFC, NY)
  8. UPFRONT: Uncovering Unconscious Bias - Gender Issues
  9. David Garrett
  10. Phil Hunt (Producer), *thinks that MUFF is "brilliant"
  11. Asif Kapadia, director of AMY (2015)
  12. Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein, directors of THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING (2015)

Stay tuned the next few weeks where I will be highlighting the major speakers and my most memorable moments.

The movies were spectacular. At least the select few I was able to see (12). ANGRY INDIAN GODDESS shook the ground and wrenched out my heart. A movie everyone needs to see. LEGEND, a gritty tale based on the true story of the gangster Kray twins, East Enders in 1960s London. One close to home, BEEBA BOYS by the brilliant Deepa Mehta, also had be rivetted to my seat!

An unforgettable time with the best people!

- Jenn

A Night with Noah Bingham, The Secret Trial 5

In my final week Bootcamp Producer course with the DOC Institute, Toronto, I had the privilege to hear the story of Noah Bingham's extraordinary journey.

Noah Bingham is the producer of The Secret Trial 5, a documentary that had its festival premiere at Hot Docs 2014 and a theatre premiere the following year.

A quick snippet of the synopsis from the website:

"Imagine spending years in prison without being charged with a crime or knowing exactly what you're accused of. A film about the human impact of the “War on Terror,” The Secret Trial 5 is a sobering examination of the Canadian government’s use of security certificates, a Kafkaesque tool that allows for indefinite detention without charges, based on evidence not revealed to the accused or their lawyers ... Through the experience of the detainees and their families, the film raises poignant questions about the balance between security and liberty."

The journey started in 2009. Noah's school friend Amar Wala, director & producer, had just finished creating a short film about one of the families described above. The film was called The Good Son

Both were so excited by the intense story and were interested in developing the idea into a feature length doc. The project began with a "lean production" and an "out-of-their-pocket funding" model.

Both wanted to pitch to a broadcaster to source traditional funding for their feature. They were rejected and never back. Not willing to give up, they sourced other methods to raise money. This propelled them to create a kickstarter / crowdfunding campaign. The first campaign, largely supported by friends and family, raised enough for them to continue production and pay for the website and promo video. Noah Bingham showed us the video on their first crowd funding campaign and I was immediately pulled into the story and awed by the creativity and way the story was told. 

Production continued. Two years later, Noah and Amar launched another crowdfunding campaign. After building a community of followers and interested activists, this campaign grew to be very successful and they were able to pitch their idea at Hot Docs with the Cuban Hat. While not winning the final votes, they won over the industry and created enthusiasm.

This led to contacts which led to money being invested into their film. They got an office space, editing suite and continue the film into post.

Still no broadcaster and no solid investor that would have otherwise made their lives a lot easier. However, Noah did remark how grateful he was to have been allowed to see the full process from start to finish due to budget constraints, because everyone was wearing multiple hats.  

Three years into production, Arts Council Toronto came in and offered funding. Noah and the team headed to DOC Ignite (2013) and reached their goal, receiving more funding and reaching new audiences.

With a film in post and needing monetary support, Noah approached Telefilm Micro Budget. They were able to apply because

  1. Amar had only been out of school for three years, and
  2. they planned on carrying out a hybrid distribution strategy:
  • both in theatres and digitally online.

With the film done, The Secret Trial 5 became a Hot Docs 2014 Festival Selection and sold out all three nights. They successfully completed a deal with Blue Ice Docs, a distributor. The film was a greater hit in the festival than it was in theatres at the Bloor Cinema. There are no monetary assets given to the filmmakers at the Bloor.

Noah wanted to create an even greater buz and expand their thriving online community further. They launched a third successful crowdfunding campaign. This gave Noah and Amar enough to travel around the country touring their movie.

You can check out their movie online here, for one small payment of $9.00.

This story proved to me that through hard work, commitment, and dedication, you really can bring your ideas to life with support and creativity. 

Congratulations Noah, Amar, and the rest of the team! This is one story I will never forget and look forward to diving head first into your film.

Click HERE to purchase the film online.

- Jenn

A Night with Tassie Cameron, Showrunner Rookie Blue

I had a rare honour of sharing a few hours one evening with Women on Screen. This month's salon event was hosted by Tassie Cameron.

Tassie Cameron is an award winning screenwriter and producer. She has worked on Degrassi: Next Generation (TV), Cake (2005, film), Flashpoint (TV), and my personal favourite, Rookie Blue (TV).

Among many things, what sincerely sparks my interest is her ability to write witty, humorous and emotional characters with fully developed lives.  Characters that draw you into a storyline that never seems to "get old."

Graduating from University with a BA in English Literature (like myself) she pursued her MA at NYU. After completing school, she entered the film industry and explored many post-production roles. Not really enjoying being on set or coordinating post work, she landed a job working for HBO and found her calling.

She said with a reflective smile, "in my twenties, I was making rent, and enjoying life." But, at HBO she felt different somehow. The change happened when she was introduced to the writing process: highly creative and in her field.

She had some great honest wisdom to pass down to the eager ladies (and one gent?) sitting in an intimate room on King Street West. Here are her writing tips:

  1. don't be too personal
  2. write with act breaks
  3. never leave a character too long on screen
  4. dig deep, be real
  5. feel your writing ("if I don't cry in a sad scenes then something is wrong")
  6. speak out loud when you are writing
  7. try an improv class
  8. go to CFC (Canadian FIlm Centre)
  9. be a part of the film community
  10. volunteer on short films
  11. cut out children, night scenes, and car chases to preserve the budget
  12. practice your pitch a MILLION times
  13. speak with authenticity and passion
  14. use coloured pens when you are recording different feedback on your script to keep your head sane
  15. don't worry so much about outlines

With some extremely insightful and some more humorous tips and tricks, I feel very blessed to have been sitting in a room with an intelligent, hard working, and dedicated Canadian writer.

- Jenn

A Night with Nickolas De Pencier: DOC Masters' Series Class

One of the many organizations I have joined this year is the Documentary Organization of Canada. I came across this gem at Hot Docs Film Festival 2015.

DOC offers programming to emerging film professionals for a variety of roles.

Technicolour studio

This month's masters series class was on cinematography and lead by Nickolas De Pencier. He is known for his TIFF success, Watermark (2013). 

Nickolas graduated from school with a BA' in English Lit. and Art History. Growing up as a photographer who developed b / w photos from film, he carried this love over to working on set in a variety of roles. 

Laughing to himself, he says he never chose film as a career. Especially not documentary. He started working on feature film sets for drama and fiction. From PA'ing to grip, he tried out every role to get a good sense of the entire process.

"Start small and be excited about everything" - Nickolas.

On his spare time, he worked on dance films. His roommate at the time knew a group of dancers and Nickolas developed his cinematographic eye through fun experimentation.

After deciding that fiction film was not a long term career for him, he jumped ship to documentary filmmaking. Not only did he change subject matter, but he made the leap from film to digital.

My favourite part about De Pencier's talk was his philosophies, some of which I will share with you below:

"Rare link between subject and what you are reporting"
"Authentic subject = unobtrusive cameraman"
"Use what is there, the mechanics of production. The smaller the better"
"creatively owning camera is better"
"Ask yourself what can this camera do..."
"ethics of DOC filmmaking: good practice leading to stronger material"
"there is a difference between an authentic relationship in film and an expose film"

He then shared two of his personal mantras that I shall carry forward with me for life:

"never move until it improves on stillness"
"something human is more dear to me than all the world"

Nickolas ended his talk by addressing questions from the audience, one of which asked about the future of DOC filmmaking in terms of finding funding. He suggested that the current model of sponsorship may change in five years. Most DOC full length films attract a niche audience, meaning it is hard to make a solid living off of it. He has, though, and is living proof. Perhaps that generation is dying out slowly but it is good to see someone who is able to make it while still inhabiting the outskirts of the filmmaking industry. Further, as a filmmaking you might have to weigh in whether your sponsor has the same agenda as you or is looking to improve business through product placement and ads. This can affect the authenticity of your film and whether your film receives funding or not. It is always a delicate line to balance on.

Thank you DOC for such a great evening spent at Technicolour (Toronto) and the chance to play around with top gear sponsored by Vistek.

- Jenn

Women in Film and Television: My First WIFT-T Meeting in Toronto

I attended an AGM event this past Monday with WIFT. Hosted downtown Toronto at Goodman LP, I found myself immersed in a group of talented and career driven women.

| What WIFT-T excels at is creating a supportive community where women can meet, network, voice our concerns, face common challenges, and celebrate our triumphs. No other organization does this for women filmmakers - Stephanie Law, WIFT website.

What an organization like this does for women is provide a platform for women to discuss challenges, issues, and everyday career obstacles together in a non-judgmental atmosphere. From entry level industry members to members with 30+ years of experience, WIFT-T excitedly invites anyone and everyone who is interested.

Membership Flexibility

Membership is flexible and based on your industry experience. This is important because some of their networking events and professional development courses are catered to level of expertise in the industry.

The thing I am looking forward to the most as a new member with WIFT is the educational opportunities and course modules they organize and host. These intuitive courses are catered directly to industry professionals and offered for a fraction of the price of other development courses. 

Media Business: Marketing and Distribution

The landscape for our industry is changing. Digital media is going to take over TV distribution sooner or later. We have to stay at the forefront and be a part of the box that pushes the boundaries for content creation. WIFT provides incubator programs for emerging talent that go through the entire production and business end of media creation. They offer a Digital Media Bootcamp course:

| Content creators will learn about the technical environments available to them to tell their stories and distribute their work – plus manage projects on deadline and on budget. Participants will leave confident with the understanding of what it takes to get their original or digital extension project executed. This program was formerly called the Convergent Media Program - WIFT website.

Other exciting events to look forward to: a short film festival championing member work, a TIFF reception party, and networking opportunities.

At the AGM I met the Chair, Joanna Webb. She approached me with a smile and personally welcomed me to the event. I felt instantly warm and at home. I also got to talk to a new board member, Andra Sheffer, who has such an inspiring career tract: from working at festivals to being the CEO of the Independent Production Fund and other Canadian film industry companies. This was enough for me. I felt included, excited, and on board with their mission statement.

If you are interested in joining, visit their website and check out all the flexible membership options.

- Jenn

*Stay tuned for our blog tomorrow: In Conversation with Andrea Ziedenberg, Far From the Madding Crowd.

Violence for Everyone - Kingsman The Secret Service

This week, I am featuring Andrea Ziedenberg again. Clink here to read her earlier post. We both watched Kingsman separately and we're just dying to review it. Here are her thoughts:

Kingsman (2015) invigorated me. After watching it I immediately wanted to watch it again and create a tumblr devoted to the character Gazelle (Sofia Boutella).

Directed by Matthew Vaughn and starring Taron Egerton as ‘Eggsy’ Unwin, Colin Firth as Harry Hart, Sophie Cookson as Roxy, Michael Caine as Arthur, Samuel L Jackson as Valentine, and the star, for me, was professional break-dancer Sofia Boutella as the knife-legged Gazelle.

Vaughn takes us through the spy movie motions but punches it up with giddy gore and winking asides.

  1. Where does this film take us? It takes us into a fantasy England, where humans are capable of amazing feats, super villains and aristocrats control the fate of the world, and heads explode in colourful puffs.
  2. How did this film make us feel? This film made me feel positively giddy, because of its well-coordinated violence and its silly humour. The kinetic action sequences are long and well designed. The best example is a Church massacre scored to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird. Colin Firth’s Hart slaughters a pack of racist bigots in a chaotic ballet of impaling crosses and gun shots. The camera swirls around the church with action taking place in the foreground, in the background, and everywhere in between. It is truly exhilarating. I really can’t emphasize how amazing it was to see cartoonish gore in a spy film. Gazelle, Valentine’s henchman, has razor sharp legs and she cuts a man in two with them. In two! Her fight sequences were a thing of beauty. I appreciated the violence the most, but the humour was just as entertaining. The humour pokes fun at spy movie tropes or turns them on their head. For instance, the villainous Valentine cannot handle seeing blood or violence, and a princess offers not a kiss, but anal sex to the hero when he saves the world. Cheeky.
  3. What issues does this film tackle? Some have criticized the film for being too right wing, for its criticism of government interference and portraying environmentalists as insane. But I am easy to please and can forgive it these sins because of its excellent action sequences. The film also takes a stab at class issues. Eggsy, coming from a working class background, with the sneakers and accent to match, versus the old world aristocracy of the Kingsman, personified by Michael Caine and Colin Firth. In the end, the working class background gives you street smarts and heart, and aristocracy gives you nice suits and cool gadgets. A marriage between the two seems to work out best. Hence, Eggsy becomes a suited up suave gentleman, but one who can think on his feet. Power still rests in the hands of the elite, but at least they have somewhat diversified their ranks. Another issue in the film is masculinity. I love that Eggsy is a more sensitive chap than your average super spy (he saves a puppy!) and he strikes up a mutually beneficial friendship with spy Roxy. My biggest bone to pick with the film was the fact that they did not give Roxy a Kingsman suit, especially since she wins the spot over Eggsy, and that they did not allow her to take part in the final violent showdown between Eggsy, Gazelle, and Valentine. My second biggest issue was the first scene where the Kingsman are supposed to kill a Muslim. It smacks off the white man’s burden and is just plain old fashioned racism to have these white knights saving the world from brown and black adversaries. In IMDB, he is listed as the first character and referred to as "terrorist." Come on Great Britain...
  4. Was it fun? Hells yes! This movie is fun from start to finish. Fun is the whole point of the film, it’s a rollercoaster ride for entertainment only.
  5. Was it transformative? Hells no. This film is just a popcorn flick. Maybe it was transformative in that it made me want to learn how to do breakdancing stunts like Gazelle! Or it could be argued that it was transformative to the spy genre, in that it gave us a gorier and more tongue in cheek iteration of the same old tropes. Maybe the next James Bond will be more a of romp and less of a slog?

Overall, the film was a hoot and I highly recommend it when you want some fun escapist fare. Perhaps pair it with a Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)! You won’t be disappointed!

- Andrea

Netflix and Vervegirl TV - Changing Canadian TV Watching Experiences

Youtube web series, TV shows created and released for Netflix consumers, Canadians with the power to choose their own personalized TV bundle kit ... this is the dawn of a new age.

Toronto is one of many leaders in quality media creation in Canada. It is important for industry reps. to stay on top of the changing media landscapes. We have to not only process the information but question what the future holds: what do the new CRTC laws do for consumers? How is my TV and movie watching experienced changed with Netflix and Shomi?

AND: what does this ultimately  mean for people working in Canadian TV?

The Globe and Mail says it very astutely:

The decision caters to consumers who have vented their frustrations to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), wondering why they had to pay for bundles of channels they don’t watch simply to get the ones they like. But greater choice could come with consequences: Some customers may pay more, a number of channels will likely die out and substantial revenue losses across the industry could mean job losses and less new content. - James Bradshaw, Media reporter

If you are unfamiliar with the current CRTC action, here is a good article that summarizes the new laws: clink here.

Not only will the industry suffer a loss of production, but TV networks are being forced to shift in a new direction: online video content production and distribution. This is, without a doubt, the most ideal distribution for consumers. They will eventually have all their favourite shows just a click away. For Netflix, the viewers will have access to the show in its entirety. No TV broadcast release date will precede a Netflix original series. OKAY. How does a network assess a shows popularity then? How do they keep their fans happy? You can binge watch an entire show and forget it after a week. How are producers going to address this concerning factor? 

Youtube web series still use a weekly release date model for each episode. Episodes are compressed to five minutes or less (give or take). They are generally, thus far, orchestrated for the millennial generation, what we may call the generation with an attention span of three seconds. Being used to watching 30 minute and hour long episodes, it was rather jolting to watch a show unhold in four minute segments. 

Let's take a look at two key examples that are fresh off the internet press: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix production and distributor) and Carmilla (a Smokebomb Entertainment production and Vervegirl TV, distributor, Youtube) to begin to answer these questions.


Kimmy Schmidt follows a line of successful Netflix-original series: House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. Both highly watched shows set the bar high for future productions. Kimmy Schmidt is a story about a woman who was trapped for 15 years in a bunker and resurfaces into modern day New York. From this perspective, she has to rehabilitate herself back into the world. The perspective taken is one of an outsider looking in on what we might consider "normal" behaviour. There is nothing normal about this show. It borders on slapstick humour and uses a referential system to see how well we consumers have been paying attention over the last fifteen years (HASHBROWN no filter).

The intro is a good example of this referential phenomenon. Five year s ago, a unique Youtube video went viral. Someone posted an edited news story and added a beat with auto tune. We also see this in Kimmy Schmidt: clink here for Kimmy Schmidt original news story.

Auto-tuned Kimmy Schmidt full intro

Antoine Youtube news story with remix song

The originals feature two similar outspoken characters whose concerns for their community become swallowed in a pop-culture-catchy beat. The strength and intelligence in Kimmy Schmidt is not only in its use of popular media tropes, but how it chooses to comment on them. The intro song, when understood in its full context, is complete gibberish. What is unbreakable? Bankston's sunglasses. The song, if written out, has sense, but the words are pulled out of context to create new contextual meaning. As such, we can begin to see how the show will recycle, subvert, and comment on 'normal' behaviour by reinventing itself through the eyes of the protagonist:

"Hey Titus. Apparently dancing is about butts now" - Kimmy


A channel on Youtube called Vervegirl TV released its highly anticipated webseries in August 2014 called Carmilla. Based off of Le Fanu's gothic-vampire novella, Smokebomb entertainment, Shift2, and Kotex paired together to create a thirty six episode story. Each episode was released on a weekly basis. The series depicted the struggle of a freshman who encounters weird and unexplainable events in her university. Her inner journalist takes over, and she leads a team of dedicated friends to defeat a vampire cult. Oh yea, did I mention that it also explores sexually diverse characters? Cool and refreshing!

Carmilla | Episode 1 | Disorientation | Laura Hollis is three weeks into her first semester at Sillas University, and things have gotten off to a weird start...

Carmilla | Episode 36 | Life Goes On | Laura turns the camera on one last time to share how she feels about the events that just unfolded at Silas...

There are two ways to experience this transmedia production: progressing through episode by episode each weekly release or spending two hours binge watching it. I was the latter...

The former uses transmedia as a way to tell the story, shifting our experience entirely. The genesis of this experiential form may have developed from consumer's desire to know more about what happens off screen.

Incorporating the U by Kotex® “Save the Undies” campaign, Carmilla also includes transmedia extensions engaging millennial audiences, including character Twitter and Tumblr feeds that extend the story world between episodes, and U by Kotex® integration vlogs featuring the two lead Carmilla characters debating such questions as whether vampires get their periods. - Carmilla article on Shaftesbury

Does this inevitably make us, as consumers, more invested in a show? Perhaps... Likely because we can see and hear and read about a character on multiple platforms.


One source of revenue for TV stations is advertising. How will the advertising landscape change? Will brands that are incorporated into the videos appear more targeted based on the media being shown?

Smokebomb, Shift2, and U by Kotex came up with one solution: product placement. The characters in Carmilla appear in additional media videos discussing issues related to the show. The issues creatively include and endorse a product: Kotex female hygiene products. How does a teen show about vampires endorse tampons? WELL. One mini episode, actually rather humorous, asks, "do vampires get their periods?" Carmilla states, "yes, I have had 4,000 of them." I did a quick tally on their channel and noticed most ad videos were pushing 28K views. This form of advertising is watched at the discretion of the consumer. And more than 28K consumers chose to click those links.  Clearly an effective approach, as  Vervegirl TV continues this tradition with its recent series release MsLabelled. Clink here to read more.


The landscape is changing. What can we expect in the future? More online content. An increase in internet costs. More commercials and brands appearing alongside our favourite shows. Shifts in the workforce for Canadian production... etc.

What we need to ask ourselves now, as the gears shift, is where we stand and how we will fit in.

- Jenn

Juggun Kazim - A Night with Western Alumni

Last night I attended my second Western Alumni event in Toronto at the Rosewater building. First off, let me say how much I have so far enjoyed these evenings. Western U Alumni your hard work and dedication to reaching out to past Western students makes me feel purple and proud all over again. Thank you for providing an extraordinary experience.

Last night, Juggun Kazim gave an emotional inspiring talk about her journey from Pakistan to Canada when she was 17 to attend Western U. She didn't know anyone at the school. She knew it was a good school but that was it.

Western Alumni Gazette - Ft. Juggun Kazim - 2015

When talking about her culture she says, "I am Pakistani. I am Muslim. I am Canadian. But first - I am a human being [...] religion has nothing to do with who you are."

This was the basis of her entire talk: the Power of Human Beings.

From a privileged family, Juggun said she never would have ended up with such a successful career in the media without having attended Western U. She strongly believes that Western provided her not only an education but a lesson on being human: "Western teaches you how to be an extraordinary human being."

"The only way the world will respect you is if you respect yourself" - Juggun Kazim

During her time at Western, she enrolled in the Western Work Program to help pay the international fees. She says it was heart warming dealing with all the wonderful people who worked at Western. They laboured endlessly to make sure she could stay in school. All she had to do was give back to the purple community.

"Western opened up my perception..." - Western Gazette - Alumni issue. 2015.

After graduating, she entered the media sector in Canada, much to her family's distaste, and flourished as an actress. This was not without its trials. At this point she laughed. Working as a new Canadian actress in Canada, she was either auditioning to play a "desolate" Pakistani woman - to which she said her skin tone was not dark enough for - or she was invited to audition to be a Canadian - which she also laughed and said she was not "Canadian" enough due to her accent. Being stuck in limbo, and feeling slightly spent, her agent suggested to change her name to J. It seemed to work and she landed a role in a film and two stage plays.

She returned home shortly after. She was quickly engaged and married to a man from home. I will leave this part of her story out as she has asked the people who were present last night to keep this part private. But I will say she went through an extremely rough patch in a bad marriage (really bad).

She must have seen the shock and sympathy in our faces. She replied slowly and said (and I paraphrase here) the reason I don't talk about this is because this is something that happens everywhere. It does not define me as a Pakistani woman. "You have to get over it and move on." 

From here, she got out. She left and pursued her media career as a Breakfast television host: Mornings with Juggun Kazim.

She remarried. "I don't have to look far outside my home to find inspiration." And she pointed to her husband in the audience, "that man there deals with me in all my crazy and erratic moods." 

"Keeping Smiling" - Juggun Kazim

She ended her tale by saying an amazing array of inspiring words:

"Work from the inside out." - (paraphrased) everyone says to think outside the box. I say become the box and slowly help to reshape the world around you to bring about change. 

Her biggest conflict now is changing the perception at home (Pakistan) of being a woman who is both "beautiful" and intelligent." Most people tell her that she can't be on screen and be those two things synonymously. You have to be very careful saying what is on your mind, she told us. She has found that using positive reinforcement is the safest path.

When talking about serious issues such as child molestation, she said she can't come out and just say it point blank. She has to instead guide parents by insisting to care and listen to their children. To watch over both their young girls and boys.

"Send kindness forward, give back" - Juggun Kazim.

Being the ultimate nerd that I am, and having now a massive female crush on Juggun (who is a fellow purple warrior) I asked her to sign my copy of the Western Alumni gazette.

I shared an experience I had and she told me: "whatever you do, do not be silent. Always talk to someone about your experiences and share."

Keep smiling!

- Jenn

A Night with Maureen Jennings

There are always going to be those nights when no matter how blustery the Canadian winter weather is, you are willing to brave it (wind, rain, or snow) to go out and visit an author whose work excites and inspires you.

This is how I felt last night travelling to a Toronto Public Library branch to hear / see Maureen Jennings speak about her career.

Before you say, "wow a person talking about themselves... great?" There is something different when an author stands behind a podium and weaves their life into a tale of adventure. I was awestruck listening for an hour - only it felt like a minute had gone by.

She opened her talk with a passage she had recently written for a new Murdoch TV companion book that is soon to be released in book stores:

"The darkness is real [...] the actors are soaked to the skin. The one take is successful (here alluding to Shipwrecked) [...] My own story dramatized in real life [...] who would have thought it?!"

Maureen Jennings, born and raised in England (and NOT in any way related to Christina Jennings, owner of Shaftesbury Films) is the author of the Murdoch mysteries series, Bomb Girls, Season of Darkness, and other Tom Tyler books to come. Maureen Jennings grew up in North York, where she started writing "poems and short stories." A friend of hers who was an actor invited her to write a mystery play for their theatre. Of course being a writer, one assumes that a writer is able to write ANY kind of work (plays - short stories - poems - novels - screenplays) ... However, this experience turned out to be a major turning point in her career because it helped her develop a keen interest in the mystery genre.

Being a passionate Victorian, she wanted to base her detective stories in the mid 1890s. Maureen held up an old image of the man she used as inspiration for Detective William Murdoch. He has "integrity and intelligence in his face" she said smiling, hoping to meet him one day. The moustached man in the photo of course does not look anything like our glorious Yannick Bisson, who plays Murdoch in the CBC series, but Maureen is thrilled to have been with Yannick these past eight years. 

An eagre person in the audience asked Maureen how it all began. "It was a funny story," one day my husband, who does things and only tells me when he knows something good will come of it, took one of my five books and brought it to Christina Jennings at Shaftesbury. We developed three movies out of my books. The blond-haired blue-eyed detective cast in the films was much closer to the personality I had written in my stories. TV, though, generally takes the characters and does away with the story. Although she did mention that she is grateful at how faithful "CBC was with the show and her original story." Then CTV picked up my show and it has been running on CBC now for eight consecutive seasons.

"One of the things you can do as a writer is you can steal everything," she said with mischief in her eyes. "There is extra fun with revenge crime, especially when you write someone in and have to decide how they live or die."

She had specifically written these books to take place in Toronto, and one of her earliest memories on the show was remembering how hilarious it was that, given the time for the show to be produced, the first few episodes were shot in WInnipeg. The irony...

Mauren co-wrote three episodes and recently released a solo episode, "Shipwrecked," which explores William Murdoch's childhood and how he came to have such particular habits.

Maureen is currently working on her Tom Tyler series, set in 1940 England during WWII. There are so many country secrets that need a good story telling. You could see glitter in her eyes as she recounted a few fond memories. Her first book, Season of Darkness, explores interned camps in the war.

In Ludlow, there were camps where men and women were interned in the war if they were suspected of being enemies. The camps were peaceful otherwise and many of the brightest minds lay wasting away until someone decided that they could give classes each day. Top scientists and musicians gave talks and lessons and worked with other camp members, mentoring them on their talents. Two such violinists went on to establish the Amadeus Quartet after they were released.

In Burmingham, Maureen developed her munitions factory stories that lead to Bomb Girls. She worked closely with someone she met on set whose great grandmother worked at a munitions factory during the war. Using real accounts from ladies in history, the two embarked on a short episodic series.

Book three in her Tom Tyler series takes place back in Ludlow in a small village where there is a hotel called St. Annes. "I saw this, and the hedges, and imagined it was a hospital. She later discovered the town secret during WWII. When Pilots returning from the war were greatly burned and disfigured, they were sent here for peace and tranquility. The townsfolk were to invite them in their homes and rehabilitate them into social life. A special rope was built that lead from the country to the town centre so the blind but independent pilots had a guide to hold onto.

I think the best thing I learned from this talk was that genre fiction is a great way to explore your passion for life during a specific era but it is also a way to slip in things that you wish to say. Not in any obtrusive manner though. It is the engine to discuss issues. Current issues, set in a different time period but also allowing the audience to connect in the present!

Thank you Maureen for sharing your wide spectrum of storytelling success. I am so inspired with how you turn quirky facts into something wonderful and great.

- Jenn

X Company - Canadian TV and Historical Dramas

I have been just bursting to write this blog since last Monday. I was invited to the premiere screening of X Company at TIFF. It was hosted by the Writers Guild of Canada and they asked us to hold off any media release until the show had featured on CBC February 18th, 2015 at 9:00pm (Toronto time).

Well now I can tell you about the two amazing people who are the brains behind this Canadian operation: Stephanie Morgenstern and Mark Ellis. Both were the creators of Flashpoint, the hit FBI series that ran for four successful seasons. Stephanie and Mark have figured out a way and continue to create top Canadian content without losing the quality of their vision due to budget restraints: a co-production with the US.

Stephanie told us at the premiere that it wasn't as if they presented an idea at its earliest formation - undeveloped and in need of a lot of work. They walked into CBS network with a finished script and Canadian support and said look at what we have, you should be a part of it!

X Company is a historical drama based loosely off of Camp X during WWII. Camp X is North America's first secret services base and is located in Whitby / Oshawa (my ole' stomping ground). Figures such as Roald Dahl, Ian Fleming, and Hamish Pelham Burn entered through these training grounds. Even women served as lethal spies! Most perished at the hands of the Gestapo, but not before they did some serious damage to the Nazi moral.

I say based loosely because Mark Ellis made it quite clear that no real historical people are going to show up in the show. Only events as they happened historically are going to be retold through a group of 5 fictional characters: Aurora (Quebecois and fluent in German), Alfred (someone with perfect memory due to an intense case of synesthesia), Neil (whole family died in the Blitz in England), Harry (Engineer student who likes explosives), and Tom (Ad man, good at propaganda and deception). All with unique gifts and none formerly a part of any army / secret service. 

I think my favourite comment that Stephanie and Mark made that evening was that they were proud to be Canadian. Canada is not a "stepping stone to L.A. There is a pool of world class talent that exists at [our] fingertips" - said a passionate Stephanie. This made me so proud to be Canadian at that moment and witness a new CBC show that is sure to be a success.

The pilot is packed with action, adventure, heart pumping thriller moments, romance, and a unique look at different personalities who have to work together. There are twists at every corner and at times when we want to hate the antagonists (Nazis - DUH) Mark and Stephanie humanize them with little comments here and there, "I wanted to go to Med-school but I had to serve in the army first." 

Mark and Stephanie closed the evening off with some inspiring words. They said write what interests you. Don't follow market fads because by the time your show comes to fruition, that trend has long since passed. Their idea was an ongoing interest for ten years before it became a reality. This really put my own goals and aspirations into perspective.

To Mark and Stephanie and all the production / post production / distribution / broadcasters involved in X Company, I am "happy to learn to know you" over the next few months.

- Jenn

NEXT WEEK'S BLOG: Other Canadian Co-Productions

"... The hit Canada show, Vikings, is also a co-production: Canada - Take 5 Productions - and Ireland ... This also happened a few years back with another CBC show, Titanic: Blood and Steel. Take 5 Productions and Temple Street are leading the production world in Canadian ..."

Nick Price and Wander Lost

I distinctly remember having a talk about sensuality and art in school. It centered around how we as human beings experience art. Do we see it? Do we touch it? Do we taste it? Do we hear it? How can we define "art as experience" as a code of conduct. Must we always be able to see or is it how we feel. If you are trapped in a lonely dark space and all you have are your thoughts to keep you company, is that art?

Perhaps we can broaden this idea of experience and art to the feeling that resonates in us. Whether immediately after or as it brews and settles over a long period of time after.

Nick Price "Naked Souls"

Nick Price "Naked Souls"

I think the most interesting way of experiencing art is hearing it. Music cannot be seen, it cannot be touched. It is a concept. The wavelengths bounding off the wall and through the loudspeakers can only be understood on a scientific spectrum. We do not see, and we do not feel touch. Only bass can resound deeply within us but how do we even begin to describe that? 

We do hear. And it is the most intense of all things. Hearing how sounds are mixed together draws us to a different space. Something rooted deep within us. 

For me, music evokes visual iconography. I SEE things when I HEAR things. A classical symphony calls to mind a graceful ballet. A thumping bass hit makes me feel energized and ready to dance. A peaceful melody has me at a cottage or meditating in yoga class.

On Tuesday February 17, 2015, Nick Price released his EP album Wander Lost. He hosted the event at a cool venue in Toronto that was once a place of worship for buddhists. While I was hearing the sweetly tuned melody of the electro keyboard, the thick and heavy electric guitar and Nick's vast array of vocal octaves, I was taken elsewhere, outside the room. The songs made me escape in those moment and enter into others.

When I heard "Cabin Built for Two" I found myself first in an empty loft apartment in the great city of Toronto. I saw a couple, young and vibrant, looking at the space hungrily, soaking in every detail, dust particle, and crease that their home had to offer. I saw them rip open a box and string a king-sized white sheet across rope. They threw in pillows and blankets and a flashlight. As the light outside faded, their tree-fort haven lit up brilliantly. They built a space for two. 

I was violently taken away from the safety of this image and thrust into the great outdoors, surrounded by intense forest noises and perhaps the rushings of a close by brook. A small log cabin stood amidst nature's encroaching branches. Two people lay outside by a dim camp fire, in sleeping bags and gazing at the stars. Their eyes shining brightly with reflections of constellations. 

Nick Price - accompanied by guitar and keyboard

Nick Price on the keys

It was like this all night: mesmerizing and purely hypnotizing. I was taken on a guided journey. I let myself relax into the sounds and my imagination took over. All sense of time and reality stood fleetingly aside. 

As Shakespeare wisely put it, "if music be the food of love,  then play on. Give me excess of it" - (Twelfth Night). Music inspires those who listen.

Thank you for sharing with us your beautiful talents Nick. If you haven't heard any of these songs you are severely missing out. Just click and enjoy...

- Jenn