TORONTO ON THE RISE by Aundreya Thompson

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After years of languishing in the shadow of Vancouver’s sci-fi playground or New York’s Broadway, Toronto is proving to be the place to be to film, schmooze and find the next big thing. Influencers in the industry are taking the city and what it has to offer seriously, and, naturally, that leads to an improvement in the calibre of the industry events happening here. Industry leaders and movie-goers have been flocking en masse to the Toronto International Film Festival and the critically curated, Caribbean Tales Film Festival for years. As of late, though, arts and culture have been making major moves in the 6ix on the whole. When this year’s 40th anniversary installment of TIFF kicking off on September 10th, and CTFF just a day prior on September 9th, is combined with the flurry of activity that’s already transpired here this year, creatives and industry professionals can continue, without a doubt, to declare that they’ve hit pay-dirt in the T-dot-O. And the numbers are there to back it up.  According to Toronto’s film sector development officer, Michele Alosinac, 2015 is set to be Toronto’s biggest year of entertainment yet, with film productions alone bringing almost $1.29 billion to the city’s economy.

Throughout the year, Toronto has been abuzz with big budget productions and visitors to the city looking to explore and engage in film business. Top producers like Jeff Melvoin (Northern ExposureAlias and Army Wives) spoke at the Toronto Screenwriting Conference about what it means and what it takes to be a show runner.  Also speaking at the conference were other prominent players, such as Mara Brock Akil (GirlfriendsThe GameBeing Mary Jane) and the father-and-son team of Eugene and Dan Levy (Schitt’s Creek). The air was electric, with attendees walking out of the sessions all smiles, notebooks in hand. It was certainly a treat to participate in their presentations, and all of the panelists, especially Jeff Melvoin, were candid and generous with their responses to audience questions.  Even better, the emphasis in each of their talkbacks encouraged the creation of quality content, rather than focusing on themselves and their accomplishments.  Held at the beautiful Daniels Spectrum Cultural Arts Centre in the newly redeveloped Regent Park, the program for the two-day conference was organized to offer professional screenwriters, executives, and TV/film producers “a condensed, advanced-level education in screen-based industry skills development.” The curriculum is publicized as being unparalleled by any other screenwriting event on the continent, while the event itself is considered informative, social, and first-rate by audience members and speakers alike. The lecture-style setup created an informal yet intense atmosphere; similar to sitting in on a great university lecture, the educational tone of the event definitely left a lasting impression.

Film industry organizations that partner with filmmakers to provide equipment, space and information have long been hailed as godsends.  An international resource, Raindance is one example of such organizations that support emerging filmmakers. In Toronto’s Film East district, Jaimy Warner, the Executive Director of Raindance Toronto, was on-hand for the “Exploring [the] Art of Filmmaking for Under $20,000”, a question-and-answer panel with writer/director Shawn Whitney and actor/producer FreyaRavensbergen of Dangerous Dust Productions. Currently promoting their feature, A Brand New You, on the film festival circuit, Shawn and Freya graciously shared their filmmaking experiences to a packed room inside Raindance’s open-concept office space. The 90-minute presentation was full of anecdotes and “what we learned….”-type speech, valuable to independent filmmakers in the early stages of their  careers. The workshop is an instalment of Raindance Toronto’s “TAPIN” initiative—a free peer-share project where those making a go of it in the industry can pose questions about the filmmaking process to other members of the indie film marketplace. The TAPIN initiative, along with the organization’s digital newsletter, courses, and comprehensive tips, is a veritable treasure trove of resources for emerging filmmakers. The organization also hosts a mixer on the last Wednesday of every month where, with a stick-on name tag and a drink, artists can wax poetic into the wee hours of the morning. Raindance Toronto takes a holistic approach to the filmmaking process and is a haven for writers, directors, and producers to get together and create. Raindance is comprised of a global network of filmmaking resources, with offices in major cities across North America and Europe.
Great film content is enhanced by great performances, and Toronto ensures that its vast pool of talented actors get the love they deserve, as well.  When Breakdown Express, the parent company of Actors Access, hosted its annual Actor Symposium Series at the Betty Oliphant Theatre on Jarvis Street in Toronto this year, attendance nearly filled the 260-seat theatre to capacity. The full-day event featured four separate seminars, with top Canadian- and U.S.-based casting directors and talent discussing the dos and don’ts of auditioning and being “in the room”.  Designed to give actors the “extra-edge” to book roles, the panelists divulged a lot of information not likely to be shared in an acting class. Casting directors spoke bluntly about audition room etiquette and the business of being “present”. From experience, attending an endless stream of auditions and go-sees goes much more positively when an actor practises being mindful and aware while meeting with casting directors and producers. Even if, for whatever reason, they don’t book that role, not every loss is absolute. Really, it’s the act of showing up that the decision-makers are looking for; they want to book people who bring their flesh, blood and flaws to the table, not just method acting or the Meisner technique. Producing a proper self-tape was another hot topic, with the directors pointing out that your reader should never sound or read better than you.  Those and other tidbits from actor Greg Bryk, most recently seen as the sadistic and obsessed Robertson Appleby in the six-part The Book of Negroes mini-series on CBC and BET, made for some memorable takeaways. Especially notable was Bryk’s advice to actors and humans beings everywhere: “Own the shit out of yourself!”  A brilliant nugget of advice to dozens of actors in the city being dubbed the new Hollywood North from an actor doing very well in Canada and abroad. He’s not the only great talent you will find working on projects in the city, though. This year saw Toronto host international A-Listers such as Will Smith, Viola Davis, Mark Wahlberg and Cara Delevingne, to name a few, whilst they were hard at work on blockbuster film sets.
Now, internationally known as more than just the hometown of Drake or the Maple Leafs,Toronto continues to solidify its place in the entertainment and film industry, while the healthy status of Ontario film tax credits does much to progress that endeavour. Much like the cogs in a wheel, all of the pieces of the filmmaking puzzle working in conjunction make up a strong Toronto entertainment industry.  Thanks in part to the unions, the film infrastructure here is getting stronger and better, and artists stand to collectively benefit from one another’s efforts for generations to come.
By Aundreya Thompsom

 

Aundreya is an expansive force on the artistic scene; respectively, a successful model, writer, actor and producer. She focuses on bringing authentic and relatable content to life, working with and bridging the gaps amid a broadening network of creative talent. Perpetually prolific, find her online at www.aundreya.comand http://www.aundreyathompson.blogspot.ca/

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