A Conversation With ...Sheena Macdonald, CFC COO
For the past five years, I’ve been invited to screenings of short films - a partnership between a select group of young composers, filmmakers, actors, producers, editors, and musicians at TIFF Bell
By Bill King
For the past five years, I’ve been invited to screenings of short films - a partnership between a select group of young composers, filmmakers, actors, producers, editors, and musicians at TIFF Bell Lightbox. It’s all about new works, collaborations and that foot into the future. Each session has been an eye-opening experience. Recently, a reel began circulating showcasing the brilliant work of past alumni. I spoke with Chief Operating Officer Sheena Macdonald about the new work, maintaining the Canadian Film Centre during a pandemic, and the efforts to keep young artists engaged. First, a bit of background of the residency.
The Slaight Music Residency is an unparalleled creative and business experience for up to six music creators a year. Chaired by Juno Award-winning singer-songwriter Marc Jordan and internationally acclaimed composer and musician Lesley Barber, this part-time nine-month program fully integrates composers and songwriters into the onscreen narrative storytelling process.
The Residency affords music creators the opportunity to:
Deepen their understanding of the relationship between music and film/ TV through high-level case studies and workshops - Effectively translate their musical talent to onscreen applications - accelerate business opportunities through access to international guests, mentors and industry professionals - Create original music for a number of productions while expanding their onscreen music reel - Position and package themselves for work in the screen entertainment industry and extend their creative community and establish strong collaborative partnerships with other artists/creators.
Ultimately, the Slaight Music Residency exposes music creators to many perspectives and practices. The more composers and songwriters experience working within different frameworks, with different creative and business partners and with different narrative material, the better equipped they will be to navigate, adapt to and engage with the wider screen-based industry.
To date, the Slaight Music Residency has launched 38 music creators, who are generating some of the most exciting scores and songs heard on screens today.
This bit of background from Chief Executive Officer Slawko Klwmkiw and the board of directors on the short film.
When the covid-19 lock-down happened, we were very fortunate to receive a call from a boutique ad agency asking if they could help us create a video at no cost to the CFC, and we couldn’t think of a better way to share our alumni success stories.
CFC alumni touch all corners of the screen industry. We are so proud of our alumni whose work, talent, faces and voices are all over the film, and TV shows whose reach extends beyond Canada – across borders, formats and genres. This video provides a snapshot of CFC alumni work across all of the CFC screen disciplines: producers, writers, editors, directors, actors, songwriters and composers, and digital media creators. And, underscoring this entire video is an outstanding song by Lisa Conway – a Slaight Family Music Artist.
Watch it now to discover the world-class talent coming out of the CFC and the global resonance of the stories they’re telling.
Bill King: The video?
Sheena Macdonald: An agency called the Immediate Group called me right after the covid lockdown - a cold call from a fabulous woman named Marsha Doucette who said we have an agency and time on our hands to give back and would you like to talk about what we could maybe do for you. Some kind of video or something? I thought about the fact it’s free, and an ad agency, and that we don’t have that kind of slickness inside. So, I thought, maybe a PSA we could use because we’re lobbying for support from the Ontario government. We were thinking about what it could be useful for.
It wouldn’t be something we would run on television or in cinemas because nobody’s going. Maybe it could be something we could use to lobby our cultural minister and show where we are working. Then we thought we’d use clips from the films that people made when they were with us. It then morphed into maybe we could take clips of the shows our alumni work in. They are everywhere, whether directors, editors, scoring, producers, writers, actors, and digital media, and have them make a fantastic “sizzle reel.” They made a long one and a short: 30-second one. Then send it to our Minister of Heritage and all other government ministers. That’s what we did and it finally launched after Labour Day. We sent to 300 people in government and our philanthropic donors. Everybody knows at least a couple shows in that reel, from Murdoch’s Mysteries to Schitt’s Creek, Kim’s Convenience; a really beloved show.
It all came about as an act of generosity from this ad agency. It was a happy project, and it was so nice working with them. We had to clear it all and got it cleared for non-commercials. Everybody donated their clips.
B.K: You had to find clips that could be pieced togther to tell a story.
S.M: That’s the editor, Ryan Bergmann. I gave them a list of shows we could clear, and it was hours of work to get it all together. He had to look at a lot of stuff. I still get a kick out of watching it and at the end where the credits run, you are barrelling through this tunnel. The scene is from Anthropocene – a documentary by Jennifer Baichwal, Edward Burtynsky, and Nicholas de Pencier. There’s a lovely clip of Gord Downie where he gives a wink wearing the hat.
B.K: How is it laid out?
S.M: The way it’s set up on our website says our alumni are working everywhere and this is just a snapshot of the work they represent. There’s no story per se to the video. It’s showy in a way being able to, after 30 years, let people know who’ve come through CFC programs. It’s the diversity of our alumni and the diversity of the projects we work on like the Book of Negroes. Award- winning actress Cara Ricketts from a couple of our programs is in some of the scenes.
B.K: Every year, you have a showcase for the students. Some get a screening at TIFF.
S.M: We do it for the film program, the film writing program, the music program, and actors.
B.K: Were you able to get to this before lockdown?
S.M: We weren’t able to get the music one done. The musicians weren’t able to do their film pieces because they were going to roll after the lockdown and couldn’t. We are just trying to sort this out now. They work with teams who film and realize the images that go with their compositions or songs. We could have done a virtual event, but there is nothing to show without the film. We didn’t get to take them to Los Angeles because the trip is in March. We were ready to go, but on March 16 everything closed. Every year we take the Slaight Lab people and run them through a million contacts. Take them to Disney Studios to meet composers there. Last year they were given a piece to score over a night and submit back in. The head of Disney music said they were just terrific. They know how to compose but have no inroads into the screen business. They come out with a network and a deeper understanding of how the business all works.
Our unique programs emphasize the importance of fusing artistic and creative considerations with the screen-based and digital industries' realities. By facilitating the transformation of creative and entrepreneurial talent into full-fledged content professionals and flourishing companies, the CFC positions residents, and participants for success in film, television, screen acting, screen composing and songwriting, and digital media.
Through intensive, practical, and hands-on programs guided by experts and industry professionals, we encourage residents and participants to challenge themselves constantly, and/or their teams, both creatively and commercially.
Our track record is exemplary; more than 92 percent of our residents go on to work in their respective disciplines within the film, television, music, screen acting and digital media communities. CFC’s connections within the industry offer residents and/or their company unparalleled opportunities to network, cultivate professional contacts, showcase their ideas, and become influential industry players.
Alumni of our programs leave the CFC with an impressive portfolio of materials, numerous industry connections, and the expertise necessary to build their business(es) and cultivate long and meaningful careers.