August 22, 2014

From Basement to Big Screen and Beyond!

If you missed the Pixel Blue College Forum at the 2014 Fringe Festival, I'll try my best to fill you in. I had the pleasure of being on a panel with Kevin Hayes, Ainsley Hillyard, Andrea Beca and Matt Schuurman to talk about the creative process!

Ainsley Hillyard shared about making it as a dancer and running Good Women Dance Collective - with no day job - which is an absolutely amazing feat! I really appreciated her honesty about taking that leap of faith and experiencing hardship and doubt until she found her stride. Matt Schuurman emphasized the collaborative spirit in Edmonton and how we're all becoming multi-talented artists wearing several hats at once. Andrea Beca make an excellent point that there seems to be a perceived hierarchy of our roles. In her experience as a writer/director, she's noticed that people tend to only acknowledge her as a director, where she identifies first and foremost as a writer. Interesting conversations all around! Big thanks to Kevin and Curtis Green for organizing this event!

The panel was a great experience for me because "From Basement to Big Screen" is absolutely my story. I started on my first screenplay at the age of sixteen, tinkering away in the basement corner office. In 2012, my first feature made the big screen, with national television play and on-line content. Pretty cool indeed. But what I've been thinking about throughout the evening is not how to make it on the big screen, but what keeps us in the basement.  

A great question was asked from the audience - how do we build our community? I've spent all night pondering that, because as much as Edmonton has a "yes we can" attitude and "leave your ego at the door," there's still an edge in the arts community and I'm not sure my "don't be that asshole" response really captured what I meant.

I have been so fortunate, I really have. But I have also been very honest about the surprising backlash to strides I have made in my arts career - like I've documented here. I've also experienced and witnessed people being shunned, blacklisted, and gossiped about with that bitchy "who do they think they are" attitude. There's lots of shade thrown from people within this community. We have to talk about that too.

I love Edmonton. I think this is the best city to Make Something and the people that I have attracted into my life - all the strangers who funded my CineCoup project, worked crew and spread the word - that's the spirit very unique to this time and place. However, I don't want to be all Pollyanna and say everything here is sunshine and rainbows, because we have some dysfunctional people (and companies) in this city who haven't acknowledged their own scarcity mentality. 

So when you take a risk, they give you the side eye. When you offer something new, they try to squash it. And as a vulnerable creative - and we all are - this pettiness is absolutely devastating. It takes a lot of courage to hold your head high and continue when the hyenas are nipping at you. So a lot of dancing is only done during a blackout, and a lot of scripts are tucked away in secret, and a lot of actors think "I can't," and they don't.

So I offer a solution: Don't be that asshole. I stand by all my zany comments - like the hardest struggle is to not want to kill yourself while slugging away at your day job, thinking your dream won't ever come true. Truth. Support people in your community. Acknowledge your jealousy if it arises. If someone is trying to get you to boycott another artist's show, tell them to fuck off. Seriously. It absolutely needs to stop.

Another solution: collaborate with people you don't know. Don't get cliquey, don't get comfortable. Let everyone into the fold. Go after people who scare you - chances are they're scared of you too and you'll create something amazing together.

Another solution: start a company. It's great to collaborate and make art for the sake of it, but we need more production houses, collectives, professional associations and employment opportunities. It's not healthy to only have a few big players in town - it makes them lazy and allows us to compromise on our value, because there's nowhere else to go. We need to take ourselves seriously as artists and make this our full time job. 

We have some amazing opportunities here. Tap into the positive, keep yourself clean and clear and be nice to each other, OK? Good luck on your creative ventures and let me know what you're working on!

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