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May 5, 2015

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In the second week of April Touchwood PR handled two events – the POV 3rd Street (Presenting Our Vision) fundraiser and the sixth annual Toronto Screenwriting Conference (TSC). Aside from the fact that they were both held at the same great venue, the Daniels Spectrum in Regent Park, they had one other thing in common – the speakers talked about how they got their break in the industry as an actor, writer, director or producer.

The theme for the POV event was ‘First Shot’. The event was to raise funds to support marginalized youth with mentoring and training in media arts. We invited several Canadian actors, directors and an award-winning producer to share their stories of who gave them the first break in their career.

Actors Tara Spencer-Nairn (Corner Gas), Ennis Esmer (Sex After Kids), Zoie Palmer (Lost Girl), Natalie Brown (Bitten), Katie Boland (Reign), and directors Warren Sonoda (Swearnet: The Movie), and Sudz Sutherland (The Phantoms), and producer Jennifer Holness (Home Again) shared their stories on stage at the POV event.

I really appreciated hearing about their shared experience of struggle, rejection, failure and success. A couple of them flunked out of drama school or film school (sometimes twice – Warren!); Katie landed a role only for it to be recast by someone younger at just 8 years old; Zoie has been on a successful series for years but was the only one in her theatre program that couldn’t get an agent right away, and Sudz didn’t get the job with a famous director that he thought would take his career to the next level. And yet, there they all stood, exemplifying persistence, hard work, and the drive to pursue their passion.

In her TSC Master Class, Mara Brock Akil humbly described how she said a little prayer to overcome her fear when she went from writer to series showrunner. And now she’s gone on to become one of Hollywood’s great success stories behind showrunning Girlfriends and Being Mary Jane (which if you haven’t seen it, you really aught to).

David S. Goyer, screenwriter of Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Man of Steel, and Da Vinci’s Demons, told the audience that when he was starting out he printed 5000 business cards that said ‘writer’ under his name, only to be told by his mentor to toss the cards as a writer’s work is his card. Needless to say, the business cards were tossed in the trash and he began writing.

The one key ingredient to everyone’s break moment was saying ‘yes’ at the right time and then being ready for what comes next because it may not be easy.

My start in entertainment publicity – I had relocated back to Toronto after graduating from UBC’s Entertainment Administration program when I got a call from one of my instructors who needed a publicist to work on a documentary he was distributing. It was an Estonian film called ‘The Singing Revolution’ about the extraordinary story of the non-violent path Estonia took to free itself from the Soviet Union. It wasn’t exactly an easy sell for someone with experience not to mention a newbie. I recall telling the only senior publicist that I knew at the time that I was handling the PR on a documentary about Estonia – she said I was very brave (or crazy, I’m not entirely sure) for taking on such a film as she wouldn’t know what to do with it. I guess I didn’t know how hard it was going to be, because I had nothing to compare it to, I just said ‘yes.’

I must have done something right, because of that film I met so many people and one of them gave me my next job. Eight years later I’m proud to say I’ve experienced (and survived) my fair share of rejection and failure but also much success – you can’t have the latter without the former.

I’ve had the most amazing opportunities – from helping launch the careers of first-time filmmakers to working with legendary actors and directors, to wrangling famous talent on a TIFF red carpet (always wondering how did I get here?), to meeting Erin Brockovich (she’s very tall), and taking the opportunity to thank Dean De Blois for the therapeutic cry after watching How To Train Your Dragon. I have so many stories and small library of special anecdotes that I’ll save for my memoire.

In the end, all the rejection and acceptance, and failure and successes make for really great stories, which I think is incredibly fitting considering we work in a business of story telling.