It’s a brave new world for Canadian students of film, TV and game design
We live in an age of visual story.
Just as the desktop computer and graphics software revolutionized the design in the eighties, so the digital camera has revolutionized photography and filmmaking. And the burgeoning digital streaming market has created a rising demand for elaborate and complex stories.
But where do aspiring Canadian writers, actors, directors, and producers of television, films, and interactive media go to learn how to tell those stories?
There are many excellent schools across Canada that offer degrees or certificates in film studies, cinema, or digital media. Many include courses for writing and programming games, VR/AR design and development, and 2D/3D animation.
But for some aspiring creators, all roads lead to Vancouver. The Vancouver film school (where 47% of students are international) and Capilano University turn out students who are qualified to work for companies like Electronic Arts, whose largest and oldest Vancouver studio produces the football game FIFA, or the Vancouver studio of Sony Pictures Entertainment, where the bulk of the work for the animated feature Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse (2018) was performed.
With its proximity to Los Angeles, Vancouver has built up its repertoire, arguably surpassing Toronto as the center of Canadian film production, while the Calgary Film Centre reports that between 2007 and 2016, Alberta had more Oscar, Golden Globe and Emmy wins than any other province.
There are other institutions, like the prestigious Toronto film School, or the Canadian Film Centre—which was established by famed Canadian director Norman Jewison in 1988—which offer an advanced film school training program for professionals in the Canadian film, television, and digital media industries, including directors, producers, screenwriters, actors, and musicians.
It is important to know that many of these university degrees offer the foundation of academic theory, but the best education balances industry-led theory and hands-on production. They give students the necessary skills to craft a professional-level portfolio or reel.
Though investing a substantial amount of money in a university film education shows passion and commitment, building an entertainment career in Canada requires persistence, determination, and old-fashioned hustle. It’s a long haul from volunteering as a runner on film sets — the person who fetches coffee and does all the other menial tasks that no one else wants to do — to be one of the talented professionals who design the look, sound, and feel of a film.
Recent graduates can also look for work with smaller, regional production companies who first establish themselves with a corporate and documentary client base, and eventually branch out into fiction, animation, and interactive media.
Canadian filmmakers make up a diverse crew of vibrant voices, and for students seeking to build their careers in the independent scene in regions outside of the bigger hubs, independent film organizations, like the NB Film Coop, can help. These are charitable organizations in which people can volunteer and develop a network in their region. They mentor and support new artists with workshops and equipment rentals, grant writing assistance, and networking opportunities. They also present a diverse array of quality films and videos in regional film festivals.
Despite its competitive nature, a career in Canada’s media production industry is worth pursuing.
It continues to be a powerful economic engine for the nation’s economy, according to the Canadian Media Producer’s Association. They report that the sector continued to grow in 2017/18, with $8.92 billion in production volume, and generated record-level job creation (179,000 FTEs) and GDP ($12.77 billion).
For that reason, a national campaign called MADE | NOUS was launched in 2019 to celebrate the work of Canadian creators in film, television, video games, and digital entertainment. The long-running MADE | NOUS campaign is an industry-wide initiative to recognize the quality of homegrown talent.
The weaker Canadian dollar means our locations, experienced crews, and available tax credits are as attractive as they’ve always been too big American productions. But these days, viewers are seeing the value of stories told from Canada’s own wry, multicultural perspective. Toronto is perfectly comfortable showing itself off on the hit show, Kim’s Convenience, for example. And the award-winning Schitt’s Creek, filmed in Ontario, received widespread acclaim for its writing, humor, and acting.
The pathway to success in these industries is not as straightforward as other careers, but for the young, dedicated artist, no other kind of life will do.
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