“The Harvard of film schools.”
That is Cameron MacLaren’s vision for the future of Toronto Film School – and as TFS’s newly minted Managing Director, he’s uniquely positioned to help bring that grand aspiration to fruition.
“I don’t see it as unrealistic at all. I think the future of this school could certainly be that, especially with the right strategic partnerships in place,” said MacLaren, who, in his new role, will be responsible for leading, supporting, and advancing Toronto Film School’s academic, intellectual, and multi-disciplinary programs, interests and engagement in Canada.
Working closely alongside Toronto Film School’s Golden Globe- and Emmy-winning President Andrew Barnsley – who, coincidentally, gave him his first job in the industry nearly 15 years ago – MacLaren plans to draw on his past experience in production and finance to help him navigate his new role as TFS’s liaison in the areas of strategic partnerships, innovation and operations.
“As a producer and in working at independent production companies, your main goal is supporting the vision of the creative team – the directors, the writers – and that’s very much how I see myself in this role: making sure that I am supporting the creative vision outlined by Andrew in his role as president,” MacLaren said, noting that he first worked for Barnsley as a script coordinator on the set of the Comedy Network’s Hotbox back when he was in film school.
“I certainly have grand ambitions – and I think those ambitions are aligned with Andrew’s – and that’s to build Toronto Film School’s reputation to where the best filmmakers in the country and the world are coming out of this institution.”
– Cameron MacLaren
With his lifelong passion for storytelling, MacLaren said he knew from early on that he wanted to be a part of the filmmaking industry in whose work he found himself so enthralled as a youngster devouring films at his neighbourhood movie theatre.
Shortly after enrolling in film school – first at York University, then at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson University) – he quickly discovered that his skill sets and expertise made him particularly good at supporting talent in managerial and organizational roles.
“I naturally gravitated toward being the production manager or the producer on all of the student shorts that we were producing then, which kind of naturally led me into fulfilling those roles on projects outside of school, too,” he said.
“And, because that skill set translates so well to other facets of the industry, like business affairs and production finance, I ultimately fulfilled those roles at two bigger companies that needed that kind of support to operate – and that’s where I find myself at today.”
Coming to Toronto Film School from Guru Animation Studio, MacLaren brings with him four years of experience as the Director of Production Finance across a slate of four original series, eight service productions, a joint venture pilot and two original video games with broadcasters Disney, Netflix, HBO Max, Hulu, Nickelodeon, CBC, SRC and Corus.
It was also at Guru, MacLaren said, that he marked one of the top three proudest moments of his career thus far – successfully securing more than $2 million from the Creative Export Canada Fund.
Before his time at Guru, MacLaren spent five years as the Director of Finance & Business Affairs at New Metric Media Inc., where he managed all financial aspects of the business – including setting up interim financing for $30 million CAD worth of production on projects such as Letterkenny and Bad Blood, among others.
In addition to those roles, MacLaren has also headed his own production company, MacLaren Productions Inc., since 2008 – focusing his time on creating stylistic and entertaining feature films and television series for international audiences with bold, character-driven stories.
One of the projects he produced under that banner was Deerbrook – an “experimental” video short about two strangers who show up at a family cottage claiming to have spent their childhood summers there.
“Some friends and I pulled together a few resources and put the best parts on screen. I think I was the only one who was always very optimistic about what sort of outcome we would have with Deerbrook – other people on team didn’t think it would go anywhere,” MacLaren said of the project, which went on to win the 2018 Canadian Screen Award for Best Direction in a Web Program or Series, and Best Immersive Experience at the Sitges Film Festival.
“At Sitges, we were going up against A Ghost in the Shell VR experience, Jurassic World VR experience, and our little project with a very compelling story was able to beat out those types of experiences. That was definitely a huge achievement in my career.”
The film, which went on to be broadcast on the CBC, tells the story of an underprivileged biracial teenage viola protégé who learns what it’s like to be racially profiled by the police.
“Shawn came to me with this story that was very personal to him, and he and I collaborated on it ,with me being able to support his vision,” he said.
“Getting it sold to the CBC and ultimately allowing other people to share in that story was definitely one of the bigger highlights of my career.”
Now that he’s joined Toronto Film School, MacLaren said he’s excited to achieve even prouder career moments in his new role in film school education.
“I’m looking forward to using my organizational skills and my financial acumen to the benefit of the students, because at the end of the day, those are the people we’re here to help service,” she said.
“We’re here to give them the best film school experience possible, so that they have the greatest opportunity to make a career out of what they love to do. I want to make sure the students who are taking this opportunity seriously are given absolutely everything they could ever want out of the experience – and then some.”