Four ‘boss ladies’. One hour. Countless inspirational insights.
In honour of International Women’s Day, Toronto Film School recently presented a special panel celebrating some of the school’s most successful females and the indelible mark they’re leaving on the creative industries.
Hosted by Graphic Design & Interactive Media Program Director Pheinixx, the hour-long event featured a panel of multi-talented female creatives, including current Online Writing for Film & TV student Monica Mustelier, Class of 2015 Film Production graduate Shelby Bronstine, and 2016 Writing for Film & TV alumnus Vanessa Carpino.
“Our conversation today is really about being part of a larger story – a story that is not interested in silencing any voices, no matter how loudly those voices have always been heard, but rather bringing new voices into that story of success,” Pheinixx said to kick-off the hourlong discussion, which covered topics ranging from mentorship, to the portrayal women in film and television, to the importance of empowering female voices.
“I hope that by hearing these different stories today, you will begin to seek out voices different from your own, and that you are inspired to forge your own story of success, strengthened by the success of others like our guests here today.”
One thing everyone on the panel had in common was the important role mentors played in helping to shape their professional journeys.
For Bronstine, who currently works as the Manager of Business Affairs & Operations at Project 10 Productions, that role model was her mother, who worked for nearly 40 years as the VP of Advertising for Sony Pictures.
“Growing up, my mom was very influential in my desire to become a ‘boss babe’ in the entertainment industry…For me, it’s really important to have her to rely on, because she knows exactly what I’m experiencing,” she said.
“She’s been there, so she always has such sound advice and a really good outlook on the industry as a female who started out, who got to an executive level, and who’s now retired. All of her mentorship is so valuable to me. It’s what makes me feel like I can do it for the next generation.”
Carpino, a sales manager at Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Canada, said she’s found many successful people in the industry to be much more open than expected to sharing their insights with young professionals just starting out in the business.
“The great thing about the creative industry – the film industry, specifically – is that everyone involved in it is usually pretty passionate about what they do, and very eager to share the experiences they’ve gone through and let you pick their brain,” she said.
In terms of more structured mentorship opportunities, Carpino recommends membership with Women in Film & Television Toronto – a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the education, engagement and empowerment of members at all stages of their careers in the screen-based media industry.
“They have a lot of structured mentorships,” Carpino said, noting that she completed the Meridian Artists Agency Mentorship. “It was a six-week program and they really take you into that world of a talent agency, whether it be for literary or acting or writing. It was really great to see the business side to things.”
In terms of the portrayal of women on the screen, Mustelier – an Afro-Latinx award-winning writer/director and former actor – said she feels like the tide has begun changing for the better in recent days, with women being offered more and more less stereotypical roles in favour of more complex and true-to-life ones.
“I feel like now, with the climate of our industry, and because there are so many more creatives who are female with bigger, more courageous voices that aren’t being silenced, that there is more creative work,” she said, pointing to This is 40’s portrayal of womanhood as ‘beautiful, honest and raw.’
“It’s more honest now, instead of being ‘this is a housewife, where she’s divorced and an alcoholic and she’s sad’. I feel like our portrayal of women is starting to shift to a more honest one of fully functioning beings.”
According to Pheinixx, that kind of elevation in the representation of women on screen is “so, so, so important” due to the gravity of those portrayals and the influence they have over us, as a society.
“I don’t think we truly understand how much it influences us, until we see things we’ve never seen before,” she said. “And that’s something that every creative professional – especially those who determine what people see on their screens – has a responsibility to actually intentionally make choices about.”
And that, said Bronstine, is a responsibility she doesn’t take lightly in her role at Project 10 – an award-winning production company headed by Toronto Film School’s Executive Producer in Residence, Andrew Barnsley, that works towards the development and creation of compelling original content.
In fact, over the past year, Bronstine said she and her colleagues have made it their personal mandate to ensure that they’re empowering and promoting more female and BIPOC voices.
“Over the past year, we’re started working with some amazing female creators who have very unique and important stories to tell that haven’t been told before,” she said, noting that Project 10 is also working towards ensuring more gender parity among crew members – including writers, producers, directors, grips, gaffers, etc – as well.
“We want to ensure that females are getting equal opportunity to make their creative impact on our shows…In my opinion, it just seems like now, more than ever, females are finally beginning to get that recognition that they deserve and I’m personally proud of being part of that decision. I I can make a difference in any way, then I’m definitely going to try to do that.”