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“When in doubt, keep it simple.”
That was just one of the pieces of advice imparted on Toronto Film School’s graduating Class of 2023 during their recent convocation ceremony – and it came from none other than Priscilla producer (and fellow TFS alum) Chris Hatcher, who acted as the ceremony’s distinguished speaker.
Distinguished Speaker Chris Hatcher
“I was never a great academic at any point in my life, but I deeply love learning,” Hatcher, who graduated from the Film Production program in 2009, told the more than 400 up-and-coming creatives following in his footsteps as they received their TFS diplomas on Nov. 17 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
“Some of my most crucial lessons were learned here at Toronto Film School. Some I was aware of in the moment, and others caught up with me many years later.”
One of those latter lessons was the idea that even the most complex of problems can be solved by following the simplest of paths – an approach he utilized on his latest project, Sofia Coppola’s much-hyped Priscilla Presley biopic, which just landed in theatres on Nov. 3.
“The story spans three decades, two countries, and Elvis Presley’s house…I desperately wanted to help make this film and thought we could make it here in the city, but no one was convinced Toronto would work creatively,” said Hatcher, whose previous credits include GTA-based productions such as Shadowhunters, Designated Survivor, Sex/Life, and Netflix’s Painkiller.
“So, I sent four location scouts out into the streets to find and photograph a match to every location in the script. I began putting a budget and production plan together, and it worked – Sofia was open to shooting here!”
TFS President Andrew Barnsley
Hatcher wasn’t the only industry insider on hand to wish TFS’s latest slate of 400+ graduates well as they closed one chapter in their lives as students and opened up a new one full of exciting career possibilities. So, too, was Toronto Film School’s Emmy and Golden Globe-winning President, Andrew Barnsley.
“Today is a day of celebration. The programs you’ve completed are formidable; they challenge both your creativity and competency. They are designed to help you realize the potential of your dreams,” he said in his opening address to graduates.
“Today, you are one step further along on that path. Be proud of what you have accomplished here.”
Barnsley also announced a new initiative being launched at the 2023 graduation ceremony – the gifting of a special Chief Blanket from Boy Chief Trading Post to each of TFS’s Indigenous graduates.
“This gift to our students is symbolic, marking the first time in Toronto Film School’s history that we’ve recognized our Indigenous students in this way,” he said.
“It is just one of the many ways that we seek to strengthen our relationship with Indigenous Peoples and ensure that we’re creating a safe, equitable, and inclusive space for all.”
Graduates also heard from this year’s valedictorians over the course of TFS’s lively two-hour graduation ceremony, which saw the conferment of diplomas across the range of both on-campus and online programs offered at Toronto Film School – including Film Production, Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre, Writing for Film & Television, Graphic Design & Interactive Media, Video Game Design & Animation, Video Game Design & Development, and Video Production.
TFSO Valedictorian Joseph D’Amario
“I came straight out of high school, because I’ve always known I wanted to tell stories in some capacity. I truly believed – and still do – that stories can bring a little light to someone’s day, make someone smile, make a positive difference. To varying degrees, this is all our stories,” he said.
“TFS taught us our craft and honed our skills. Maybe we haven’t realized it just yet, but our time here – the connections we’ve made and the opportunities we’ve been given – have already launched our careers. Look around, this is your network. Stay connected. Networking is integral to our industries and TFS has given us each other.”
D’Amario, who served on the TFSO Activities Council and started the online community Filmmaking HQ during his studies at TFSO, also remarked on the enthusiasm with which he intends to pursue his dreams outside of the classroom – and urged his fellow graduates to do the same.
“We always hear that, as artists, everything is on us. Canada’s media production volume just hit a record high of $11.7 billion, so there is no shortage of work or money. It’s entirely on us – we get to choose what projects we work on, how many projects we work on, or create our own projects altogether,” he said.
“That flexibility can be both awesome and terrifying at the same time. But we’re not alone. Here we are, graduates of one of The Hollywood Reporter’s top ranked film schools in the world – if anyone can do it, we can.”
TFS Valedictorian Asher Kim
TFS valedictorian Asher Kim, who graduated from the Film Production program, took his opportunity at the podium to highlight the three things he appreciated most about his time at TFS – the school’s hands-on approach, the real-world application of skills he learned from faculty, and the vibrant community that supports students in many different ways.
“I’ve always felt surrounded by the right people in the right place, part of an ecosystem where even alumni contribute to the success of students. The school not only educates, but also acts as a gateway, offering guidance on how to apply knowledge in the real world,” Kim told the standing-room-only audience gathered in the John W.H. Bassett Theatre.
“Whatever program you enroll in at Toronto Film School, you will agree that TFS encourages embracing challenges and stepping out of comfort zones, proving that the process of creating and collaborating can lead to amazing results that one did not think possible.”
All that said, Kim also admitted that his journey at TFS was not one without obstacles – pointing to the time his first film pitch was rejected as a “bitter experience” that made him doubt himself, but also taught him to keep an open mind.
“Getting rejected at that time also helped me to understand the filmmaking process a lot more, because I was able to dedicate myself to assisting my fellow classmates on their thesis films,” he said, noting that the experience allowed him to immerse himself in every role possible – from casting runner, production assistant, driver and equipment manager, to behind-the-scenes photographer, grip, gaffer, sound mixer, 1st AD, and director of photography.
“Each position taught me invaluable lessons about filmmaking and collaboration with other film crews. These experiences were made possible thanks to the hard-working and creative individuals and teams with whom I was fortunate enough to collaborate. I was inspired along the way by so many of you seated here today.”
Before the ceremonial tossing of the caps marked the official end to TFS’s 2023 Gala Graduation, Yorkville University President Dr. Julia Christensen Hughes took the opportunity to extend graduates a special invitation to join TFS’s alumni community – both on the school’s Facebook forum and by adding their names to the alumni database.
“As of now, you are all officially no longer students, but members of Toronto Film School’s alumni. As TFS grads, you gain access to an active community online for sharing resources, ideas, advice, career development strategies and job postings,” she said.
“You are about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime, as you make your mark in the industry. Look to other TFS alumni to help you build connections, to network. And be proud of what you have achieved during your time here.”
2023 President’s Award Winners
Presented to the graduating student with the highest cumulative Grade Point Average in each program.
Toronto Film School Online:
Designing for Fashion – Lindsay Westbrook
Graphic Design & Interactive Media Online – Esteva Bianchi & Laurenza Bianchi
Video Game Design & Animation Associate – Jessica Loiseau
Video Production – Stephajn Szekely
Visual Effects for Film & TV – Richard Ashton
Writing for Film & Television Associate – Cristina Rotor
Toronto Film School:
Acting for Film, TV & The Theatre – Ayla Johnston
Film Production – Kevin Romano-Huhn
Graphic Design & Interactive Media – Marilia Ccalla Torres
Video Game Design & Animation – Eric Currier
Video Game Design & Development – Evan Pascal
Writing for Film & Television – Kennedy Stevens
Scott McSkimming Award
Presented to the graduating student who best embodies the warmth, kindness and professionalism of Scott McSkimming, a beloved former member of the TFS faculty.
Khushi Nayak – Film Production