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An Insider’s Guide to the Canadian Film Industry

Tough Crowd

Before joining the NFB Web team, I worked in the feature film industry for close to 15 years. I started at the very bottom, doing free production assistant (PA) work for music videos until I landed my first paying gig – filling in for a receptionist on maternity leave for a guy who produced television commercials.

Doesn’t sound so glamorous, does it?

But that horribly demeaning, short-term job opened up a lot of doors for me. I met people I would never have been exposed to otherwise. And from there, I went on to work as a producer’s assistant, production coordinator and writer in a field that I was passionate about.

I learned the ins and outs of the industry. I’ve worked the cushy, corporate jobs and the down-and-dirty production jobs. I’ve worked here in Montreal and I’ve traveled abroad for location shoots. I can’t say I’ve seen it all, but I’ve seen my fair share.

And along the way, I’ve been asked a lot of questions:

“How do you break into the film industry?”

“How can I become a member of the union?”

“What’s it like to work with (insert actor’s name here)?”

“What the hell does a gaffer do?”

“Is it true there’s food on set ALL THE TIME?”

On my first day at the NFB, I had a lot of questions. Walking through those heavy doors to the security booth I felt like I’d finally gained access into the impenetrable fortress. And you know what I found out?

The NFB is a lot more accessible than I’d thought.

And now that I’m here, I’ve decided to throw open the doors to all of you. For everyone who ever wanted to know about the film business – how to break in, how to find jobs, what each job entails, how to find financing for your own projects – I’m here to answer your questions. Want to learn about how documentaries are made or find out more about animation techniques? You’ve come to the right place. I’ll interview producers, directors, writers, costume designers, and yes, even gaffers, in an effort to get you the best and most current information out there.

So let’s get the conversation started. What do you want to know?

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  1. I know this is a really old post and I am hopeful that this is still relevant. I am currently in the insurance industry and am looking for a overall career change. I have a love for film and am not afraid to work hard. Where do you suggest I start? Do I need schooling or a craft? Are there specific agencies I should be reaching out to? I am a total newbie, but figure maybe I should pursue my passion as a career! Thank you in advance for some advice!

    — Catherine,
  2. @Jaslene – I can’t really answer the question concerning prerequisites, as it all depends on the school/program you’re applying to.

    Canada has some great film schools, both in terms of universities and trade schools. You can search for a list by province, or check out this link:

    Good luck!

    — Julie Matlin,
  3. I want to get into the filming industry and I am still in high school, grade 11. I did my research and found out about how it is hard it to get a guarantee job. I wanted to know which university is highly preferred for the filming field that also help you find jobs. And I went to a website I took a test and Director was part of the list including many other professions. I checked out education requirements and it was said that I have to take science. I wanted to know from chemistry and biology, which courses do I take?


    — Jaslene,
  4. This is so awesome, it’s like having our very own mentor! Thanks. What I would like to know is how to find funding for a really controversial and political short and other than film festivals, are there any venues for showing such a beast?

    — Elle,
  5. @Jo – I have plans to interview a couple of writers for the blog – both film and television. Hopefully that will help. In the meanwhile, if you know people in the business, that’s always going to be your best bet…

  6. first thank you! Its great to hear a professionals point of view.

    In the past I have worked as ‘crew’ in the art department for a lot of local productions. But I haven’t really worked in the industry for about 10 years now.

    Since then I have been working on my own films, as well as doing a bit of acting and writing as much as possible.

    How does someone get in on the ground floor of the Script department and how would you advise I promote my scripts to potential film makers?

    I would love to get a mentor but that seems reserved for fresh faced university students.

    thank you for your time and any advice you are willing to offer! 🙂 It is much appreciated.


    — Joanne (Jo),
  7. @vanessa, @James: Both excellent questions and will be the topics of blog posts to come. Check back soon.

  8. Great idea, Julie, and glad you’re willing to offer your expertise. I’ve always been amazed at the sheer number of people mentioned in the end credits of films.

    So here’s a question for you. What is the difference between all the different variety of producer credits? Executive, associate, etc.?

  9. I’m shooting a documentary on my own dime and would love to know what I should be prepared to do after I come back from shooting to find funding. Cut a trailer and shop it around along with my treatment?

    — vanessa,

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