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This story was created in partnership paid for with Toronto Film School.

“I can’t explain exactly what the decision was, I just knew that writing was the only thing I hadn’t tried, and it was so scary because it’s so vulnerable to share your story,” shared writer-producer Jen Bendle, recalling how she first got into film. “I wanted to get my hands dirty, get into the industry, and find the school that would give me the best opportunity. That’s when I applied, and it was the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

Bendle was a latecomer to movies, in 2020: After earning her college degree in biological sciences, she taught rock climbing and spent a decade building a long-standing career in Human Resources. At the time, Bendle was happy with his professional pursuits, until the COVID-19 pandemic and his introspective isolation made her realize that he was serious about turning his passion for writing into a career.

“I was 30 years old and I thought, I’m not getting any younger. She was always constantly filling notebooks and journals, writing stories. I would never share them, but it was something innate within me. I would watch a show or an entire season and write specific scripts with dialogue and action, just not knowing the terms, until I went to Toronto Film School in 2020,” she said.

Despite the enormous impact of the pandemic on all industries, Canada’s multi-billion dollar television and film industry has never been stronger. In Toronto alone, the film production industry spent a record $2.5 billion on film, television and digital media. In the next five years, the city is expected to add more than 10,000 new jobs in the display industry. Due to a combination of highly talented crews, Canadian tax breaks, and vast, sweeping landscapes, Hollywood location shooting is also skyrocketing across the country, seeing a 20 percent increase in foreign film production between 2021 and 2022 alone.

This year especially, filmmaking as a career has been in the spotlight more than ever, as talks about the role of generative technology (AI) in acting and screenwriting and the Hollywood walkouts continue to dominate the news. But as recent concessions from studio executives have shown, exploring a career in film and television remains a stable option, especially as the recent walkouts by the WGA and SAG-AFTRA have shown just how critical writers and actors are in bringing a story to life on the big screen. Beyond screenwriting, craft careers and skilled labor also remain in high demand: line producers, accountants, camera operators, and sound mixers remain vital professions required on every set, with skilled labor in short supply at these levels of production.

But while training great talent remains a priority in the industry, diversity, both vis-à-vis and behind the camera, it’s more important than ever. For Bendle, creating space for women in her work was a key principle in her short film RUNNERS, a specially selected project that the Toronto Film School helped produce using the school’s studio and resources. “Learning and growing in the industry, I’ve seen a lot of it dominated by men,” Bendle explained. “For my first film, it was important to me to have a set that exclusively identified women.”

TFS screenwriting alumnus Caleigh Bacchus similarly values ​​increasing diversity in the industry. For the 2018 valedictorian of the Diploma of Writing for Film and Television, the ideas being discussed in the writers’ rooms come from the world around us: “Film and television reflect social issues that are happening and stories about the future that you want to see,” Bacchus explained, so it is extremely important that filmmakers represent a world that is as thoughtful and diverse as they hope the future will be.

While inclusive writing is vital to ensuring thoughtful stories from all backgrounds continue to be told, promoting diversity in both and off-camera is necessary to create truly impactful change: “I feel like we can be more intentional about having people of color, people in the LGBTQ community, and people of all genders in each departmentso that those voices are represented in all aspects of the production,” Bacchus said.

However, in recent years, TFS alum and cinematographer Laura Loaiza has definitely seen a noticeable difference in the field since she began her career in 2017. “When I was starting out as a trainee, I was the only woman in the camera departments I worked in, and I feel like that has 100% changed,” Loaiza recalled. Now, she will often be working with talented women in all departments, including on camera. “There are a lot more women than before, and I hope it continues to grow.”

Indigenous filmmaker and TFS Video Production Valedictorian 2022 Shelby Adams actually began her film career with dreams of being an actress. “She always loved everything she saw on TV and was trying to find ways to get through the door,” she recounted. But discrimination when it comes to casting has always been a battle, and Adams found that she could make an even more impactful difference behind the camera.

Growing up on the Akwesasne Mohawk reservation on the border of Ontario, Quebec and New York state, Adams’ cultural roots dramatically shaped his upbringing. “Where I grew up in my district, my backyard was basically a river. My father, who was a fisherman, hunter and iron worker, and I, practically lived off the land,” she shared. But a profound moment of hers in her teens helped her understand early in life what a big difference her work can make to her. “I remember watching a black-and-white cowboy and Indian movie, and when it was almost over, he changed the channel.”

“I was like, ‘Why did you do that? I wanted to see who wins. He said, ‘The Cowboys always win.’ And, you know, according to my dad, the Indians would never win on TV. So I get to change the narrative now, and I’m very excited and proud to be able to witness that.”

For each and every one of these women, their time at the Toronto Film School was vital in getting them to where they are today: The school’s founding tenets of diversity, equity, and capacity-building initiatives are strongly focused on removing barriers that prevent historically marginalized communities from entering the industry. Experienced, award-winning faculty, with a wide network of industry connections, help prepare women for industry success and support them as colleagues after graduation.

Bendle, who works as a creative executive at the production company of Andrew Gunn (known for hits like i miss friday and cruella) attributes much of his prowess to the valuable experience he gained learning to do table reads in TFS. “They really teach you how to read each script, find the structural elements of the story—the voice, the character, the motivations, the dialogue—quickly and efficiently. And I think if I didn’t have all that experience, it would take me a day to read each script when now it takes me 1-2 hours,” she explained. Adams echoed that sentiment: “I received a variety of technical skills that helped me level up; TFS helped me develop this very good and strong portfolio and build connections with like-minded students and faculty.”

Now a permanent writer at Murdoch MysteriesOne of Canada’s longest-running and most successful drama series, Bacchus also credits TFS for helping her break into a “mystery industry” by providing her with direct networking opportunities: “This class basically taught you the entire foundation of this industry, which is networking, and I took advantage of a specific school project to reach four people, two of which became odd jobs for me when I graduated,” Bacchus shared.

Loaiza, who has now worked on important films such as He toronto man, put it better. “One of the things I learned at TFS is how each department works and how all the different parts of the process, like pre-production, production and post-production, come together. So if you’re in a situation like I was, where you have no idea where exactly you want to go, or how it works, then film school is essential.”

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