Some people take pens and framed photos when they leave a company.
Lazlo Barna went one step further.
When the TV industry veteran decided to leave his position as president at eOne’s television division to re-start his indie venture, Pier 21, he knew there was one person he hoped would come along: up-and-coming TV exec Melissa Williamson.
Barna met Williamson when she was a part of eOne’s television division, working on projects such as Call Me Fitz and Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie. Barna said he was impressed how she balanced creativity and interest in the business side of the industry.
“She’s an extremely able producer with very well-developed skills from development to financing and production. She’s going to get projects ordered and deliver hits,” he says emphatically.
At just 32, Williamson has proven she can do just that. Now the head of development at Pier 21, Williamson’s production credits include the biopic Jack, Keep Your Head Up, Kid: The Don Cherry Story and Wrath of Grapes: The Don Cherry Story II, all of which have racked up multiple awards, including two Canadian Screen Awards in 2014 for Jack.
She’s also worked on Shaw Media’s Treasures Decoded, a Canada-U.K. coproduction that airs on History in Canada, Discovery UK, Smithsonian Channel, France 5 and SBS in Australia. Her skill is even gaining attention stateside, attracting the notice of U.S. trades like The Hollywood Reporter, which named her among 20 Canadians to watch last year.
But as everyone who does business in the industry knows, networking prowess can be one of the most important skills of all. And Williamson is working hard on that front as well, having recently represented Pier 21 on an OMDC-sponsored mission to the U.K. The goal of the mission, which included 10 production companies, was to foster partnerships between Canadian and U.K. producers.
“She’s unusually talented in listening to people and clearly communicating her own point of view. She’s well-rounded and equally interested in business affairs and delivering a good show,” Barna said of Williamson.
Williamson started her career at L.A.-based prodco Blueprint Entertainment after landing an internship at the company through the CMPA (then called the Canadian Film and Television Production Association). She came back to Canada after Blueprint was acquired by eOne in 2008.
Now, as head of development at Pier 21, Williamson is responsible for overseeing the scripted and unscripted development slate for the company, hunting down great ideas, stories and properties for the prodco.
“My current role is to find interesting shows, but also try to keep us ahead of the curve in terms of what everybody else is doing, what the networks currently need and what their future needs are going to be,” Williamson explains.
Those development projects include a half-hour comedy from the creators of The Beaverton satirical news website, a one-hour series based on media personality Sook-Yin Lee and a feature film adaptation of Enemies of the People, with Denmark’s Niels Arden Oplev (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) attached to direct.
“There are a lot of smart and talented individuals out there who are doing the exact same thing as me and Pier 21, and you have to be an out-of-the-box thinker,” Williamson says.