Youth-targeting Reel Opportunities connects with future film, TV workers

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How Reel Canada is using its national infrastructure to help recruit a new, more diverse generation to work in Canada's screen-based industry.

The organization behind National Canadian Film Day is using its well-honed education resources to address the increasing demand for skilled crew members across the country.

Launched earlier this year by Reel Canada, the Reel Opportunities program offers interactive in-class workshops to educate students across the country about the wide range of jobs available in the screen-based industry, including camera, sound, art design, VFX and editing.

The goal is to “build a real ecosystem by which kids can find their way into the industry,” according to Reel Canada executive director Jack Blum, who created the program with artistic director Sharon Corder.

Reel Opportunities is built on the pre-existing education tools created by Reel Canada which have steadily grown as the education programs tied to National Canadian Film Day rolled out in more remote communities over the years. Program partners include Bell Media and BIPOC TV & Film.

“We have a national infrastructure, we’re in hundreds and hundreds of schools across the country showing Canadian films, and our audience is as diverse as Canada is,” Blum tells Playback Daily, adding that teachers have continued to seek them out as a remote learning resource during the pandemic.

While open to all students, organizers are actively seeking to engage with racially diverse students in all communities to address the severe lack of representation on Canadian sets. Reel Canada has hired 70 industry members to administer the program and run the workshops, with 70% of workshop speakers identifying as Black, Indigenous or a person of colour.

Akilla’s Escape director and Reel Canada board member Charles Officer knows firsthand the need for diverse crew members in every department. “It’s such a small pool in this country,” says Officer while on location for The Porter in Winnipeg, naming production departments such as hair, makeup and costumes, to post-production roles for editors. “[Reel Opportunities] is exposing the layers and different areas that could pique one’s interest. If you don’t have a connection, if you don’t have a mentor, it’s very hard to find a way into the film and television landscape.”

The program has a three-phase approach. Phase one, which received financing from the federal government’s Youth Employment and Skills Strategy program, is currently being rolled out in classrooms to educate kids about opportunities in film and TV. So far Reel Canada has already surpassed its initial goal of 150 workshops and is on track to run more than 200 by the end of June, reaching more than 4,000 students.

The company is seeking partners to help support phases two and three, which starts with connecting students interested in a possible career with workshops at local colleges and then moves into mentorships with members of the industry. Blum says phase one is the wide end of a funnel, with estimates that roughly 5% to 10% of students will sign up for workshops.

Officer is among those already signed on to be a mentor, saying he’ll bring students to shadow on set to gain real-time experience.

Blum says Reel Canada is “optimistic” the program will be sustainably funded to support phases two and three due to the growing demand from teachers and community leaders, and the fact that they’ve achieved well past the initial goal for workshops.

Yet while Reel Opportunities has given a crucial starting point to bring more potential workers, it won’t work until the full industry is all-in to increase representation on set. Officer says showrunners and department heads need to expand their pool of resources and get out of the habit of hiring back the same crews if the level of behind-the-scenes talent has a chance to grow across the country.

“The onus isn’t just on one program,” he says. “It should trigger something so people are actually taking these ideas into their own professional practices.”

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