By Akemi Liyanage
If you ask Ula Jurecka, a student who’s one credit away from being a graduate of the University of Toronto acting program, what the most difficult part of the film industry is, she’ll tell you that it’s getting your foot in the door.
“You can’t be a follower. You have to be a leader to get anywhere,” she says. “You have to figure it out for yourself.”
Jurecka was one of the many attendees at the first Open World Toronto Film Festival (OWTFF), which was held in the Fox Theatre Oct. 25. Nestled between a health food market and a vintage clothing store, the bright yellow lights of the Fox Theatre illuminated not just the path into the venue but new contacts in the film industry.
“Everyone is looking for someone,” says Ian Sharpe, another attendee and a professional actor for the last two years. “I started going to acting class. Through that acting class, I found my agent. And that agent led to having a career.” Sharpe came to the OWTFF in the hopes of finding film directors and landing roles in small films to build a demo reel.
Having to pave your own way to success fresh out of college has become the new industry standard—and being able to connect with people who have created a name for themselves on their own is crucial to moving forward in the film industry.
Alana Pancyr, who also attended the event, says she’s benefited from the mentorship of fellow film professional Katie Uhlmann.
“She’s a go-getter,” Pancyr says about Uhlmann. “She doesn’t just act or produce or write. She does everything.”
Impressed by Pancyr’s acting abilities at an audition, Uhlmann reached out to her on Facebook and offered her a role in her first film, Pyramid Screams.
“She has a comedic sensibility,” says Uhlmann on why she chose Pancyr to play a title role in her film. “She made it her own, quirky and cute. I needed someone like that.”
Since its creation, Uhlman’s film has won several awards including one at the OWTFF. Part of the success of the film she says, has to do with the positive experience she had working with Pancyr.
On Pancyr’s biggest asset, Uhlmann says, “The willingness to see the project succeed. It was a really fun process.”
It is not enough that aspiring hopefuls of the film industry put themselves out there to shake hands and talk to new people. They have to do so in a way that is impressive to industry veterans.
“It’s one of those things where you see how someone carries themselves,” says Ian Kilvert, Ryerson RTA school of media alumnus and mentor to current media school student, Rachel Lee. “If you believe in yourself, others will pick up on it and follow suit.”
Kilvert became involved with the OWTFF after meeting founder Sabine Mondestin at a 2014 TIFF event. “She said that she was planning on hosting her own film festival around the fall of 2015. And I wanted to help her out,” says Kilvert. He subsequently brought in the event’s two sponsors, Deluxe and Hollywood Suite. His company, Get Set Marketing, had previously worked with the Pan Am Games and the Toronto Jazz Festival to bring in corporate sponsorship.
On how he met Lee, Kilvert says it was through an RTA alumni tour of the new facilities. Lee had volunteered as a tour guide for RTA alumni, including a session that included Kilvert’s group. “She’s very smart and approachable,” says Kilvert. “After the tour, I went on her LinkedIn and saw all her extracurricular activities and thought, she’s going places.”
Kilvert had then reached out to Lee and suggested that she come to OWTFF.
“The biggest thing was to not miss out on an opportunity and meet new people in the industry,” says Lee, on her reason behind attending the festival. “And look, I ended up filming all the interviews for the festival.”
Knowing that Lee had an interest in video journalism, Kilvert had put Lee in contact with Mondestin who asked her to film the interviews at the event. As a result, Lee had the chance speak to even more people in the film industry and add material to her portfolio.
“If you close yourself, you won’t be able to get yourself out there,” says Lee on being a professional in the creative industries. “I’m always thinking about how to contact people to connect with others.”
While conversations may flow freely between mentors and mentees at events like the Open World Toronto Film Festival though, it’s only one step in the journey it takes to build a career.
On starting out in the film industry, University of Toronto acting program graduate Hamed Dar says, “There’s no formula to succeeding in the industry.” Which is why, he says, the hardest part is often mustering up the courage to begin.
This article was published in the print edition of the Ryersonian on Oct. 28, 2015.