Want to be a director? Stop second-guessing yourself


(Bri Castellini) #1

If you Google the phrase “the Dangers of Online Dating,” you’ll get 765,000 results outlining ways to stay safe, depressing listicles of worst-case scenarios come true, and now, a new web series by Canadian filmmaker Brianne Nord-Stewart. The series follows sexual health nurse, Paula (Paula Burrows – Motive, The Killing), with a fear of casual sex consequences, who delves into the world of online dating after a year of sexual abstinence.


Director Brianne Nord-Stewart on set for “The Dangers of Online Dating”

Originally from Edmonton, Alberta, Nord-Stewart created, wrote, directed, and produced the series. We spoke with her about her experience as a female director in a male-dominated field, what she’s learned about independent filmmaking after three web series, and more.

Editor’s note: interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.

Stareable: When did you know you wanted to work in the entertainment industry, and how did you ‘get your start’?

Brianne Nord-Stewart: We always has a camcorder in my family and my sister and I or friends and I were constantly making videos. It wasn’t until grade 10/11 that I started thinking about film school, because up until then I didn’t realize that was an option until some of my older classmates were graduating and applying for film schools. In grade 11 I wrote and directed my first film, a film noir called “Does the Fruit Taste Good?” I’m sure you can guess the metaphor for fruit given the kinds of films I make. And yes, it is on YouTube.

What did you gain from your experience with “Women in the Director’s Chair”?
"The Women In the Director’s Chair is an intensive (WIDC) hands-on mentorship program providing professional and creative development to mid-career Canadian women directors of screen-based fiction.” - WIDC.ca

I’ve worked with WIDC in a few different programs over the years starting when I was crew for them in university, and a few years ago I was one of eight directors selected to workshop a feature film with actors and story editors. I gained a community by meeting other directors across Canada from different backgrounds. I also got bittersweet feedback which encouraged me to be more vulnerable in my films. I wasn’t letting my characters fall very far. Now I’m trying to figure out how they can fall farther.

What is your advice for new directors, and for female directors (who only made up 7% of directors among the year’s top 250 grossing films in 2016) in particular?

Stop second-guessing yourself. Stop couching your statements with “I think” or “I just” or “I only.” Try “I want,” “I am,” and “I have accomplished.” You’re a strong person and you’re telling this film for a reason. Figure that out, and stand behind. If you need a favour, ask for it. If you need advice, ask for it. You want a job, ask for it. You want to make a short film and have no money? Figure out how to write it cheaper and make it anyways. Then for the next one, you get to say “I have made this film. It was successful because…I want to make this new film and I need this favour, are you interested in being involved?” But when asking all these favours, figure out how you can also be useful to the other person.

If any of those 7% directors have any advice for me on making a top-grossing film, I would love to take you out for a coffee, or a cocktail, and listen to what you’ve got to say.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self as she began her entertainment career?

Start writing sooner. I wish I was writing pilots and feature films in high school. They may have been bad and self-indulgent, but writing is a skill that needs to be practiced. Now it’s hard for me to make the time to write because I’ve been a one-woman show for so long that I’m often the only person doing the editing, post supervising, marketing, social media, producing (I hate budgets but I love saving money!). So I guess my current advice – to myself and others – is, MAKE THE FREAKING TIME TO WRITE!

Your series was partially funded by a grant by TELUS STORYHIVE- can you talk about that process and offer any advice to creators hoping to get funded this way?

We are VERY fortunate in Alberta and British Columbia that Telus, a telecommunications company, has chosen to donate millions of dollars in grants for filmmakers, animators, and music video directors. I knew that Telus had a VOD platform and that they were looking for content so I sent them some of my work and then I was informed about a $75K community programming grant that Albertans and British Columbians could access. Both my series YOUNG & RECKLESS and THE DANGERS OF ONLINE DATING received this funding in separate years. Now, the funding stream is called Storyhive, and they have grants from $5k-$100K which come in the form of a pre-license because they broadcast the content on their VOD channel, Telus Optik VOD. The rest of the budget came from a development grant from CreativeBC, and we’re also eligible for the BC and federal tax credits because Telus’ VOD platform is an accredited broadcaster.

What is your marketing outlook, and what do you and your team tend to focus on to help spread the word about your projects?

With THE DANGERS OF ONLINE DATING, we’re doing a staggered release of one episode a week so that we have new stuff to keep talking about, time to allow people to find the show and join the conversation, and get stoked. We’re focusing our Instagram on sexual health - because DOOD is about a sexual health nurse with a fear of casual sex consequences; the Twitter is/will be more about online dating struggles; and Facebook is the mainframe for all things #DOODtheseries. Every week I send the new episode link to everyone in my phone via text, messaging individually on FB messenger, and then I’m also trying to send emails to people and organizations with a similar focus. The key word is trying.

I also created a companion series called SEX, WITH PAULA, where the same lead character, NURSE PAULA, is talking sex education and answering sex ed questions. With this show, we can easily produce a new episode a week because all we need is Paula and I, and ideally Caitlin. The three of us are writing the content, and my sister who is a nurse in sexual health and is a counselor at her clinic, reviews all the information for accuracy and inclusive language.


Paula Burrows

If you could have any career you wanted and not have to worry about money, what would that career look like? Would you be in traditional media, would you want to stay in the indie sphere, or something in between?

I would be showrunning, and writing and directing a TV show that I was proud of, that I felt would entertain people, and also subtly educate them on ways to make the world more inclusive and a better place. Did I mention it would be really really funny.

And then I would direct a film every year…’cause I would have so much free time from the TV empire. But because of the talented, passionate, creative, and supportive team I would have, it would all be possible.

I would also buy a sailboat and insist that some of our meetings take place at sea.

What is the best lesson you’ve learned while self-producing projects, and what is your favorite thing about doing them?

I’ve learned that it’s really important to take the time to find the right key creatives and cast and not just settle on someone “because we have to shoot it on those dates.” No, you don’t. It might be more work to change everything, and you might have to compromise on something else, but if it looks like shit, or sounds like shit, or someone has a terrible attitude and is making everyone’s job harder, it’s better to wait. Making films and making web series is a HUGE freaking effort, and it’s worth getting the right team together.

That and, if I need help, I need to ask for it. Suffering it alone is alone not the answer. My favourite thing about self-producing is that the projects are mine. I am in control, and I’m getting to put the time into project and stories that I think are absolutely worth the effort.

What’s next for you?

Marketing THE DANGERS OF ONLINE DATING, snowboarding as much as possible, and writing, writing, writing. I’m in development on the half-hour concept of DOOD, and rewriting the feature BEAT AROUND THE BUSH – I made the short in 2016. And then more original pilot ideas, and I have two other web/TV ideas that I’m developing with their creators as well.
Oh and also…directing a TV episode would be great. Is anyone listening? Someone? Make that happen? Ok, thanks.

What are your favorite web series?

I am a HUGE fan of season 2 of THAT’S MY DJ from D.W. Watterson in Toronto. I also really enjoyed HIGH LIFE from Luke Eve in Australia. The upcoming show CLEANER DAZE from Tess Sweet is absolutely mind-blowing, and HUG IT OUT from Kincaid Walker is laugh out loud hilarious.

They are all VERY different, and absolutely worth seeking out.

Watch The Dangers of Online Dating here!