By Ashley Catania
I recently sat down with Toronto-based director Lisa Rideout. I had just programmed her film Take A Walk on the Wildside for WIFT-T’s Showcase and was excited to meet the person behind the camera. Around the same time, she joined BFF as a panellist at our Breakthrough To Your Audience panel. With four films under her belt and a Canadian Screen Award for Wildside, I was curious to hear what motivations were behind her work, and what our BFFs might be able to learn from her experience. Here’s what she shared with me.
*The day I spoke with Lisa, CBC officially released Wildside on the CBC Docs platform (link to: http://www.cbc.ca/shortdocs/shorts/take-a-walk-on-the-wildside )
What led you to a career in film?
It’s kind of a convoluted story, ha. I’ve always been interested in storytelling, visual representations and why certain populations are stereotyped through imagery. Growing up on Sunday mornings I would watch World Vision commercials and I can vividly remember the scenes of Indian children searching through garbage dumps. Those images were the only reference I had to a country where my Mom and her parents grew up.
I ended up doing my undergrad in International Development Studies at York and then I did a Masters at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies). My research focused on visual representations of the “developing world” and why certain imagery was used over and over again. I was about to go on to do my Ph.D. when I had an internal crisis and realized that I didn’t want to discuss imagery with the three other academics who did the same research as me for the rest of my life (no offense you three). I was honestly tired of being critical and thought why don’t I instead try to create alternative imagery to what I found to be problematic?
I was involved with a non-profit called Good Evidence which was creating documentary content, so it wasn’t necessarily a huge leap, but like a good academic I thought, how can I really learn how to make documentaries? More school. So I ended up at Ryerson where I did a MFA in Documentary Media.
This is all to say, I didn’t have a burning desire from birth to be a filmmaker, which I think is often a common narrative and can deter those who want to be filmmakers later in life. I think passion for filmmaking, especially documentary, can grow roots in a variety of starting points.
How did you break into the industry?
After I graduated from Ryerson I started working at the Canadian Film Centre in the production office. I was a Production Coordinator there for two years and that really opened my eyes to what was needed to create a successful film. At Ryerson, we worked on our documentaries as a one-person show – we directed, produced, shot, did sound, and edited our own work, which did help me understand the various components that go into a film. But at CFC, coordinating their film lab, I had the chance to see large narrative sets and see the value in having a team. It become quite clear to me that a strong team combines their skills sets and that one person can’t be good at everything. It can’t all be on you. That whole concept of jack-of-all-trades, master of none. I believe that whole-heartedly. Besides learning a lot about filmmaking, I met some amazing filmmakers at the CFC who I still collaborate with today. While I was working there I continued to make my own documentaries as well.
I’m inspired by real stories and I think a powerful documentary is unlike any other form of storytelling. Documentaries were a natural transition for me as an academic and activist. It was a way for me to challenge those stereotypical representations I was critical of.
For me now, documentary is a way to tell stories that I think have social relevance, are engaging narrative wise while also thinking about how best to use a visual medium. I’m really interested in how to push the visual medium in documentary and in other forms of storytelling. I don’t want to only make documentaries and am interested in creating hybrid documentaries and eventually narrative films.
What led you to make TAWOTWS?
I was scouting locations for another film and went into Take a Walk on the Wildside (the store the film is named after). I immediately thought the storeowner Patricia Aldridge and the store (with all its glittery and colourful objects) would be amazing on film. After being open for thirty years the store had a rich history and Paddy was an incredible storyteller. It was the perfect combination of history, visuals and storytelling. The film also felt contained being anchored in one location- the store. I think all of these factors helped us secure funding through a Bravo Factual grant.
What advice would you give to women emerging in the industry?
Think why film? Why a visual medium and not an essay, a book or podcast. And why this particular story. Have the confidence to answer this question well and with conviction because you’ll get asked it over and over.
Watch films, read books, spend time writing and learning about storytelling
Work with people who are better than you
Learn about camera, lighting, grip gear so when other women or men (in my experience it’s always men) geek out over it on set you don’t feel excluded
No one is good at anything right away, keep at it, don’t get discouraged, do the work
Practice, practice, practice, and don’t put all your practice online
What advice can you share on funding?
One piece of advice I would say to new filmmakers is that I wouldn’t pitch a film without visuals – whether it’s a trailer or photographs, give funders an idea of your visual style, and how your narrative will unfold. As for getting films funded, if you’re trying to get a broadcaster on board, you need to convince them that you can deliver a product i.e. a film . If you have no track record of managing a budget and delivering a film, team up with someone who has this experience. I don’t think I would have got funding from Bravo (RIP!) had we not had an experienced executive producer on board.
Lisa is the director of four documentary shorts: While We Wait, I’ll Be Home, Talk a Walk on the Wildside, and One Leg In, One Leg Out. Her feature length doc Act Three is in production.