Bridging the Gap Behind The Scenes

by Marisa Sittheeamorn, Kaveh Daneshmand

Over the past couple of weeks, FCC has been addressing the specific areas of production that could be improved through the increased awareness and integration of Farsi speaking talent in the local film industry. We started by highlighting the diverse population of Toronto and its position as one of the largest film production hubs in the world, and made a case for increasing Farsi talent on-screen. To wrap things up, we now turn our attention to the importance of those working off-screen.

Less known by the public, but most vital to the production process are those who work behind the scenes. Directors of photography, cinematographers, sound designers, editors, camera assistants, gaffers, production assistants, runners, wardrobe stylists, hair and make-up artists, set designers and many more determine the survival and success of a production. Crew members across all departments collectively work their magic to accurately represent the narrative, advance the vision of the director and producers, and enhance the performance of the cast in the final product.

Crew members in Toronto are usually supplied by local governments and unions, such as the Director’s Guild and multiple divisions of IATSE. This is particularly the case in co-production scenarios, where the film sector and development office at the city will provide a list for foreign producers before they commit to bringing their productions to Toronto. In most cases, crew members are hand-selected to match with specific projects. For example, black hair and makeup artists will be recommended to work on black television shows, as they have expertise from their personal experience that someone from another background would most likely not understand. Similarly, French-Canadian productions would require crew members to speak French, as to understand the content and communicate with the rest of the team effectively. Communication and understanding of the population at large are most important in accurately representing minority storylines.

Through our own research and in meetings with various local film organizations, it has been brought to our attention that Toronto sometimes finds difficulty in creating lists that are diverse enough. Productions are choosing different locations over the city because the crew lists are more diverse in other places. How is this possible in one of the world’s most multicultural, and film-trained cities?

While the systemic discrimination of particular races, genders, sexualities, ethnicities, and classes absolutely play a role in this gap, a major challenge in producing diverse lists comes from the requirements and costs associated with joining unions and guilds. Off-screen talent representing minority populations face language-related and experience-related issues when trying to gain membership. In most cases, local work experience is more valued than careers established overseas.

Another major contributor to this gap is the lack of data tracking on members of particular guilds. While some may track race, gender, and general ethnicities, the data collected is geared towards a handful of larger minority populations – and most certainly does not collect information on the Farsi-speaking community. Of the various meetings we have had with, only ACTRA has been able to provide us with the exact number of Farsi-speaking actors within their member base. We have not been able to gather the numbers of Farsi-speaking talent who work behind-the-scenes.

While the lack of diverse crews is a challenge faced by productions involving or centred around all minority populations, FCC has acknowledged this as a major problem affecting the production of Farsi-related content in Toronto. Farsi-speaking crew members are unaware of how to join unions, how to make local connections, how to communicate with local crew members and producers, and are therefore, working on non-union projects with their own personal connections. It would currently be difficult for a filmmaker to find Farsi-speaking crews with a deep understanding of Farsi culture, within the union framework.

As a means to remedy this problem, FCC is meeting with local film organizations and attempting to bridge the gap between Farsi-speaking talent and the local industry. In the long term, we hope to create an online database of Farsi-speaking talent in the Greater Toronto Area, as well as establish a series of presentations in conjunction with different entities to increase accessibility and encourage more comprehensive data tracking within the larger film organizations.

While there is still a lot of progress to be made with Farsi representation off-screen, integrating Farsi-speaking talent into trade associations, unions, and industry related organizations would be a major step in the right direction.

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