Reel Career Profile Series: Rachel Rusen, CEO & Film Commissioner, Manitoba Film & Music
CEO & Manitoba Film Commissioner for Manitoba Film & Music, Rachel Rusen leads the province’s agency charged with driving Manitoba’s dynamic film industry. Prior to joining Manitoba Film & Music, Rachel was a partner with MLT Aikins LLP and has practiced law since 1997. She was selected by the Government of Canada to the Judicial Advisory Committee, appointing judges to the Manitoba Court of Appeal, Court of Queen’s Bench and Federal Court of Canada. Specializing in entertainment law, Rachel served provincial and national clients in film, television, music, new media and book publishing while achieving a notable career in mergers and acquisitions, corporate finance and secured lending, and general corporate and commercial law. This exceptional experience has made her a valued member on Boards, including Food Banks Canada, Comweb/William F. White International (Advisory Board), Manitoba Music, Manitoba Film & Music, On Screen Manitoba and Freeze Frame. In her role as CEO for Manitoba Film & Music and as the Film Commissioner, Rachel is also a member of the Association of Provincial and Territorial Funding Agencies, the International Business Development Group and the National Tax Credit Committee. Rachel is a passionate advocate for Manitoba content creators.
When and how did you start in the media production industry?
I’ve been a corporate and commercial lawyer since 1997. In 2009, I was hired by an independent producer to work on a film file. Around the same time, I was engaged by a national bank to finance a film.
I found both projects incredibly fulfilling and I felt that Manitoba had a vibrant and robust industry that I wished to be a part of. From there, I enrolled in an entertainment law certificate program at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto and pivoted my law practice to focus strictly on entertainment law and bank financing. I have not looked back once.
What area of the film industry do you work in now and why?
In 2019, I withdrew from my law partnership in order to take on the role as acting CEO and Film Commissioner at Manitoba Film & Music. In October of that same year, I accepted the permanent position.
What has been a substantial change in the industry since you started?
The animation industry in Manitoba has really taken off. The number of animation positions filled at the Winnipeg office of Tangent has gone from 40 to more than 100 and is looking to double again within the next few years. To meet that labour demand, Tangent is drawing from local colleges, attracting and repatriating former Winnipeggers and doing national/international recruiting that is leading to a significant influx of workers that hope to become permanent residents in Manitoba. Plus, the type of work being done out of the Winnipeg office is expanding to more senior positions. It’s exciting to see.
If you could give yourself advice today to yourself in the past, what would it be?
Find something that you’re passionate about and follow it. Strive for an opportunity where what you do for a living also makes you happy. It’s not always possible, but if you can find that balance, it’s wonderful. Stay the course. Good things come if you can be patient. I wasn’t always patient and although it took me later in my legal career to find the area I really loved, I still found it and I’m enjoying it very much.
What is advice you would give to someone starting off in the media production industry?
Meet as many people as you can across all areas of the industry. Learn how production runs from every position and understand how the money flows.
Why is learning and training important?
The logistics involved in the film industry are laser accurate. Learning and training are critical, not just for making sure that roles and responsibilities are filled, but technology is constantly changing and evolving as our industry standards; therefore, continued training and learning is critical to make sure you’re staying on course with the ever-changing horizon.
What are some of the films, TV series or even books that have inspired you? How about anything new you’ve been into?
I just finished watching “Downton Abbey” again for the second time. Shows like that—which are rich in relationships and character development—and are period pieces where you can appreciate set and costume design, really remind me about the full-scale involvement of cast and crew on a show. It’s brilliant.
Is there something about you or an interesting past experience that you’d like to share with your colleagues?
I come from a bit of a Hollywood family background. My uncle was Manitoba‘s Monty Hall, who moved to Hollywood and became the face of “Let’s Make a Deal.” My mother’s cousin was also Arthur Hiller, who was a famous Hollywood director, and I remember as a child enjoying many trips to Los Angeles to his home, touring sets and meeting movie stars. Perhaps that helped prepare me for today.
Is there someone within the film industry you would like to work with and why?
To be honest, it’s the myriad of experiences I enjoy.
Where do you see yourself in ten years from now?
I love what I do. I’ve just embarked on this journey as CEO and Film Commissioner and I look forward to a long and fulfilling career in my current role.