Tamara Harland grew up in the Fort Garry area of Winnipeg playing softball and immersing herself in fiction, namely television and movies. This led her to eventually work in the industry herself.
She used to say “if I don’t do something in film when I get older, I wasted a lot of time watching TV growing up!” So after working various jobs — from housecleaning to fast food to movie theatres — she made the leap to work in film full-time.
That was back in 2007, and since then the film industry has taken her to three provinces: from Winnipeg to Calgary to Vancouver. She’s worked on dozens of films across the country, mainly as an assistant production coordinator, but also in assistant directing and locations positions.
Her experiences on set inspired Tamara to become Coordinator Rep at both the provincial (Manitoba) and national level for the Directors Guild of Canada.
She loves being able to help give fellow guild members a voice, making sure they are heard and respected. Tamara also serves as co-chair for DGC’s sustainability committee, helping make the industry more environmentally sustainable for future generations.
When and how did you start in the media production industry?
I got my start in the industry back in 1998. I submitted my short film script to an NSI competition and won free entry into their summer film camp. From there, I got introduced to the Winnipeg Film Group and the Video Pool Media Arts Centre. That connected me with my first production assistant gig ever on East of Euclid then a few more independent films.
I actually gave up on the whole industry so I could go back to school in 2003, but right before I was about to graduate in 2007 I got a call from the DGC. They were wondering if I was still interested in becoming a member because I had enough hours to join. Next thing I knew I got a phone call from Cathie Edgar inviting me to join the Locations Department on Haunting in Connecticut and the rest is history.
What area of the film industry do you work in now and why?
I mostly work in the production office as an Assistant Production Coordinator, but I also jump into the 3rd AD camp from time to time. I love jumping between those departments because are two different sides of the same coin. In the office, you get to know the behind-the-scenes hustle and bustle while on set you get to see all of that come to life.
You really see the whole picture working in the two departments and learn why things are done the they are.
What’s a substantial change you’ve seen in the industry since you started?
Honestly, the importance of technology and the Internet. Even in the small window of 15+ years I’ve been in this industry, the reliance on the Internet, computers, and cellphones has drastically changed the entire landscape of the industry.
If you could give your past self advice, what would it be?
Trust your gut. You know when something is right or not right for you.
Also, don’t be afraid to try something new. The beauty of the film industry is that it’s almost like every industry rolled into one. It’s not just acting and directing — it’s also electrical, carpentry, catering, accounting, and more — so if one department doesn’t fit, just try another.
What advice would you give someone starting off in the film industry?
Keep your head down and work your butt off. Your reputation is everything in the film industry and you have to remember that hard work is not only recognized but discussed with everyone else.
The industry is small in Manitoba. If we find someone who is a hard worker, we let people know.
And also, ask questions. Never assume you know what someone is thinking or how they want something done. Every show is unique and everyone does things a little bit different, so never be afraid to ask how they want it done.
Why is learning and training important and how has FTM helped you develop as a film professional?
You don’t grow if you don’t keep learning. Even after all these years I still learn new ways to do my own job just by working with different crew members and taking courses with FTM whenever I can.
I’ll even take courses that don’t directly apply to my own job. They help me understand the bigger picture overall. On top of assistant director and production coordinator courses, I’ll attend sessions that help me understand what other departments are up against — this allows me to understand what they need and so I can contribute more effectively to the whole production.
What films, TV, or books inspire you or get you excited about your work?
There are just so many forms of media that have inspired me over the years to narrow it down. Just watching TV when I was younger inspired me to get into the industry in the first place.
Do you have any other experiences or hidden talents you’d like to share?
I’ve worked with so many amazing and talented people in the film industry over my career across three different provinces.
With that experience, I can say that the talent in Manitoba is under-appreciated and under-rated by far. But I would be amiss if I didn’t say that I always wanted the chance to work with the legendary Steven Spielberg. The script I wrote that started this journey in film was about how talented Manitoba was and how Hollywood shouldn’t underestimate it, with a “cameo” from Mr. Spielberg himself.
The kid in me that wrote that script would be thrilled to make that a reality. I was close when I worked on “A Dog’s Purpose” as it was produced by Amblin Entertainment, but not close enough!
Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
I can’t see myself doing anything else honestly. This industry has given me everything I wanted in my life, allowed me to travel for work and explore other provinces while giving me a platform to explore both my analytical and creative sides.
I also hope to still be campaigning for a stronger guild, protecting our crews’ rights and to help make the film industry more sustainable and also produce some of my own projects in the future.
FTM is a member of the Province of Manitoba’s sector council program through the Department of Economic Development and Training. FTM builds a highly skilled and adaptable film industry workforce to support the activities of Manitoba production companies. FTM collaborates with members of the film and television industry to identify the training needs within the community.