FTM’s 20th Anniversary: 20 For the 20th – Reel Careers Profile Series
“FTM was influential on my career from the moment I relocated to Winnipeg.”
Jen Beasley is Writers Guild of Canada nominated screenwriter with credits in both comedy and drama TV as well as web-based credits. Jen has been active in the film communities in both Toronto and Winnipeg for almost two decades. Following a seven-year stint as an assistant cameraperson with various film and TV productions and before that as both a teacher, Jen segued into the TV story department, beginning with the Showcase comedy series Billable Hours. She is currently Head of Development with Buffalo Gal Pictures and enjoys the way the job melds the creative and the business side of the industry.
When and how did you start in the media production industry?
I had been teaching in North Carolina for three years, and wanted to return to my home in the Toronto area. A friend of mine who worked in Craft Service contacted me asking if I could assist her. I worked in the Craft department for a few months, which was great because in that department you get the lay of the land in terms of set and a good overview of who does what. From there I wanted to work in the camera department, and I applied to be an IA 667 trainee. While I waited to be assigned, I was hired in the Receivables division at William F White, which was a fantastic way to learn all the gear, as you had to check items off as they were returned. I spent a year as a camera trainee and upgraded to 2nd Assistant Camera. Over the next seven years, I worked on various productions but I always really to wanted write. In 2007 I applied to the Canadian Film Centre (CFC)’s Prime Time Television Writing program, which was a wonderful experience. Following the end of the program, another CFC alum alerted me that Mark McKinney was looking for a writers’ assistant for the second season of Less Than Kind. I joined the room and was even given a script to co-write which was nominated for a WGC Comedy Script Award. From there I worked in other story rooms, story editing and writing on series such as Crash and Burn and Men With Brooms.
What area of the film industry do you work in now and why?
I am currently the Head of Development at Buffalo Gal Pictures. When I made the move to Winnipeg, there were not a lot of TV series writing rooms based here (I am working to change that!) I joined Buffalo Gal Pictures as a Production Executive, and have worked on such features as A Very Sordid Wedding, Siberia, JT Leroy and Look Away. Currently I oversee our feature and television development slate, which involves – among other things – reviewing scripts, working closely with creatives to get materials pitch ready, meeting with broadcasters and administering and managing agreements with writers, funding bodies and co-producers. This position has allowed me to remain in creative while enjoying the benefits of more “regular” employment – with a husband working on set and an 8-year-old at home.
What has been a substantial change in the industry since you started?
Definitely the higher volume of production has changed. Both Toronto and Winnipeg have exploded in terms of production levels. The evolution from film to digital is a big change – when I worked in the camera department it was in the days of shooting on film although this is not completely gone. Another change I’ve noticed is a movement in our industry to no longer accept inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. What used to be tolerated on set – something I especially felt as a female professional in mostly male-dominated technical departments, is now no longer “just how things are”, and is being addressed more.
If you could give yourself advice today to yourself in the past, what would it be?
Learn from everyone you can – there is such a wealth of knowledge in the industry, and people are generally very receptive to sharing it and offering guidance. As with almost anything under the sun, never assume you know all there is to know about this business – things can continue to surprise you. Treat mistakes as learning opportunities, not failures – the only failure would be to walk away without a resolve to improve in the future.
How did taking FTM training affect your career?
FTM was influential on my career from the moment I relocated to Winnipeg. While in the story department, it provided me the opportunity to mentor a local writer who eventually went on to work on that show and even write for it. I’ve taken Supervisory courses, Conflict Resolution courses and Safety courses, and they have all have contributed to making me better at what I do. FTM is invaluable for the incoming industry hopeful – it can provide an overview of production and the various roles people fill, and guide newcomers to find the career path that best suits their individual talents and experience.
What is the advice you would give to someone starting off in the media production industry?
Be on time! Be respectful, but also stand up for yourself especially with regard to anything that makes you uncomfortable. Ask questions right away about anything you don’t understand – better to ask up front than down the road when it may be too late. Also: try to be aware of what everyone around you is doing – everyone tends to get a little bit of tunnel vision when it comes to their own objectives, but it always helps to be able to look at the big picture as well.
What are some of the films, TV series or even books that have inspired you? How about anything new you’ve been into?
I recently saw When They See Us on Netflix and was simply blown away. The acting, the storytelling, the subject matter – it stayed with me long after I finished watching. I’ll always have my favourite films that make me drop whatever I’m doing and watch them when they come on TV: Star Wars, The Godfather Parts I and II, Raiders of the Lost Ark. I love being able to binge TV shows now – I marvel at the way we used to have to wait a week in between episodes, the horror! – with some of my recent faves being Stranger Things, Happy Valley, Fleabag, Breaking Bad, Bodyguard, Schitts Creek and 13 Reasons Why. Other TV favourites have included This is Us, Gilmore Girls, Game of Thrones, Veep, Arrested Development and of course Less Than Kind!
Where do you see yourself in ten years from now?
Writing my autobiography and embellishing the hell out of it.