Reel Career Profile: Courtney Maertens

Courtney Maertens (25, she/her), is an independent artist, dancer and filmmaker based in Winnipeg with a particular passion for Screendance. She holds a B.A. Honours in Dance and Theatre & Film from the University of Winnipeg in affiliation with the School of Contemporary Dancers. Courtney has had the privilege of working alongside many unique artists and has had several opportunities to work in both the performing arts and film production. She is heading into her third year of working in the film industry as a Camera Assistant and Camera Operator and has been a part of several union and non-union productions, including features, documentaries, commercials, music videos, etc. She also has produced and created a number of her own independent dance films, many of which point to her extensive knowledge of dance and movement-based storytelling. Alongside her career in the film industry, she has participated in live dance performances and film screenings at Skylines Dance and Film Series, toured a contemporary dance show across Mexico and, most recently, starred in a dance film shot in Montreal this past summer.

When and how did you start in the media production industry? 

I began working in the film industry just over 2 years ago, after graduating from the Theatre and Film program at the University of Winnipeg. I started out working as a PA on a few music videos and short films during the summer following my graduation. That fall, I got hired on my first union show as a 2nd Camera Assistant. 

What area of the film industry do you work in now and why?

I currently work in the camera department as a camera assistant and camera operator. Even during my very first experiences on set as a PA, I knew I wanted to work in camera. I would always find my way over to stand near the camera and observe what was happening. I love being in the centre of all the action on set and working hands on with the camera. I’ve always been passionate about filming my own experimental, dance and short film projects as well and I’m working towards becoming a DOP in the future. I aspire to be a DOP that approaches my work from the perspective of a dancer and apply that knowledge of movement and artistry to the films I’m a part of creating.

What has been a substantial change in the industry since you started? 

Even in just the 2 years I’ve been working in the industry, I’m very pleased to see an increase in women joining the camera department. It is still a very male-dominated department, but it is encouraging and inspiring to witness the growth of more women working in camera. Last summer, I worked on a show with Maya Bankovic (CSC) who was the first female DOP I had ever worked with, and it had a huge impact on me as a female-identifying filmmaker. Working alongside her gave me so much more confidence to continue working towards my goals in film and I learned so much from her that I still carry with me today. I will continue to encourage women who are interested to join the camera department and I hope to learn from more female DOPs and operators in the near future.

If you could give yourself advice today to yourself in the past, what would it be?

Trust yourself – your ability and willingness to learn will go a long way. I started in the camera department as a camera assistant, rather than as a trainee, which led me to have some doubt around my ability to learn everything I needed to in order to continue to get work and advance my career. Luckily, I had the opportunity to work with some amazing people who trained me and believed in me. I was determined, but I still doubted that I was capable enough. Looking back, I had the ambition and the passion; the advice I would give is to trust myself more.

What is advice you would give to someone starting off in the media production industry?

Always be eager to learn more and keep an open mind. There is always more to learn in this industry and even when you do know how to use something or fix something, someone else may have a different way of doing so. I have learned so many interesting tips and tricks from new colleagues I work with and it has helped me in countless situations. Always stay curious about what you don’t know. It can be intimidating to admit you do not know something, but in my experience, if you ask questions, most people are more than willing to share what they know.

Why is learning and training important?

The industry is constantly changing, from the equipment we use to the protocols and procedures implemented on set. Training when starting out is obviously essential and provides you with your foundation, but it is equally important for us to continue to train and attend courses as we further our careers. There will always be new equipment and techniques to learn about. I also advocate that it is crucial that we educate ourselves and others in the industry on things like cultural, ethnic, and social protocols and ensure that we put them into effect on set, as well. Respecting and understanding the people we work with and the subject matter we deal with in the films we make should be just as important as any equipment and safety training, in my opinion.

What are some of the films, TV series or even books that have inspired you? How about anything new you’ve been into?

Most recently, the films Women Talking and Promising Young Woman have really inspired me, not only as a filmmaker but also as a woman in this industry. Seeing these incredible feminist stories be told in such a beautiful and cinematic way is really encouraging and inspiring. Both Sarah Polley (director of Women Talking) and Emerald Fennell (director of Promising Young Woman) are great examples of women who took control of a narrative, told it from the female gaze and created a beautiful film out of it. Their work so clearly shows the power of a strong relationship between a director and their team – particularly the cinematographer. I am inspired by these women to tell stories akin to theirs as a cinematographer and hopefully create a similar kind of bond with my director that really makes all the difference. 

Is there something about you or an interesting past experience that you’d like to share with your colleagues?

Being a dancer as well as a filmmaker, the majority of my own projects that I have filmed consist of experimental dance films. My passion for dance and film blend together so naturally; few things make me happier than when I’m capturing the beauty of dance on camera.

Is there someone within the film industry you would like to work with and why?

I really hope to work with DOP Maya Bankovic again sometime, ideally working in a higher position within the camera department than the last time – either as a focus puller or camera operator. I learned so much from her in just 3 weeks and she was such a fantastic leader. She was creative and confident, but also so supportive and humble. At some point in my career, I would also really love the opportunity to work with Sarah Polley as her cinematographer. This past winter, I had the chance to meet and chat with Quita Alfred who was Sarah’s costume designer on Women Talking and she told me several stories about her positive experiences working with Sarah. It was so nice to hear about the welcoming and creative, but also hard-working and vigorous environment she created on set. I hope to someday be able to work alongside Sarah as her DOP and create something special.

Where do you see yourself in ten years from now?

Everyone’s path in this industry is so unique and unpredictable; it’s hard to try and picture where I will be in ten years. If I achieve the goals I’ve set out for myself, I see myself as an established filmmaker with my own style of filming that draws on my experiences and techniques as a dancer. I also hope to be working alongside many other artists who bring their own diverse style to the table. I aim to keep exploring new ways of filmmaking as I grow and meet new people. I’m quite certain I will still be making dance films, but with bigger production and I would love for them to be in collaboration with different musical artists. I also see myself definitely still dancing, possibly in dance films of my own or perhaps in others’ films and music videos.

FTM is a non-for-profit charity and member of the Province of Manitoba’s sector council program (through the Department of Economic Development and Jobs). FTM conducts workforce development and training to build a highly skilled and adaptable film industry 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.