Reel Career Profile: Karen Tusa

Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Karen Tusa is an award winning Actress and Producer. Karen is an Active National Member of the Television Academy under the Producer’s Peer Group (The Emmys), a Location Scout and Location Manager Full member of the Directors Guild of Canada (DGC), a member of the Location Managers Guild International (LMGI) and on the Awards committee for the LMGI Awards , as well as a member of ACTRA.

Karen has also sat on various juries and screening committees for Esteemed Film Festivals and Awards, including a Blue Ribbon Judge for the Inaugural Children’s and Family Emmys and Daytime Emmys and is the Marketing Director of the Winnipeg Real to Reel Film Festival. Karen Tusa has appeared in many films and commercials and decided to help out behind the scenes as a producer. She has worked on many productions and has won many awards.

Karen was also the President/CEO of Family Friendly Video Inc. (a Canadian-based operation for US Company) Karen successfully ran this company, which sold Family Friendly and Faith-based movies all over the world and also co-owned a Production company.  

When and how did you get started in the film/media industry?

I owned my own distribution company from 2003-2009 that sold faith-based and Family-friendly movies worldwide but primarily dealt with producers and companies outside Winnipeg. I made many contacts when distributing my films through the company I owned.

I got connected to the Winnipeg Film Industry through my acting and I was asked to be a producer on a short film using my background in finance and industry connections and experience. I really enjoyed it and got asked to do more.

I have produced quite a few films so far, including a mini-series, Jenny & Jeff, that won 16 awards; Five True Friends, which has won 13 awards so far; A Birthday Tale, which just started in the festival circuit and won 9 awards; and Closing Time: The Vanishing Prairie Beverage Room, that aired on Land and Sea Nationally and is available on CBC Gem. All of my recent films have won multiple awards.

I had many friends in the industry outside Winnipeg in LA and was pitching scripts.  I also got connected to some filmmakers in the US and was attached as a producer on a few projects. I was asked to do scouting on a Lifetime movie as I had scouted on my own films during a very busy of season in film where 6 productions were filming at the same time.

I then started scouting for many years on many productions, and loved it and eventually worked my way up to becoming a Locations Manager.

What is the difference between Locations Scouting and Locations Managing? 

A Locations Manager can also be a Locations Scout. 

A scout will seek permission to film at specific locations, research, and take photos of suitable options for filming working with the Production Designer, Director, Producer and (Location Manager if already hired).

After the Locations are selected for filming, a manager will get all the permits in place for filming, get location agreements signed, work logistics with all the departments, and ensure everyone, including owners, are happy.  

In summary, while both roles are involved in finding suitable locations for filming, a Locations Scout focuses on the creative aspects of research, while a Locations Manager oversees where filming takes place throughout the production.

Any professional tips on how to preserve the integrity of a Filming Location?

Notify all neighbours of filming and always get permission before taking any photos and showing them as options for filming.  And always carry a Scouting Letter to locations to verify who you are. During filming visit the film location to ensure everything is going as planned and assist during prep, filming, and wrap if it isn’t.

Always have a well-written plan with the art departments and others for prep and wrap and filming of location, ie, dates of prep times and wrap days and times. Take care while filming at the location, and always clean up a property and try to restore it the way you found it. Good communication with the owner, the authorities, and neighbours is key, as well as not overstepping the boundaries given at the locations.

When scouting, always carry a letter to identify who you are and what production you are with. Always do callbacks on places you have scouted. Some people get very upset about this when they aren’t called back. It’s a good way to preserve locations for future filming. 

When scouting the City of Winnipeg locations, we must inform the city and Manitoba Film and Music. Before scouting any provincial properties, we must contact our provincial Film Liaison or the respective rural communities. 

Why is this so important to the growth of the Manitoba film industry? 

As more and more productions come here, they will want locations. If we don’t preserve the integrity of a location, then we will run out of places to film and have too many restrictions put on our filming. There are guidelines for filming in Winnipeg and rural municipalities, and MFM has a filming Code of Conduct. 

What are some resources people can seek for training and ways to further develop a career in the locations department?  

Film Training Manitoba has courses to take, and DGC also offers courses with FTM, Winnipeg Film Group.  Outside the province, there are many resources available for filmmakers for locations. LMGI has a course through the Film Liaisons International for Location Managers and has some other courses. I have taken locations and industry training through Screen Skills.  I have also taken some courses through Achieve Centre for Leadership.

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

 I suggest doing the training from Film Training Manitoba and looking out for any training opportunities to take through any of our film colleagues.  Get on set! You can see what the different departments do on set and then pursue different career opportunities in the different areas/departments you wish to pursue. 

Why is learning and training important? 

We are an ever-changing film industry, and keeping up with training and education is always a great idea, especially to understand what the other departments do to better do your job.

Here are some points 

·         You will find an opportunity to explore your creativity.

·         You get to discover the beauty of cinema.

·         You will have access to awesome career opportunities.

·         You will never run out of opportunities.

·         There is always something new to learn.

·         Film is a cooperative art form that offers creatively stimulating work.

·         A career in film can offer an interesting, high-intensity, social lifestyle where no two days are the same.

·         The film industry offers a non-traditional career path where a college degree is unnecessary.

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.