Reel Career Profile Series: Leona Krahn

Leona Krahn is a Winnipeg filmmaker whose award-winning body of work spans over 20 years. Her films (documentary and narrative short) have screened on The Documentary Channel, CBC Newsworld, CBC, CTV, Bell MTS, WTN and on networks in Poland, Hong Kong etc. Festival showings include the Socially Relevant Film Festival in NYC, Harlem International Film Festival, NH Docs in New Haven, CT, Montreal World Film Festival, Festival Mental in Portugal to name a few. She strives to create meaningful, affecting, and entertaining programs that will long be remembered. She is a current Banff Sparks Fellow, and a member of the DGC and Canadian Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television.

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

I got my start in the industry around 1997 when I was hired on a marketing contract with Buffalo Gal Pictures. As part of my job, I was fortunate to attend Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto where I was exposed to some amazing documentaries. I was so impressed that I wanted to direct/produce one myself. Soon after, I had an idea, a fundraising plan and a great DOP (Cliff Hokanson) who I met while working as a copywriter for some local ad agencies.  I quickly raised $20,000 and got to work. Once completed, I sent the rough cut to Joe McDonald of the NFB. He loved it and encouraged me to send it to the Commissioning Editor of Rough Cuts at CBC Newsworld, who acquired it, WTN and in addition to a national network in Poland and CBC 24-Hours (a shorter version) during Sweeps thanks to the support of then Senior Producer Cecil Rosner who really got behind the doc and encouraged me to do more. The doc also went on to win several international awards – so I caught the filmmaking bug. 

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

I continue to produce and direct documentaries (along with award-winning producer/executive producer Kyle Bornais as well as others, corporate videos/commercials and shorts. I have also worked on some of the bigger movies in the casting, locations, AD depts. I enjoy producing, writing/directing, and guiding a film from a mere idea to a completed show, which is then hopefully widely distributed.

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

I would tell myself you have chosen an exciting industry where dreams can come true. You never know what’s around the corner but that can be a good thing. It will be discouraging as well as you will get your share of “nos” and pitches that don’t immediately go where you want them to. However, there’s always another chance to try again with a new idea, fresh concept. The sky is really the limit. Seize whatever opportunities present themselves no matter how small to get experience and meet people. A PA who worked on my first short is now a seasoned, award-winning producer in his own right. There’s a good chance that those who give their time and contribute on your films could be the ones to hire you on a project down the road. Treat everyone equally and with respect so that the experience is beneficial to all involved. Everyone is learning and perfecting their craft and wants the end result to be something they can champion and be proud of. It’s very important to build/find a team you like to work with. Find people with complementary skills, energy and enthusiasm that keep the filmmaking process enjoyable. 

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

Sign up for all the workshops and training you can. I don’t have a film degree but have taken too many seminars/workshops to count, maybe 50 over the years. FTM has provided much of the training I’ve needed, in addition to workshops I’ve taken at Maine Media Workshops, Banff Sparks Business Program and diverse industry conferences. With FTM, I’ve taken directing workshops with acting coach Judith Weston from LA, directing with John Paiz, producing with Liz Jarvis, one-on-one consultations with producer Merit Jensen-Carr (all of whom I admire so much), screenwriting, pitching and many more. 

Other advice: I heard Michael Moore speak at NH Docs New Haven Documentary Film Festival at Yale University a couple of years ago where I had a film showing and they were doing a retrospective on his career. Moore insists, “always make a movie, not a documentary,” as a movie is by definition a cinematic, immersive experience whereas a documentary isn’t always. Entertain no matter what. “Take your viewer on a visceral roller-coaster ride every single time,” is another tip I learned in a workshop early on, something I strive to apply to every film.

Why is learning and training important?

Learning and training help you to further your craft, learn new ways of doing things and one of the biggest benefits – meet new colleagues.

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

My career path has included both film work and communications work. In between films, I worked as an advertising copywriter, Fundraising and Events Manager for the WSO and Concordia Hospital Foundation, as an outreach worker and later board member for NorWest Co-op Community Health, as a researcher and then Senior Communications Officer for CBC Manitoba and as a freelance journalist for the Winnipeg Free PressUptownChatelaine etc. Each role led to future opportunities down the road and provided insight and ideas for film projects. I hold an undergraduate degree in Religion and Sociology and a MSc in Print Journalism. Having a foundation in the humanities / arts is a great basis for any film, journalism or communications work. You need to be curious, have an appetite for story and a desire to share that story in a creative, provocative way.

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

There are so many people in this industry I admire and would love to work with, too many to mention.  I’ve had the great fortune of working with one of them already, Guy Maddin, who I observed on My Winnipeg where I was a Third AD. It was the experience of a lifetime to observe him in action and his laidback but creative directing style. He was always chill and his set felt collaborative and positive, a joy to be on. Another highlight was watching the artistry of cinematographer Roger Deakins when I was an extras casting assistant on The Assassination of Jesse James by Hollywood giant Warner Bros.   As a casting assistant, I had full access to the 1800’s Exchange District set and an up-close chance to observe Mr. Deakins work his magic. That was something I will also never forget.

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.