This series aims to raise the profile of female media creators, artists, and decision-makers with the goal of facilitating open dialogue and proposing concrete action (“the ask”) towards achieving equality and inclusion in the media industries – and society at large. Read more here. Visit the inaugural "ask" here.
Brianne Nord-Stewart has been making a name for herself in the comedy sphere with award-winning shorts like Trolls (2009), The Provider (2011), and most recently, Beat Around the Bush (2016), which picked up Best Comedy Short at the Arizona Int’l Film Festival, Best Short at the Broad Humor Festival, and was Leo-nominated for Best Female Performance. Brianne directed and produced the webseries Young & Reckless, which won Best Editing at Hollyweb Fest, Best International Web Series at Pilot Light TV Festival, and was Leo-nominated for Best Male Performance. She recently launched the webseries The Dangers of Online Dating which she created, wrote, and directed, and got banned from Tinder for trying to promote it. A Women in the Director's Chair alumnus, Brianne has also received Shaw Media’s Fearless Female Director Award, The Harold Greenburg Fund’s Shorts-to-Features Award, and recently the Newcomer Award from the WIFTV Vancouver Spotlight Awards. Brianne recently signed with agents/managers Meridian Artists in Toronto as a director.
I pursued a career as a filmmaker because I’m a person with a sense of adventure and a curiosity for learning. Filmmaking allows me to pursue both. I’m still here because I found my voice as a writer.
When I applied for film school I had no idea I was going to be that filmmaker who was super passionate about dark comedies about taboo and “uncivilized” topics. But it turns out that’s what I’m interested in, in film and in life. Most of the conversations my characters are having on screen I’ve already had in real life, or with myself in my head. I’m a questioner. And if no one has a satisfactory answer or point of view to satisfy me, well then I’m going to explore it myself. And make it funny.
Who inspired you to pursue this path?
The independent woman in me cringes at this answer but… it was my first longer-than-two-weeks high school boyfriend who inspired me to pursue filmmaking. We had a film and video class in high school - where I met said older boyfriend – and he was graduating and applying to film school and I thought, “Huh. I can go to film school?” followed shortly after by, “Man I hope my dad’s cool if I don’t go to Med-school.” Cue Jaws music… Until then it had never occurred to me that that was a possibility. Shout out to Andrew Scholotiuk (and his mom Carol)!
What are you working on? What do you wish you had an opportunity to work on?
Currently, I’m working on marketing and releasing my webseries The Dangers of Online Dating (DOOD). It’s about a sexual health nurse with a fear of casual sex consequences who decides to break her sexual drought by jumping into online dating. Our launch party was packed and the audience was so dang loud with laughs, and groans, and guffaws, and shouts of “Paula! What are you doing? Don’t do it!”. Being able to focus my time on that this year has really been amazing. Yes, it’s very difficult to produce indie content in Vancouver right now because there are 360-some productions paying tier one rates to crew and no one is available for low-budget. BUT I’ve found my stride, I know my mission, I’m more focused, and I’m using my voice. I’ve got stories to tell and I’ve met some rad creators I want to collaborate with.
People who follow me on the social medias often comment about how much I’m “killing it”. Yes, I am making a living working on my own projects, but I have a lot of goals I haven’t achieved yet. I want to direct freaking television. I want to write and direct a killer first feature film that puts me on the map as Canada’s breakout filmmaking talent, and one Hollywood should be watching. I want to make some serious freaking cash directing commercials, specifically ones that strengthen people instead of manufacturing insecurities. I would love to work in a legit writer’s room and get myself on the road to showrunning. In short, continue with my passions and also make the elephant bucks. That’s easy, right?
Tell us about a barrier that you faced in your career and how you overcame it (or didn't). What did you learn from this experience? What advice would give others?
I don’t know how to break in and make that freaking dinero. I’ve been meeting agents for years who say “we love your work” and then “down the line we’d love to work with you, but we can’t sell you just yet”. That’s my main frustration. I keep proving myself over and over and I need someone on my team who helps me focus my attention and create a plan to achieve what I’m going after.
On being a woman in film: I am fully aware of the wage gap and gender disparity when it comes to percentages of blockbuster directors, but I’ve never thought “I didn’t get that job because I’m a woman”. Instead, I channel my energy into creating and producing my own projects. I see something I want to do and I think, “I can do that”. I owe a thank you to many women who came before and started paving the way for gender parity. Most of my experience on set is on my own set and I dictate the tone for how the work day is going to go. Anything that knocks people down or infringes upon people’s safety isn’t tolerated.
You want to be a filmmaker? Write something, shoot it, edit it, and watch it with a group of people. That’s the best way to learn and develop your own voice.
What actions would you ask the community, industry, or society at large to take in order to break down barriers, and create opportunities for women and diverse voices?
For networks and financiers, put your money where your mouth is. Underdogs have had to work that much harder to get where they are. They are tough, they know how to multi-task and get shit done. Women have shown up to work, fed their babies, loved their partners, and have foreseen a way to avoid a million minor catastrophes every day, all while their uteruses are trying to kill themselves once a month. We’re badass. We’re also the consumer who wants badass stories. So support the underdog: we’ll watch and you’ll still make a bunch of money.
If you’re a new filmmaker, aspire to create greater work than you think you are capable of, and greater than the resources at your disposal. It’s a creative job. How can you make the story simpler to achieve from a financial and logistical perspective, and more powerful from a character one? If you’re creating work that is “good enough” for a student film, or first film, or “good enough” under the circumstances, that’s just not good enough. Period. No matter what you are up against, the film should be the best it can possibly be, PLUS that extra 20% of personal blood, sweat, and tears.
Unicorn farts and fairy dust could be helpful too. Who’s got some?
Every individual has the power to effect change. What actions have you taken or will take to champion inclusiveness and break down barriers for others?
I’m not sure that anything I’ve done to “effect change” was done in a conscious manner. Honestly, I’ve just thought, who is the best person for the project, what can I afford, and who can help me stretch this dollar?
It so happens that the two cinematographers I have repeatedly worked with are women. It so happens that the creators and writers I have worked with are all women. And it so happens that a lot of the characters I have created and written are women. I want to make work I care about with people I trust.
In the future, I need to do more to include more significant roles for people of colour, non-binary individuals, and those who are differently-abled on screen and off. I’m thinking forward to hiring a wide variety of voices in my writers rooms (and I should have one soon, right?) Diversity can only make the work stronger.
EDIT NOTE FROM MY ASSISTANT: “Brianne doesn’t realize she’s absolutely a mentor. In an industry where there are many gatekeepers, she’s incredibly giving with her time and knowledge and lifts people up. She’s eager to share, collaborate, and give critical feedback.” – Caitlin McCarthy
This series is called “The Ask.” If you were to request one thing that would help your career or project right now, what would that be?
I would like a manager. [Update: Brianne recently signed with Meridian Artists]. Who knows a good one who wants to work with a driven no-bullshit director, who has fierce vision, mad snowboarding skills, the ability to befriend 200 strangers, and makes killer pico de gallo? Drinks on me.
I want to a TV directing gig.
I want Reese Witherspoon to option BEAT AROUND THE BUSH and collaborate with me on it as my climactic debut feature.
How can the community connect with you?
Twitter @bnordstewart, Instagram @bnordstewart, and www.Nord-Stewart.com.