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INDUSTRY TALKS: Spotlight on R.T. Thorne at YUMMS

INDUSTRY TALKS: Spotlight on R.T. Thorne at YUMMS

Article by JJ Mokrzewski for Excalibur

On Friday, February 23, York University Motion Media Studio (YUMMS) held the last of their INDUSTRY TALKS series. Hosted by Associate Professor Ingrid Veninger, the talk featured legendary Canadian filmmaker R.T. Thorne, whose most recent works include the Afrofuturistic sci-fi show Utopia Falls (2020) and CBC’s The Porter (2022).

Director Sharon Lewis discusses film with AMPD Dean Sarah Bay-Cheng.

According to Veninger, the INDUSTRY TALKS (sometimes affectionately referred to as “The Talks”) offer a means “to connect our students, and folks in the greater York community, with people working in on-screen industries.” Alongside providing up-close access to industry professionals, The Talks unlock valuable networking opportunities for students — not only with guests, but with each other.

The five-month series featured special guests Nikki Foy (York U alumni, screenwriting major, lead writer at Ubisoft); Of The Saint (entrepreneur, photographer, videographer); Naomi Jaye (York U alumni, MFA graduate, installation artist/transmedia storyteller); Sharon Lewis (award-winning filmmaker); and, of course, R.T. Thorne (filmmaker, Playback’s 2023 Director of the Year, chair of the national BIPOC committee at the Directors Guild of Canada).

The Talks also offered invaluable insights — especially for students — into the media industry. Personal anecdotes from guests helped students conceptualize the realities of the industry, and to compare their own experiences with that of other professionals.

“Removing barriers, increasing access and opportunity, and building networks…that’s what INDUSTRY TALKS is about,” Veninger says.

Her words were evidenced by the talk with Thorne — a.k.a RT! — which consisted (as did all INDUSTRY TALKS) of a Q & A followed by a social mixer at the YUMMS main stage. Attendees had the chance to talk with RT! and informally mingle while enjoying the free food and beverages.

RT!’s origin story is that of an industrious young man harbouring a love for both music and film. During his time at Ryerson University, RT! would borrow cameras and hone his skills by filming live music events. He acquired the experience and connections to land him a job as an intern for MuchMusic. While he was “in the building” RT! took advantage of MuchMusic’s film library, familiarizing himself with different lenses and lighting techniques.

His innovative learning approach clearly paid off, paving the way for his decade-long, award-winning music video career. From working with artists like Snoop Dogg, Aleesia, Marianas Trench, and Simple Plan, RT! moved into directing film and television before landing his own series, Utopia Falls.

“It’s about discovering the power of music,” RT! said of the show. Set several hundred years in the future, Utopia Falls follows a diverse group of teenagers who unearth a hidden archive of forbidden historical and cultural treasures — including hip-hop music. RT! shared that the idea stemmed from trying to imagine what music would look like in the future. In doing so, RT! unleashed a futuristic image reflective of our current cultural zeitgeist.

“Music speaks to your soul, especially when you’re a young person,” RT! expressed, highlighting the influence music has over the human psyche. “It’s the heart of your rebellion.”

RT! is well-known for creating and directing subversive content, as exemplified by his work on The Porter. And with 40 Acres, his upcoming post-apocalyptic thriller, he will undoubtedly showcase his penchant for fresh, unbridled storytelling.

“The key elements for me in making [40 Acres] is to tell a story about a middle-aged Black woman and her relationship with her son,” RT! disclosed in an interview with Now Toronto. “Obviously it comes from my mother being a very strong presence in my life, but also Black women in many mainstream movies do not play a central role. They don’t get that shine, especially middle age [women]. The industry is very ageist.”

Associate Professor Ingrid Veninger with Director R.T. Thorne

During the Q & A period of the INDUSTRY TALKS, an audience member asked RT! what kind of stories he wants to tell.

“I’m very interested in telling stories that I don’t think I’ve seen,” RT! answered. “It sounds like kind of a cop-out answer, but I really mean that there are human experiences in every place we could possibly look, and so many of them do not get told. Even within my community, there are still stories that are not told. So, I think, the curiosity to find and unearth these stories is what interests me…stories that connect people in the human experience.”

INDUSTRY TALKS is a perfect place to tap into human experience, providing accessibility to the often elusive film industry. The opportunity to visit a real soundstage nestled within the walls of the same building where award-winning shows and features like The Handmaid’s Tale, Umbrella Academy, and The Shape of Water were filmed is unparalleled.

Part of the charm of INDUSTRY TALKS is Veninger herself. With her waggish humour and affable nature, Veninger has crafted a laid-back, safe space where artists can freely exist without judgement or fear. A place where potential can thrive. As she puts it: “In our YUMMS soundstages there is an atmosphere of possibility — if you want to meet new people with a passion for storytelling, this is the place to be.”

All five INDUSTRY TALKS were held at YUMMS, which resides within Cinespace Film Studios in Etobicoke. The York studios were initially made possible through a $2.5 million donation from the Mirkopoulos family, the founders of Cinespace. In 2022, TPG Real Estate Partners gifted YUMMS with an additional $3.12 million. Special thanks are also due to community partners CineCares and OYA Black Arts Coalition, along with frequent partners MBS Equipment Co. and Wiseacre Rentals.

As a result of this collective endeavour, YUMMS is thriving. AMPD students have access to first-rate equipment and use of the soundstage for filming their projects. The space also houses innovative courses like “Shooting the Set” and “Creative Producing for the Media Industries.”

When asked if INDUSTRY TALKS would continue, Veninger reveals: “Yes, we plan to start them up again in September 2024.” But that doesn’t mean YUMMS is slowing down. Another event, WORLD-BUILDING WITH SOUND, is slated for April 18, 2024 and, like INDUSTRY TALKS, it will be free to the public.

WORLD-BUILDING WITH SOUND offers “an outstanding opportunity to learn from an expert panel, and explore the ways sonic world-building can elevate our artistic work. With unique approaches to constructing narrative through sound, we hope to engage an audience, encompassing students, scholars, artists, podcasters, and producers.” And the event will, no doubt, provide another chance to network and get inspired by other creatives.

“I’ve often heard stories about people meeting for the first time at INDUSTRY TALKS and securing an opportunity to work on a film set, or discover a new creative collaborator, or sharing new ideas with like-minded cinephiles,” Veninger relates. “Meaningful connections came out of every event, and the audiences were so enthusiastic. Every INDUSTRY TALKS featured a robust Q & A — that was my favourite part.”

INDUSTRY TALKS with Ingrid Veninger and R.T. Thorne certainly lived up to its hype. At the end of the Q & A, RT! left the audience with one big takeaway. “Always take the meeting,” he advised, adding, “and be honest.”

To stay informed about upcoming events at YUMMS, click here or follow @yorkmotion on Instagram.

RSVP to yumms@yorku.ca if you’re interested in attending the WORLD-BUILDING WITH SOUND event on April 18, 2024 from 6–9 p.m. More information can be found here.

Read the full article here.

All Photos courtesy of Kingsley Wong