April 21, 2017

man seated across table from three younger people, in conversation
From left: Meridien Artists President Glenn Cockburn speaks with 4th year screenwriting students Phoebe Gibb, Bryan Mark and Sean Dowie.

Fourth-year screenwriting majors and MFA candidates in the Graduate Program in Screenwriting had the opportunity to pitch their feature film and television projects to leading industry professionals at a Screenwriting Career Day held March 27 in York’s Department of Cinema & Media Arts.

During the two-and-a-half hour session, the students moved from table to table (“like speed dating, only slower”, someone quipped) to present their ideas. They received valuable feedback from seven top industry insiders of the Canadian film and media scene:

  • Tina Horowitz, founder and president of Vanguarde Artists Management, an agency  representing many of Canada’s most sought-after showrunners, screenwriters, directors, cinematographers, line producers, editors and production designers
From left: TV producer Virginia Rankin and showrunner Peter Mohan listen to a pitch by student Connor Savage (centre right).
  • Virginia Rankin, executive producer of English-language productions for indie TV production company Sphere Media Plus, whose credits include the series This Life, 19-2, Flashpoint and Hard Rock Medical
  • Peter Mohan, a pre-eminent Canadian showrunner, producer and writer (Orphan Black, The Listener, Lost Girl)
  • Karen Harnisch, producer of the internationally acclaimed, multi-award-winning Cannes Festival selection and Toronto International Film Festival hit movie, Sleeping Giant
  • Glenn Cockburn, founder and president of Meridian Artists, a literary agency based in Toronto and Los Angeles that manages the careers of numerous award-winning screen-based writers, directors and producers
  • Laura Notarianni, senior director of Scripted Programming at Temple Street Productions, whose credits include the TV series The Next Step, X Company, Killjoys and Orphan Black
Two women sitting at a table across from a young man, listening and taking notes
Laura Notarianni (left) and Rua Wani of Temple Street Productions listen to a pitch by student Jason Anderson
  • Rua Wani, development manager at Temple Street.

Cockburn (BFA 1990) and Notarianni (BFA 2009) are both alumni of the Department of Cinema & Media Arts. Cockburn graduated from the film production program, and Notarianni studied both production and screenwriting at York.

“The event came off without a hitch,” said screenwriting Professor Howard Wiseman, who conceived, produced and hosted the event with contract faculty member Maureen Dorey. “There was a real buzz in the room. It was exciting for our rising screenwriters to meet the industry pros and draw on their insights and experience. The pros, in turn, were impressed by our students and the projects they put forward.”

Three young people sitting in conversation at a time. Another group in background
From left: MFA screenwriting students Lina Roessler, Jonathan Clancy and Josh Boles
Two women sitting at a table, listening intently
Film producer Karen Harnisch (left) and Vanguarde Artists President Tina Horowitz

Several of the participating students have since had inquiries from agents, and continue to keep in touch with the professionals they met at the Screenwriting Career Day, Wiseman said. “As a networking and development opportunity, it’s great for both sides. Ultimately, these are long-term relationships that we’re building.”

Wiseman is an award-winning writer, story editor and director whose productions include adaptations of Mordecai Richler’s Barney Version (CBC Radio) and St. Urbain’s Horseman (CBC TV), and the television series True Crimes and Masterminds. He frequently serves as a coach for Telefilm’s feature film “Pitch This” at TIFF. Dorey, who has taught at York since 2010, is a story editor and script analyst whose credits include the prize-winning feature films Siddhartha, Blackbird and Oscar nominee In Darkness.

York’s Department of Cinema & Media Arts offers Canada’s only Screenwriting BFA program, and its Graduate Program in Screenwriting is the only one of its kind in the country.