Being able to do what you love is not always achievable, however there are those that do find the path less travelled. Through instinct, prowess and determination they’ve discovered their dreams are obtainable as well as capable of paying the bills. When you run into them and ask how work was, they usually tell you that it’s hard to call it work when you enjoy it so much.
It’s always inspiring to hear about their journey and the obstacles they overcame to reach their success. It’s not always about the money but it is about your level of happiness and satisfaction.
Madi Graves is an actress, a writer, director and part of the team at Girl North Studios. She’s been acting since the age of 10 and has completed a two-year acting program at the William Esper Studio in New York before returning home to Toronto. Madi has recently appeared in the TV series Evil Nature as the edgy ghost-hunter Carol, Brawlywood (2017), as the ever-sweet Selena Gomez and the short Street Stained (2017) as the bipolar waitress, Rose. Madi is consistently among the top 10 most viewed actors on Casting Call Pro Canada.
I recently had the unique pleasure of speaking with her in Toronto about Girl North Studios to find out the skinny.
“You’ve been acting since the age of 10. What was the inspiration for transitioning to Girl North Studios?”
“It’s really interesting because it’s something that’s been on my mind. I’d been writing awhile and had expressed interest in directing. I’ve always loved working with women and had gone to an all girls’ high school growing up. I happened to be auditioning for a project for Girl North Studios and at that time there were only two girls working for the company. After the audition I ended up joining them. We got along great and had instant chemistry, like best friends would. They were like, ‘hey, do you want to join us and have a chance at producing, directing and acting in the stuff that we’re doing?’ I was all about it and consider myself very lucky.”
“How many people are on the team?”
“We have five women on the board of directors and are expanding out from there. We have people that we hire out as contractors, working as our DP, Lighting, Sound, Editing and other jobs. Our team is rapidly expanding and we do work with men as well; it’s not exclusive to women although most of our ideas are female driven and about triumphant Canadian women stories or expressing the female point of view.”
“Is everyone on the team writers, directors and producers?”
“We have a mix of people who are actors, actor/director/writers, some of us like to produce more, some of us also DP as well, so it’s a great mix of different people with varying interests and talents. We’re all pretty curious and eager to learn so we’re always seeing what we can do in the next project that we haven’t tried yet, to understand the full machine of filmmaking.”
“Considering you’re more established as a studio, is it easier to go after financing?”
“We’re progressing quite quickly with that. We have also come up with some interesting ways to finance our passion projects. We’ve started up a demo reel company for actors. It’s been pretty popular in Toronto for actors that aren’t getting represented in the way that they’d want to in the content they’re getting cast in. It’s an opportunity to create their own brand for their demo reel. It’s been fun for us cause it’s also another chance for us to be on set and explore/jump into different roles on set.”
“As a writer/actor, do you co-write with the rest of the team?”
“It definitely depends on the project. I recently wrote and directed my first short but when it comes to the demo reels, we’ll collaborate and sometimes have up to three writers on a project. We’re very lucky that we all operate in a similar way although we’re different creatively. We’re figuring out how to meld our creative minds together but it really comes down to the project and figuring it out from there.”
“Has Girl North Studios produced a feature film?”
“Hopefully within the next couple of years we will. We’re currently in the early stages of pre production for a comedy web series that we’re hoping to shoot in 2019. We’re focusing on passion projects at the moment.”
“What types of genres do you like to write in?”
“It really depends because all of our partners are interested in different things. Our CEO Cassäundra Sloan is interested in Sci-fi and has a really cool series called Vampires For Breakfast that she’s developing to be shot in the next couple of years. I’m personally very interested in really honest simple human drama. As an actress, I loved Hillary Swanks performance in Million Dollar Baby so I got into kickboxing and the UFC through my brother. One day I’d love to write a part for myself about a fighter that’s a woman overcoming a big life obstacle. I find those stories most inspiring. Stories that have universal themes that make us feel more connected and make us feel like we’re not alone. We strive to speak from a universal voice and to tell the truth in everything we make/do.”
“Do you have a favourite department of filmmaking you enjoy more than the others?”
“I actually feel like a beginner in every aspect. I absolutely loved directing and thought it was a blast but I also love writing and the business side of producing. It’s really hard to say because I’m a very keen learner and it’s been a very humbling experience to not have all the answers and to work with people that are more experienced, talented and more knowledgeable than I am. The learning process has been most rewarding.”
“What does the future hold for Girl North Studios?”
“Hopefully we’ll have a much bigger team that’s expanded with passionate men and women we get to work with. One of the biggest blessings that’s come out of this, is the relationships we’ve built, the friendships and the comradery. That’s such a beautiful part of being on set and being an artist in general and being able to create. The goal is to grow our team and reach more people with our content as well as continuing to develop work that’s honest, relevant and meaningful. We’d like to get our films into some of the bigger festivals such as TIFF, Sundance, Cannes and possibly movie theatres.”
“Do you have any films coming out in the near future?”
“A short film that I wrote and directed is called Nell. We’ll be having our first private screening in December. We’re almost finished post production and hoping to hit the festival circuit in 2019.”
Madi’s dad is the former NY Rangers hockey player Adam Graves and I did ask if she’d ever considered having him in one of her films. She said she hadn’t but did have her mom in her last film. Her dad was on set the entire time and was very supportive throughout the production.
Nearing the end of our conversation, Madi Graves tells me that she’s been an avid reader of Hollywood North Magazine. It’s always great to know that our support for Canadian filmmakers is getting noticed and appreciated. We hope that Girl North Studios continues to grow and create amazing films with a great message. They stand to inspire many other girls and women into choosing a career in filmmaking.