I recently had the fabulous opportunity to attend the 20th Anniversary of the Spotlight Awards for Women in Film and Television Vancouver. It was a tremendous honour to be in the company of so many talented women on a night that they are recognized for their contribution to film and television. The gowns were spectacular and the bonding was an exercise in class and sister support. It reminded me of my mom’s own tenacity for agency and independence. Unfortunately I wasn’t there for the awards ceremony but I did hear that there was some tear jerking moments. I was there for the privilege of speaking with some of the nominations being recognized that night. Although the night was dedicated to the very talented women in the film and television industry, there were also some men in attendance that were also being recognized for their part in bridging the gap for equality in this industry.
The jazz band began to play sweet music as the room started to resemble a colourful bouquet of flowers. The mood music had been carved out and the conversations well established. It was go time and my radar was switched on. As I scanned the room for my selected subjects to speak with I was approached by a very elegantly dressed lady in a stunning red dress. It was of course the host and MC for the night, Morgan Brayton.
Morgan Brayton is an award winning comedian/actress and the founder/creator of The Lady Show as well as acting in over 50 productions. Multi-talented and dressed to kill, I was looking forward to the opportunity to speak with this mega talented host.
“You are the creator of The Lady Show, what does it mean to you to be asked to MC tonight?”
“It’s pretty exciting because it is the 20th anniversary and a pretty big deal. There’s a great buzz around it. I was on set this weekend and lots of people were like, ‘the Spotlight Awards are coming up, the Spotlight Awards’ so it’s a real honour to MC tonight.”
“Have you been asked to MC before?”
“Not for this event but for various other events around town and across the country. I’m really looking forward to tonight.”
“Can we expect any surprises tonight?”
“Well, if I told you it wouldn’t be a surprise (laughter). It’s such a ‘choc o’ block’ show that I’m just going to try and keep the show moving. You know how these things go, people get up there thinking they will only talk for 30 seconds and before you know it they’re running into their seventh minute. It’s not about me though; I’m here to be charming and hopefully funny and keep moving things along but there’s always something wacky that happens at these events. It’s very moving, every time you’re acknowledging someone for the work that they do that comes from the heart, it can become quite emotional. I suspect it will be a night full of laughs with a little choking up here and there. My family is here tonight and known for crying at the drop of a hat, so if you look over, you just might see tears running down my face.”
“Are you wearing waterproof make-up tonight?”
“Yes I am but I’ll probably cry it right off. In my family it just flows (laughter).”
“As a host, there must be a lot of improv that goes along with that territory. Have you mastered improv?”
“My improv, in terms of what people perceive as theatre sports is terrible. I took an improv class and became so anxious I quit half way through. I really need to know what the rules are; I need to know what the parameters are and I need to know who’s in charge. This is a bit of a different animal because I’m in charge and that’s my job. The audience needs to know that someone’s manning the ship and that’s my role. When I first started out I used to over prepare because I was so nervous about improvising. I’ve been doing it for many years now to realize that the magic happens when you just roll with it. I always come with stuff prepared and then roll with it for the rest of the night.”
“You really look amazing tonight and if I could ask one more question, skydiving or hot-air ballooning?”
“Oh god, did you not hear that I’m anxious (laughter)? Those both sound absolutely terrifying to me and I feel like the world is dangerous enough as is and I don’t need to go looking for trouble (laughter).”
“Maybe I should’ve added fishing as a third option?”
“Not fishing either, I’m a vegan (laughter).”
Talking to Morgan Brayton was an absolute blast. Honesty, integrity and veracity are in good supply. It’s easy to see why she is the perfect choice as host for tonight’s amazing event.
My next guest that I was lucky enough to approach was Lily Hui. She’s been involved in film and television for the last 30 years. She recently won a Leo Award for Best Dramatic Series, Unspeakable and was nominated for best Television movie, Cocaine Godmother. She is also the winner of the Finalé Jury Award Outstanding Career.
“Is this your first time here being presented with an award?”
“It is. It’s quite a surprise actually.”
“You’ve been involved as a producer and executive producer in TV and film for many years. What kinds of elements would a show need to have to grab your attention and want to get involved?”
“Usually I like to read the script but for me it’s about story and character. Preferably if they could have some global impact, even better. At the end of the day, it’s great to promote positive global changes but it is entertainment. For those that aren’t in entertainment and have regular jobs, when they come home from a long day or in their down time they want entertainment. Whether that’s going for a walk or seeing a movie with a loved one, they want to be entertained. To be entertained they need a story and great characters to grab their attention. If they can enjoy an hour or two of entertainment then I’ve done my job.”
“Have you done more producing than executive producing?”
“I’ve been producing in various formats. I actually started LP’ing (line producing) in commercials. I’ve done casting for commercials, producing, project managing and from there have gone onto indie films, indie features and television. Everything from the office to producing and finally arriving at a place where studios and show-runners are trusting the fact that you can have a creative input which in turn gives me the title of executive producer because I’m contributing to a creative process. Because I’m dealing with budgets also, we’ve got to figure out how to tell the story and bring the script to life within the budget parameters and that can sometimes be difficult. Sometimes it’s being creative in finding the right locations, hiring the right people and the right cast that can all come together to give us that creativity without breaking the bank. I’ve been through all the stages in my career and I’ve loved every position because it’s all about learning. In every position you’re learning something new.”
“Do you have a preference between network and films?”
“No, I have a preference for the story or the script and that’s most important to me.”
“You were the producer for Cocaine Godmother. What was that like?”
“Yes, I was producer for that and Catherine Zeta Jones was lovely. It was based on a true story and true character so it was very interesting. That’s what I love about this business; you get to find so many stories that you wouldn’t otherwise know about and bring those stories to life in a television show as well as broadcasting to other people so they can also enjoy these stories. You sometimes hear about other characters, the more infamous ones. This is really the first time I’ve been wowed and thought, ‘what an interesting character’. I’ve just finished with Unspeakable, which is an 8 hour mini series. It’s about the tainted blood scandal inside the Red Cross back in the ‘80’s. It was another interesting story I’d heard about in the news and remembered thinking that it sounded sad. I didn’t realize how many people I actually new that were connected to that incident. There were parents, uncles, friends that were all affected. It was such an amazing project to work on.”
“Do you work a lot with US studios?”
“In Vancouver there are a lot of us that work for American studios because the majority of our industry is in Vancouver. There have been other shows though that were Canadian, such as UnReal. It was a bit of a behind the scenes look at what a dating show might look like. It was a show within a show and there were times when you didn’t know if this was life imitating art or art imitating life. It was more about the behind the scenes and the darker side of manipulating contestants and other elements.”
“One more question, I’m not sure who wrote this but, hot-air ballooning or skydiving?”
“(Laughter) I would like to try both actually. I have to say that skydiving is probably on my bucket list. It would have to be tandem because if I did it myself I’d probably forget to pull the chord. Hot-air ballooning just looks so cool especially on a nice clear beautiful day to be up there… I’ve seen them in Calgary when I lived there and was making commercials. I almost did it back then.”
My next guest was Mayumi Yoshida. She is a bit of a newcomer to writing and filmmaking. Her 10-minute film, Akashi has won multiple awards. She is young and bound to inspire many others her age to discover filmmaking. She is being presented with the Encore Newcomer Award.
“You made a short film called Akashi which tells the story of a granddaughter visiting her grandmother in Japan. Was it inspired by true events?”
“It was loosely based on a true story. Over lunch my mom had told me that my grandmother had another lover, which then opened up a whole new world and it expanded from there. I had just moved to Vancouver and had a very different experience with relationships compared to my grandmother. Listening to stories of her commitment and how dating was so different back then. She was in an arranged marriage, so there really wasn’t a dating period. The story is really about the themes of relationships back then compared to todays dating world while finding universal truths and also some similarities is what truly inspired the story.”
“Since your film has won the Storyhive competition has it opened more opportunities for you?”
“Akashi has been the gift that keeps on giving. I’ve won a Matrix Award for Women in Film, Outstanding Writer at the BC Short film festival and so many more awards. It actually led me to a presentation as Stage Manager and Agent for acting, writing and directing. That has led me to meetings with executives in the US and I’m now in the process of developing Akashi into a feature, so it really has opened so many doors. I also finished directing my fifth short film in April.”
“Would you say that your films have a common theme?”
“Yes, it’s usually about my family and identity. I’m from Japan but have lived in North America for 9 years now. My perspective is very different as a Japanese person that also feels Asian Canadian. I get to experience both sides and so a lot of my characters are somewhere in the middle, whether it’s identity issues, age or gender.”
“Do you find that your cultural background is a strength and gives you more to write about?”
“I turn it into a strength. I used to feel that it made me less somehow but now I actually feel empowered by it and that it’s a big part of my identity. Ever since I’ve been able to embrace that I’ve been able to be more clear with my voice.”
“Who would you say is your audience?”
“Anyone who’s interested in the perspective of a female voice. I think it ranges across all ages really. Some of my cast are in their 70’s and 80’s; everybody has a story.”
My next and final guest was Robert Wong. He is Vice President at Creative BC, which always has their finger on the pulse of most films and television shot in BC. Many filmmakers are indebted for the support and guidance Creative BC offers and Robert Wong is a huge part of their success as well as being a tremendous support for women’s films made in BC. He is being recognized for his contributions in strengthening female voices and creating a legacy of inclusive programming at Creative BC. He is receiving the Honoured Friend Award and his suit looked amazing. Dare I ask where he found it? Hmn…
“You are championing for more diversity and inclusivity in films as well as other forms of media?”
“Yes, Creative BC not only supports motion picture but it also supports magazine publishing, digital media and music industries. When you talk about diversity and gender equality at the workplace, it spans across all creative sectors.”
“Why is it important to have more diversity in multiple forms of media?”
“Media needs to reflect the society we live in now, not only in BC but all over the world and not just in content but also the people.”
“Do you ever see a day where a person with a disability might be recognized for their contributions to acting, directing or producing?”
“Definitely, I think when we talk about diversity and inclusivity it includes differently abled people as much as it includes colour and gender, so it’s definitely something we want to see and it’s not too far off.”
“How does Creative BC ensure that diversity and inclusivity continue to be represented in media?”
“Well, what we are is really a funding agency, so when we are talking to other organizations about their needs and what they are working on we will want to see what their diversity and inclusivity policies are to ensure they are inline with BC’s policies.”
“What type of satisfaction comes from championing equality across all forms of media?”
“For me, I don’t always feel like I’m championing diversity because it’s part of my DNA, it’s what I see. What I do love about it is, we get to see on the screen, hear in the music and what we read in our books is being created by people of colour, people with different abilities and people from the LGBTQ community and to hear all those different voices that reflect our society. I feel that there is better representation when we truly see ourselves in this media.”
“What do you see as long term impacts of more inclusivity and diversity?”
“I think for us as a funding and developing agency is that it’s going to drive more business and economic activity in the green sector. When there’s more diversity and inclusivity in our media, from our end we are looking at the economic impact. It really is to create more business activity. That’s what we hope the long term impact will be.”
It was terrific being able to speak with a small handful of award winners on this very special night. It is dedicated to the women that have changed the face of film and television, as well as the men that have helped them reach their level of success. There is still much work to do before the playing fields have been leveled. It is our absolute pleasure to be able to support and promote their quest for agency and equality.