Comweb’s Courteous Contribution and Biju Pappachan’s Point of View on POV – Interview

Toronto, a city in the province of Ontario, in Canada, a country of diversity. But how come diversity isn’t widely recognized in film? Have you ever noticed how Hallmark’s Christmas movie posters ALL look the SAME? Or have you noticed what film crews generally consist of? From my point of view, I’ve seen some good variety in Vancouver, but from POV’s point of view, a little more or even a LOT more diversity and variety of the BIPOC community would make equality in the film industry stand out more and be visible. I honestly don’t know what Toronto’s film industry is like but I hope someday to be living out there (it sounds like a cool place). Film schools are expensive (mine was $100 a day) and breaking into the industry isn’t as easy as you think (I was a nobody before this website and didn’t even know what I was going to do) especially for certain individuals who have strong creativity but not much recognition. Nothing will help them out better than POV programming, which provides technical training with equipment, developing social skills and so many more essential skills one needs to thrive and survive. Recently, Paul Bronfman of Comweb made a generous donation to POV programming with a total of a quarter million dollars. This is going to mean great improvements and even greater things for students enrolled in the courses. POV’s Executive Director Biju Pappachan had a lot to tell me about both the program and what this donation means for their program and gave me a fair amount of education. Much like POV Programming does, really.


HNMAG: How did POV originate?

Biju: POV began in 2004 from E.D. Weiss who ran a commercial production company called Radke Film Group. At that time she had seen there weren’t a lot of diverse creative individuals in the industry. She recognized an opportunity to provide training by leveraging her network of industry contacts to come and do the training and provide pathways of employment for young diverse creatives across the diversity spectrum. Such as LGBTQ creatives, newcomer creatives, and over the years the program evolved to offer technical training support, social services skills development, and mentorship social capital development. That all culminated into them getting employment at a production company, at an agency, or in content production as a whole. They sort of iterated that program over a decade or so and that is what the media training program now is. One of POV’s flagship programs, it’s 6 months long. It trains 20 creatives and it basically takes them through the process of creating a content idea in their mind to developing something that can be put onto a screen. 


HNMAG: What other programs do you offer to the creatives?

Biju: Alongside the media training program, 2 years ago we started a partnership with the city of Toronto’s film office. The Director’s Guild of Canada and POV came together for something called ‘The Production Assistance Training Program’ or what we call the PA Program. The PA program is 8 weeks long and it’s meant to teach diverse creatives how to become production assistants in the city. POV does all the technical training and all of that is not just talking heads sitting in a classroom. It’s all experiential, going into studios, using industry equipment. Whites International is one of the largest equipment rental companies in Canada and one of our partners. They come and give us industry equipment that we train these young people on. Then we partner with production companies who hire these kids as PA’s onto their production sets. This is meant as an entry point to the industry to get young people exposed to the idea of what it means to be a PA. Quite frankly the lack of diversity in the film centre prompted this initiative. We work with the city of Toronto on this initiative for this year and working with kids having access to social services. Those kids tend to be kids who are further removed from employment and we saw an opportunity to train them with the technical skills required to get them out of the social services system but at the same time, increasing diversity and representation within the industry by providing access points for these young creatives to break in the industry. All of our programs come with jobs, mentorship, and the development of social capitals and networks. This year we ran a new program called Envision and this is for people who are breaking into the industry, not necessarily sure what they want to do but are interested in content creation. The Envision program, over a course of 4 weeks is meant to get them introduced to what it means to be a content creator and to think about what storytelling and visual content creation might look like and then to find if that’s something they’re interested in. If it isn’t, that’s fine for us too because we’ve considered the fact that they’ve come to explore their career options through our program. What happens is a lot of them end up going into our PA program or our Media Training program. At the end of last year and around the beginning of this year, we also began a partnership with the Toronto Film School, Bell Media, Project 10, and RedLab TO, which is bringing together 6 scholarships for graduates of the POV program. Now we’re able to provide an educational pathway as well as a career pathway for our young creatives who want to learn more or train more or break into the industry.


HNMAG: And how do creatives become a part of these programs?

Biju: We do a basic outreach online, but unfortunately the demand far outweighs our ability to deliver. Just right now, word of mouth is enough, and even now we’re getting a ton of applicants. But I think that speaks to something else that people don’t realize is how many talented creatives exist in Toronto and the fact that diversity is a pipeline that can be tapped into to address some of the labour shortages in the industry. I’m very interested in positioning POV to scale to meet the needs of this TV/film production industry which is booming in Toronto. Over a million square footage of studio space is slated to be finished by the end of this year, and they’re all going to be needed to work in these spaces. Productions are coming into the city, more and more productions are asking for their crew to reflect the city of Toronto and there hasn’t been a concerted effort to make that yet. So POV is acting as a convener between all the stakeholders in the industry, bringing together government, unions, production companies, and even bringing together community organizations serving these young people. Then we go with building out sustainable career pathways using a program design that addresses the skills gaps of the young creatives that we work with. But it also speaks to the industry shortage and the skills that are required for the industry to hire these young people in the future.


HNMAG: What kind of people teach the courses at POV?

Biju: We work with industry volunteers and mentors but our core staff team is comprised of creatives who have been in the sector. They’re all people who have gone through what these young people will be going through. They’re BIPOC creatives, that have shared experience. The industry is very privileged in the sense that it only supports people who often identify as white men who are often straight. So if you don’t fit into any of those identities, regardless of your skill set you’re going to have a very tough time navigating the sector. By recognizing that, what we can do is make sure our young people are not only equipped with that capacity to say “Look, this is the industry, these are the realities of the industry, we NEED a champion like POV that can go out there and champion for us.” But at the same time, we want to make sure that the young creatives that are coming in are being taught by the industry. That way when they go in, they have the skills that are in demand, not the skills that have been outdated or the skills that have been taught in the industry by someone 20 years ago.


HNMAG: And how did you get involved with POV?

Biju: I would say that’s an interesting story. I have about 20 years in the non-profit sector. I’m not a TV and film guy, I am a systems design guy. I work with different communities and different stakeholders to develop solutions to complex social issues. In the past, I’ve worked with young people in conflict with the law, I’ve worked with wool farmers trying to figure out sustainable solutions to wool farming. I’ve worked with greenhouses and grocery stores to connect with products that have been created from greenhouses to connect to grocery stores that can sell them and creating a social enterprise model that can be sustainable and those communities. My work really has been routed in this idea of convening collaborators who can come together to catalyze solutions for social issues. This opportunity at POV has been presented to me 2 years ago and as someone who has been diving deep into solving complex issues, I realize that TV and film hasn’t done a lot of work. I was really drawn to it, and that’s sort of why I was given the opportunity. In the last year and a half, I think we’ve made some really sizeable contributions to the landscape, both research and evidence-perspective but also in terms of developing evidence-based program designs that can meet the needs of an industry and also speaks to the skills gaps of the community that we serve.



HNMAG: It’s nice to see you’ve gotten generous support from Comweb, do you hope to build a long-lasting relationship with them?

Biju: Absolutely, and Paul Bronfman, the chairman of Comweb has been a supporter of POV from the start initially in small ways, and the best ways that he can. More recently, he’s been really getting behind throwing resources to us as well. Both from a financial point of view, but also through renewed contributions through Whites and so we’re definitely looking to establish additional contributions through Whites next year or so. This commitment is for 5 years but I have received word from Paul that this will be an ongoing assessment and they’re looking to see if they can add on to their commitment as our work develops over the next few years.


HNMAG: What other kinds of partnerships in the industry have you made? Who do you connect with?

Biju: Within the industry we work with production companies, like the Radke Film Group that I mentioned. CFAT is another one, we also work with some small production companies within the city. I’m trying to work with the City of Toronto’s film office to get unions engaged, we’re also partnering with folks from TIFF, and as we start to build out additional partnerships at the end of each of our programs, we’re hoping to secure reliable partners that can come back and work with us on a more congruent basis. Given the sort of precariousness of COVID, there’s been a pause if I can be quite candid. But there is still a commitment on wanting to build out in the future as we move forward.


HNMAG: Has POV gotten some steady recognition over the years for what’s been done?

Biju: We’re one of those well-kept secrets that when people find out about us, they’re shocked at how much we do with how little we have. We haven’t been good at bragging and boasting about all the work that we’ve done and the impact it’s having on diverse creatives in the city. That’s why we brought on Cameron and his team helping us to get the word out. I’ve only been involved for 2 years and even before then, very few people have heard about POV but now that we’re starting to work with the city and the bigger sort of industry players, we’re starting to gain more recognition in the space in terms of the work that we’re doing.


HNMAG: With the donations you get, how do you figure out what to invest them into?

Biju: All of our funding goes directly into our programming, and so everything we have received has gone into staff support for programs, equipment costs for programs, studio spaces for programs, and also to support our young people. A lot of the young people we work with tend to face economic marginalization, oftentimes suffering from a multitude of barriers that prevent them from accessing some sort of workforce in any sort of way. We reinvest a lot of the money into developing them as they’re going through our training program, so by the time they’re finished they’re ready to be employed and they’re ready to break the cycle of poverty that they’re stuck in. We made that intentional, we know there’s lots of efforts industry-wide that are supporting the cream of the crop. They ones that just need somebody to open the door for them and they’ll just go with it. But there’s a lot of talent who A) don’t know this opportunity exists so we reach them, and B) face so much economic marginalization that they can’t afford to go to training school or can’t afford to take 6 months off of work to do training at POV while building up their career. So we provide them alternate pathways through our program by supporting some of those needs right off the bat and taking away their worry about “what am I going to eat while going to school?” We offer food in all of our programs for example. We offer subsidies for Internet and phone. It’s not just the technical training, it’s what we call ‘wrap-around support’ which also provides some of the essential skills and life skills that they need.  A lot of them don’t know how to navigate TV and film, it isn’t a 9-to-5, it’s a gig economy. That means you might make a bunch of money over the weekend and then your next gig may not happen for three weeks. So we teach them how to manage their finances because you’ll get paid a lot, but it has to last you until your next gig. There’s a saying in the TV film industry, “You’re only as good as your next gig.” We want to try and bridge that gap. We want to try and figure out how do we make this training available regardless of somebody’s economic condition or geographical location in the city. We also work with people who don’t get into university and college programs or can’t afford to pay $30,000 to go to film school. The caliber and quality of our programs is such that we can get them to that skill set in a condensed time and so we use every effort to make our donor dollars to stretch those supports out as much as possible for a lot of these young people. Because we do it we have a lot of people coming back and we form a community of POV alumni who end up coming back and hiring our young people, training them, mentoring them, so it’s almost a full circle that we’re trying to use so that one dollar that donor is giving us does not just go to the donation to support programs, it goes to support future training of alumni who then come back to the community that they got so much from to begin with. 


HNMAG: How can people contribute to POV’s cause?

Biju: We have an online portal that they can donate directly at Canada Helps. They can also donate at POV films. Click on the donate button to donate directly to our funds. You can donate your time, if you are from the industry, you can donate your expertise, your contacts, and your connections.


I understand WFF is the talk of the online town but take a look at POV’s site and see about contributing or even learning what they have to offer. I admire their mission and hope to see it expanding and continuing to make the industry more inclusive of BIPOC people not just nation-wide, but also everywhere.

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