365 And Doing Fine: An Artist Reflects #6

During the last year, I’ve had to examine the harsh truths of being an Asian artist in this industry. At the beginning of my career… when I was the only IBPOC artist in the cast, when I played the supporting roles, when I was arguably the token minority, people seemed to accept me with open arms. What I quickly realized as time went on, was that roles meant for people who looked like me were very few and far between. There would be no competing with more established artists; the ones with more experience and connections than I would ever have. Competing for meagre acting roles this way would never be sustainable, and as the pandemic months went on I realized that this wasn’t the life I wanted for myself. I needed to branch out if I was going to find any means of financial stability. At the same time, I also began to want to speak about my experiences. I wanted to share my thoughts and shed light on difficult truths that were affecting people like me. Maybe, if I was loud enough, I could use my voice and give marginalized artists a chance to thrive in this industry, and thrive myself all at the same time. I just needed someone to give me a chance. In 2020, that chance came. I look back at the moment I was catapulted into the spotlight, for better or for worse. I know exactly when it was.

When you look into your mother’s eyes, you know that this is the purest love you could find on this earth. In July 2020, I invited the Gimli Film Festival into a world where this wasn’t the reality. For three minutes I offered a small glimpse into a reality where love was weaponized, unspoken rules guided every interaction, and help was synonymous with failure. Three minutes. 

I had a lot of time to prepare. My pitch was written and memorized in a matter of 48 hours, with the help of some friends. I was lucky enough to have recently gone to CBC’s Say Hello To workshops and learned a little about The Art of the Pitch. Seriously, it’s a whole thing. (Also a quick note – you never know when you’ll use your workshop knowledge! This one caught me by surprise.) I took a few important things from it: Bring your audience directly into the world you’ve created. Answer the obvious questions. Own your story. 

Alright, that part was doable, I think. But there was another very important recommendation from CBC that I needed to complete before I felt truly prepared: Do your research. On this, I was very much behind my other competitors. Admittedly, I haven’t gone to Gimli Film Festival. I’ve had films shown there, but usually during that time I’m contracted to be elsewhere so I’m never able to make it. But luckily enough, I had connected with last year’s winner – Matthew van Ginkel, and he was more than happy to give me advice and walk me through what to expect from his experience. He also shared with me a few of his secret tips to standing out, and for those of you reading who have the honour of presenting at this year’s Pitch Competition – send me an email. 

Pitch, written. Research, done. I was as prepared as I was ever going to be. As Covid prevented Gimli Film Festival from running live, I showed up to filming at the Artspace building. I met my competitors, we congratulated each other, took a few photos, and then settled in for the long wait as one by one, each of us went into the studio to pitch live in front of a panel of judges.  Prepared. Ha. While I was on standby, I had my script in my hands. I had scribbled all over it, changing things at the last minute. I was worried that I was going to freeze up and forget every single word. I can only describe this experience as wanting to shit in my pants, and then blacking out for the duration of the pitch and the subsequent Q&A afterwards. It makes sense. I’ve never had a film career and $10,000 on the line. Unfortunately for me, I did not hit my mark, which was so clearly marked with a giant X on the floor, and for the first bit of my pitch I kept seeing the camera operators signalling for me to slowly inch my way back to the centre of the frame. I remember thinking it was funny as my mouth kept moving, saying words I had rehearsed over and over again as my brain lost its place. I tripped on my words and then caught myself, and somehow I managed to come up with an eloquent answer as each member of the panel asked me questions. (I watched the taping of it afterward. This is how I know.) When it was all said and done, I said thank you and went back to the waiting room.

never win anything. I’m always the almost. Second place, first-runner up, that was my brand. I can’t have won this, I thought to myself, but I could use the publicity for something good. Always, I resigned myself to expecting less. Until Nicole Matiation announced my name as the winner of the Emerging Filmmakers Pitch Competition in 2020.

Goodbye, less-seasoned newcomer Joanne Roberts. From that moment on on, I’ve been called award-winning storyteller Joanne Roberts. 

It’s March 2021 now, and after being shut down in November, I’m finally ready to shoot my film this weekend. There have been a lot of lessons – both humbling and harrowing, that I’ve learned since then. If you stay tuned for my next blog, I’ll share with you the biggest lesson I’ve learned so far.

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