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In the past 12 months, Andrew Barnsley has won both Emmy and Golden Globe Awards as executive producer of the universally acclaimed TV series Schitt’s Creek, which made history last fall when it swept the Emmys.
“It’s been a phenomenal and life-changing time,” says Barnsley. “If you’d asked me 20, 15 or even 10 years ago, never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined the glory that we experienced. It’s been awesome. To reflect on the last 12 months is still surreal and hard to compute. But it happened, and it happened with a Canadian show, written by Canadians and produced by Canadians.”
In his new position at Toronto Film School, Barnsley hopes to prepare the next generations of Canadian talent for similar future glory. One of his main goals is to have the school’s graduates be “set and industry-ready” in two years or less.
“In our programs you learn about your discipline within the creative industries – and not just physical production, but design, budgeting, scheduling and financing,” explains Barnsley, who continues to serve as CEO of Project 10 Productions. His long list of credits includes the Jann Arden sitcom Jann and the Dave Foley series Spun Out.
“You’re also learning about the history of the Canadian cultural industries. The programs are really about building an educational foundation. Our graduates are informed and will be equipped to walk into any professional environment. They probably won’t be directing right after graduation, but they’ll know the vernacular and protocols. They’ll have the confidence to work as professionals. That’s our mission.”
Known for its hands-on, fast-paced approach to learning, Toronto Film School offers a wide range of programs both on-campus and online that are designed to arm students with the theory and skills they need to pursue their passions in the creative industries.
In addition to Film Production, Toronto Film School programs also include Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre, Writing for Film & TV, Graphic Design & Interactive Media, Video Game Design & Animation, Video Game Design & Development. Toronto Film School Online programs include Video Production, Writing for Film & Television, Video Game Animation, Visual Effects for Film & TV, Graphic Design & Interactive Media, Designing for Fashion.
Prior to his appointment as president, Barnsley served as the school’s Executive Producer in Residence for four years. A big believer in post-secondary education, he said he believes it gives students the foundation for success when they are looking at building careers in industries like film and television.
In fact, he himself spent a lot of time in school before venturing into production and producing.
“But all of my academic pursuits helped build a foundation to become a producer. I value and have a deep respect for post-secondary education,” says Barnsley, who was born and raised in Halifax before coming to Toronto to study at Ryerson’s Radio and TV Arts program.
“So, when an opportunity presented itself to get into the classroom, to talk to and mentor students, to work with staff and faculty about curriculum and new programs, it seemed like a very natural and organic addition to what I was doing. The role has evolved into something bigger, and it’s all happened very organically.”
Taking on the new role of president, says Barnsley, “fits with my passions and my commitment to the industry and my desire to make sure students and graduates have the education and the confidence to go out and leave their mark.”
The past year, of course, has seen the film and TV industry – like other industries – examine its makeup and power structures. Barnsley says the school is committed to elevate voices that have historically been underrepresented.
“When I first started going into the classroom at Toronto Film School four years ago, one thing that got me very excited was the diversity of cultures and voices in the classroom,” he says.
“The classrooms really reflected the makeup of Toronto as a city, and speak to the importance of what the school is doing to support and elevate those voices. We’re very aware of the support that’s needed, so we’ve built relationships with organizations – like POV 3rd Street, an organization that supports BIPOC voices, both on the creative side and on the physical production side. There are bursaries set up for students to come to the school, and we’ve reached out to industry stakeholders to support these as well. And we’ve worked with BIPOC TV & Film, an organization that’s doing wonderful work getting the message out and helping the industry move in the right direction. So, there are real initiatives in place.”
The pandemic has meant a lot of learning has temporarily shifted to virtual platforms, says Barnsley, but the level of engagement hasn’t changed.
“Students still need to touch equipment and make their short films,” he says, “and we are making sure that industry protocols are being followed and people are keeping safe. The student experience has changed, but it hasn’t been compromised.”
In addition, over the past year, the school began a series of talks called In Conversation With…, which brings high-profile speakers like Annie Murphy, Jason Priestley, Atom Egoyan and Tatiana Maslany to speak directly to its students.
“This probably wouldn’t have happened outside of a pandemic,” he says.
Initiatives like this are all part of one of his catchphrases: to bring the industry to the school and the school to the industry.
“This industry is booming,” explains Barnsley. “Toronto’s become a global destination as a production hub. It’s a $9 billion economic contributor and supports 179,000 full-time jobs. And when you’re looking at continuing to build an industry you have to look at schools. And I see Toronto Film School as having a very important role in the ecosystem of these creative industries in Toronto and all of Canada.
“My dream,” he says, “is to see Toronto Film School students on the sets of every major production in Canada.”