Toronto Indie Night is a new film event hitting the Toronto scene. They focus on showcasing content from emerging filmmakers and creating a space for artists to “network across”, rather than up. Created by Shannon T. McNally, Indie Night hopes to inspire the next generation of filmmakers while applauding those trailblazers that came before us.
Shannon is a Toronto based performer and producer. Born in Toronto, she grew up in Cancun, Mexico with her mother who was a travel writer. Being the daughter of a writer, Shannon grew up on stories. When she moved back to Canada at the age of 13, she realized that media and movies were one of the only things she had in common with a lot of her peers. Storytelling quickly turned from an icebreaker into her passion, then from passion to profession. She studied Theatre at Dawson College in Montreal, then moved on to study Musical Theatre at Randolph College of the Performing Arts in Toronto. Her goal was always to be a producer and an actor. Her credits include producing several short films and music videos, including a series for Universal Music Canada, being part of the original cast of Last Night At The Gayety at the Centaur Theatre in Montreal, and most recently fighting for a breast reduction on Murdoch Mysteries as Mirelle Darling. Shannon has seen a huge shift in the industry that she loves so dearly and can not wait to see what stories are finally giving the space to be told in this post #metoo era.
Deanna: Tell me a little more about Toronto Indie Night! What kind of content can the average audience member expect during the screening?
Shannon: The best way I have found to describe TO Indie Night is to think film fest, but with all kinds of media. I have accepted dance videos, music videos, a commercial spoof, a vlog, a pilot to a self-help show, web series, short films shot on iPhones and (recently) a short film that got an Oscar nomination. It’s an everything film related event. It even takes place in the back of a video store. The content is of a wide variety but all excellent work in one form or another. As an audience member, you can expect to feel inspired and entertained. Some of these stories are things you could hunt down and watch alone on your computer, but it is SO MUCH BETTER to watch them in a room filled with filmmakers and film lovers. And there’s often beer.
Deanna: What inspired you to start an event like this?
Shannon: Short answer: equal parts frustration, and loneliness.
Long answer: Toronto has a lot of film fests. As I moved my career from theatre further into film I attended a lot of these events. I quickly noticed how polished everything was. When I watched the content being presented, I noticed a lot of voices missing. A lot of the filmmakers I had met on set, the artists I knew who were emerging, they were missing. I would ask people where I could see their work and it was a disgruntled “online I guess” or “not sure, we don’t have distribution…”. It’s a great way to start feeling like you don’t belong and don’t matter. Like most young artists I thought I was alone in feeling this way. For new filmmakers, it’s hard to get a live audience to see your work, but it’s one of the best ways to learn and get feedback. It’s also a great way to get more work. The internet has changed how we consume media, but shouldn’t replace live audiences. Traditional film fests are great, they are some of my favourite things to attend, but they are hard to get into. Most filmmakers who are starting out do not have a festival strategy, or the budget to afford all the submissions fees, or means to travel if they do get into something out of town. Does that answer your questions? I totally rambled there for a second.
Deanna: Indie content can vary a lot in terms of quality, what is your curation process like to find some of the best content to showcase?
Shannon: Oh yes. I brought on a “jury” because I really wanted to make sure this event wasn’t just “The films Shannon’s friends have made that she likes” There are a lot of values and morals that go into (or do not go into) filmmaking. Indie Night focuses on being inclusive. This extends to the films we show and the filmmakers we work with. If I really want to hold myself accountable to that statement then I can not be the only jury member. I usually like to reach out to someone who is slightly more established than myself but not drastically. The jury changes for every event with the exception of Gabriela Saltiel. It is always going to be a female/non-binary heavy jury. It is the value of the story that we looking for. If your lighting is a bit off because you used practical lighting since that’s what was available to you, it won’t disqualify you in the slightest. If you have completely disregarded that sound levels are important then we might have a problem. I explain it to the jury as looking for “intent to be excellent.” From what I have seen so far, a good story carries you further than a pretty shot.
Deanna: What is your favourite thing about Indie work, and why?
Its someone’s beginning. We all start somewhere and it’s often with indie work.
Once you get deeper into the film industry, you realize how many parts of it there are. Indie work doesn’t pass through a bunch of different departments to get made. I find it is where I really test myself as a filmmaker and learn what I stand for. It takes SO MUCH to make a project, especially without the support of networks. So when I see that work being made, It fuels and inspires me.
Deanna: What do you love about Toronto Indie Night?
Shannon: Being introduced to a wider network of filmmakers in Toronto and across Canada, and being able to bring those people together. The first Indie Night the whole audience were all filmmakers, and I heard them talking. It was things like “I didn’t realize I cut that shot out,” or “We had that sound issue too! Contact this person.” or “I never thought anyone would care about these shorts outside of Instagram.” It’s great. I also really enjoy setting the rules of the event. I can’t change the whole industry, but I can change my event. For example; I used to say we focus on female filmmakers, but that vocabulary leaves out gender non-binary filmmakers, a group that is often left out by huge organizations. I don’t want to do that, so I changed the companie’s vocabulary.
I can say the event happening entails a more inclusive lineup of content. I can say no to showcasing content that exploits women, or any group. I can finally do more for my community than just retweet things. On a personal note, I’m undoing all the times people told me no one would ever take me seriously as an actress/producer. It’s not true. There are so many artists that inspire me, and now I can send out emails telling them that, I can showcase their work to inspire other people. “Be who you needed when you were younger” It’s that kind of thing and that feels amazing.
Deanna: Tell us about some of the jurors for Indie Night.
Shannon: Ooooh. Some have asked to remain anonymous, which I totally respect. But I can tell you it was a very diverse group of people. We do have one constant “jury” member: Gabriela Saltiel. I trust her artistic opinion implicitly. She has worked in theatre as a dramaturg and a stage manager. She has helped me talk through a lot of the values of the event, what I was trying to achieve and then encouraged me to go for it. Her background as a dramaturg and knowledge of literature is vital since we are so story focused. For the rest of the panel: We had a content creator who does web series, sketch comedy, and creates their own work as a performer. We had an actor who has just moved into directing. A music video director and editor whose use of imagery is remarkable. I know everyone on the jury fights really hard for equality in the entertainment industry and whenever it’s in their power they use their platform for the greater good. It’s also not always the best films that get in. We had someone apply and their film was really really good, it just didn’t fit this event and our theme. They are killing it on the festival circuit and they didn’t really need us. It’s a tricky business “accepting” people. It’s the part I dislike the most.
Deanna: When is the next TO Indie Night? Where can tickets be bought?
Our next event is centred around the theme of CONFLICT and will be held on June 9th.
We just moved to a new theatre located at 680 Queens Quay West.
Tickets are on sale: $10 in advance (and will include a bunch of perks) they can be purchased through our Facebook Event page. We are having a flash sale so keep an eye out if you want to save some money. If the $10 ticket price is a barrier for anyone wishing to attend, we always need volunteers. Reach out to us on any platform and we would be happy to set that up.
We have been really lucky that each event has been successful enough to be able to host another event. So a huge thank you to everyone who has come out to support us so far.
Submission Info for Filmmakers
Deanna: If filmmakers would like to submit their content where can they find that info?
Shannon: All the info for how to submit content is on our website, www.TorontoIndieNight.com
It can be new content or old. We don’t have a deadline where something has to have been made between whatever calendar dates. So this is a chance to breathe new life into some old work. We are also open to pretty much all forms of content, and anyone can submit. Editor, Sounds tech, actor, MUA. I just need an email for the producer saying that they are on board. I suggest that directors or producers submit the content only because of the amount of info we need once someone is accepted.
To submit send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with an online version of your content (not a google drive link but a Youtube/Vimeo link) and a small blurb about how it fits in with our theme. We have a very general theme for each event, which can be found on the website. And anything else you want to add. We ask that the subject line be: submitting YOUR TITLE IN CAPS.
That is a detail most people forget, and I never understood until I was on this side of the table. It helps keep emails organized and saves me SO MUCH TIME.
**EDITED TO ADD: For our next event we will be using film freeway and charging $5 per submission. If you have any questions feel free to contact us through our site.
Toronto Indie Night’s Next Steps
Deanna: Thanks for telling me all about Toronto Indie Night! I can’t wait for the next event. Anything else you’d like to touch on?
Shannon: Just a quick thank you to you Deanna for taking the time to ask us these quick questions. This is the first kind of press we have received on TO Indie Night and I’m really excited to spread the word.
Follow us on Instagram and Facebook (@toindienight) for more info. Help us spread the word to all the filmmakers and film lovers out there. We have so much in store for our audience. The first of many things is we will be starting an interview series where we sit down with the filmmakers who have been featured as part of Indie Night and get to know them, how they started, where they would like to be headed. So that will be a real treat. If anyone would like to collaborate on that please get in touch with us.
I also want to thank all the filmmakers and artists who have given us their content to screen and have supported us. I know these projects are not made for free, they take so much time, money and heart. So from the bottom of my heart thank you to everyone who has believed in us and given over your works of art in various stages so that we could create this event. I often get thank you notes after events and I’m like “No, Thank you.”