Provide more opportunities/careers to people of diverse backgrounds. One way to accomplish this is to improve education opportunities to underrepresented individuals that can lead to meaningful career paths in film.
As a part of my series about leaders helping to make the entertainment industry more diverse and representative, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Adrienne Slover.
Adrienne Slover is co-founder of Reel Start and a teacher at the Toronto District School Board. Reel Start is a non-profit that gives students from underrepresented communities a chance to change the world through film- both their own world, and the cultural landscape that movies shape. Participating students work alongside industry pros and A-list talent to create short films about social issues that directly impact them. Founded by filmmaker Evan Goldberg (The Boys, Superbad, The Disaster Artist) and educator Adrienne Slover, Reel Start opens the door to the film industry, and uses the power of filmmaking to give a voice to those who need it most. For more information, visit reelstart.org
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My parents always had a love for travel, culture and diversity. My mother was an ESL teacher (English as a Second Language) for her entire career and I grew up hearing all about her incredible experiences as a teacher and volunteering in her classroom. My deep-rooted love and interest in other cultures led me to doing an undergrad at McGill University and majoring in Cultural Anthropology. I then went on to become an elementary teacher and I have taught for the last 13 years in the TDSB (Toronto District School Board) in a very diverse community. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been given the opportunity to teach in such a rich and diverse class setting. I have learned a tremendous amount about religions, cultures, languages and experiences from the hundreds of children I have taught throughout my career that have come from all over the world. I have heard unbelievable stories from the children and their parents and have been exposed to so many different points of views and perspectives.
At school, I have always loved running extracurricular activities with students that encourage leadership and opportunities for student empowerment. I had led many leadership groups with students picking different causes to use their voices and actions to make a difference.
During my early years as a teacher, my good friend Evan Goldberg (who I had become friends with during my time at McGill University), had moved to LA and was developing his career as a filmmaker. He often spoke about how lucky he was to have ended up in the film industry and how there were literally hundreds of jobs involved in producing a film. He always had this vision about bringing local LA students in to see the sets he worked on and to inform them about how many different film careers were available in their very own city. This is where the idea of Reel Start was born. I saw Evan’s idea as an opportunity to expose students to film careers while actually giving them the tools and platform to share their diverse experiences, ideas and voices with the world through the culminating task of creating a short film.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
There have been so many interesting and incredible moments that I have experienced since we started Reel Start. This program has always been my passion project. Yes, we produce incredible films with famous people, but that is just the glitzy end product. It is the process and experience with the students that are so very meaningful and make all the hard work that we put into Reel Start really worthwhile. There was a student who joined Reel Start who I knew wasn’t very engaged in school. He was never enthusiastic about being there and often seemed uninterested. When he joined Reel Start, I had a feeling it would be an incredible opportunity for him as it offers a very different approach to education. Experiential learning can reach students in different ways and on different levels than the traditional school setting. Living what you are learning, being personally invested in a group effort is such a special learning opportunity. I watched this student transform before my eyes during his time in Reel Start. In the beginning, he was hesitant to write any questions down, and recoiled when encouraged to ask guest speakers questions. As the weeks passed, and the sessions continued I watched this individual student fall in love with the learning experience. He really came out of his shell and became excited about the program and school. His enthusiasm boiled over when we participated in a camera and lighting workshop. The students were given the opportunity to hold and use the camera and he just lit up. At the next session, we had a behind-the-scenes camera operator there to film the students and the guest speaker and all of a sudden I looked towards the camera and that student was behind it with the camera man right beside him, guiding him on what to do. It was such a natural and organic moment. I was literally overcome with emotion at that moment because I had never seen this student take so much initiative and experience and joy from learning. I am confident that his life is now on a different path, a path that he might never have found without the help of Reel Start.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Well, I am embarrassed to say that during my first year running Reel Start I might not have not known the difference between what a producer and director does. I accidentally referred to the director of the short as the producer and was quickly corrected. When we started Reel Start, I had zero background knowledge of the film industry aside from enjoying watching movies. I actually have considered myself a student of film during the entire journey. I have learned so much and have thoroughly enjoyed every session and every film specialist I have met. I look back at those early days and laugh at the fact I co-founded a film organization and knew nothing about making a film. But I knew students, I knew the stories they had to tell, and I knew the importance of giving them the opportunity to share their ideas with the world. Sometimes I look back and think that starting Reel Start was sort of a jump of faith. We were attempting something that was so big and would come with many hurdles, but we were up for the challenge. The fact that we have turned this vision into something so special really proves the lesson that if you put your mind towards something you can achieve it. This is one of the exact messages we teach students in Reel Start, except the film is what they end up achieving!
Can you describe how you are helping to make popular culture more representative of the US population?
With the US and Canada being so multicultural, it is extremely important to diversify the film industry to better represent the populations. When the students create their scripts, a lot of time is spent deciding on the specific cultures, and ethnicities of the main characters. Casting can become a challenge because there are a very limited number of multicultural actors and actresses. We try very hard to stay authentic to the students’ stories and casting sometimes poses that challenge. These students have lived through so much, many immigrating to the US or Canada. Their perspectives and experiences are interesting, and they have so many incredible stories to tell. That is where the idea of the campaign “Give new voices a voice” originated. When we partnered with FUSE Create, they really understood our mission of giving these students a platform to share their voices.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by the work you are doing?
There is a very special student who I think has really benefited from being part of Reel Start. He is a shy individual who is so intelligent and has a real love for film. Early on in the program, the students were asked what their favourite movie was, he responded “Schindler’s List.” Every adult in the room was completely speechless. Many teenagers aren’t always aware of what the Holocaust even is. It was at that moment that I realized how complex and special this student was. He went on to explain “It was fascinating because the protagonist was a member of the Nazi party, yet he rescued many Jews from the Holocaust. He was a hero who couldn’t save everybody even if he wanted to.”
I watched this individual evolve and come out of his shell during his time at Reel Start. I saw him gain confidence in himself and find his voice. I was so proud of his ability to stand in front of the camera with an entire crew watching him and speak up and share his incredible thoughts for our “Give New Voices A Voice” campaign. He was truly the perfect spokesperson for this because he actually found his voice and the confidence to share it with the world. He also has been working on his own script. Even though Evan is extremely busy, he is always willing to read Reel Start students’ and alumni’s work and to give feedback and help them develop their scripts. It seemed like this offer made him a little nervous, but I was so proud to see him find the confidence to follow through and send it to Evan. Evan was equally thrilled to receive it and to help guide him. I truly believe this Reel Start alumni has a promising future in film. I can’t wait to see where he goes and what he accomplishes in his lifetime.
Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important to have diversity represented in Entertainment and its potential effects on our culture?
I think many youth look to media and film as an outlet and a source of enjoyment. However, I think they also want to feel represented in the world they see around them. Breaking stereotypes, telling different stories, shedding light on the beauty and struggles of diverse cultures is a way of creating a more inclusive world. With so much hate and negativity in the world, it is important to create powerful and authentic media that has the ability to inspire and inform the mass. Sometimes the unknown is feared. Films featuring multiculturalism and diversity can help to break down difficult barriers.
Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do to help address the root of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?
- Provide more opportunities/careers to people of diverse backgrounds. One way to accomplish this is to improve education opportunities to underrepresented individuals that can lead to meaningful career paths in film.
- Produce more films and TV shows that explore diverse stories.
- Many individuals are not in the financial situation to be able to participate in an unpaid internship, so the industry needs to look at new options and models that will allow youth from all communities to participate in it.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I believe there are many different views of what good leadership is. My understanding of the word is to empower, lead with love and compassion while giving others their own space to grow and take chances. A good leader inspires and motivates others. I think as an educator the best leadership we can give is to provide encouragement to students to believe in themselves and help them find their own strengths and passions. Show the students that they truly are capable of anything they put their minds to. The bonds I have created with the students that have been part of Reel Start are really special. In fact, I am known to cry very easily when talking about how proud I am of all of our students and their accomplishments.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why.
- It is a ton of work to make a film, even if it is a short film
- There is not a minute to spare on an active set, especially when you are filming a short film in one-12-hour shoot day!!!
- How many kind and generous people exist in the film industry. When we started this, I was very concerned and overwhelmed with the idea of actually producing a film. I knew there would be generous and passionate volunteers, but I feared we would have a hard time finding enough support. I have been completely blown away with the incredible amount of generosity and quantity of people in the industry that have been willing to lend their time and expertise to our project.
- Editing can really work magic! I had no understanding of how incredibly important the editing and postproduction process is when making a film.
- Starting your own organization can be incredibly stressful at times (It’s like I knew this but never really thought about how many hurdles we would have to overcome).
Bonus — Never ever plan a red carpet premiere in the dead of winter in Toronto. Especially when Evan is flying in from LA for 24 hours to attend it. We were hit with a massive snowstorm and Evan almost didn’t make it. Luckily everything worked out in the end but that crazy snow almost shut us down!
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I believe that I have already started a very special movement. I would absolutely love to see Reel Start grow and expand so that we can service more students in more schools and hopefully other cities with thriving film industries. Reaching youth, helping them to find confidence in their voices and abilities can change the course of their lives and society in general. The more opportunity youth are offered the more success they will experience in their lifetime. The possibilities are truly endless.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” As a teacher it really is a lesson that rings true on so many levels. The literal meaning is a lesson you really have to teach students. Children are very quick to ignore books that they don’t find the covers to be particularly interesting or exciting. On the deeper level, to not judge others and really to take the time to get to know them and understand what they stand for and where they come from. Everyone has a story and that is exactly what Reel Start is all about.
Is there a person you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Ha, this is a good one! I have this long running joke with Evan about meeting Adam Durwitz, the lead singer from Counting Crows. When Evan and I became friends, I had a big obsession with Counting Crows (which I still love very much). At the time, Seth Rogan (Evan’s best friend and writing partner) was working in LA and the two of them had already written the script “Superbad.” Evan had huge hopes of becoming a filmmaker, but it was still a dream at that point. He once said to me “If I ever become famous one of the first things I am going to do is get you to meet Adam Durwitz because I think it would be the best thing to witness.” I have reminded Evan of this promise over the years as his stardom has grown. When I brought it up a few years ago he admitted that he had tried to reach out to him and to get him to attend one of our LA Reel Start red carpet premieres, but he was unable to make it happen. We still joke around about it to this day.
The reason why I always wanted to meet Adam Durwitz was because I connected deeply to his music and lyrics during my childhood and teenage years. There are so many challenges during that period of life and his music and lyrics got me through a lot. They always seemed so deep and full of emotion. I found myself wondering what a lot of the lyrics were actually about and always said that he would be the person I would meet if I could choose anyone. I have thought that since I was an early teen so I’m still sticking with it. Maybe Evan will one day come through on his promise!