I’ve become a fan of scheduling everything meticulously — including scheduling your downtime. As crazy as that sounds! Knowing that I have a plan and a schedule for when I will work on things has led to me feeling more relaxed, and enjoying my downtime guilt-free. With my work, no two weeks are ever going to look exactly the same, especially not when working in film and theatre. There are times when I might be booked for a month solid, but then have two or three weeks where I have no projects scheduled. When I get that extended downtime, I will take a few days to sleep in and indulge in self-care, like going for a massage or visiting a spa. And on the weeks when I don’t, I try and leave at least one day in the week where I can sleep in or have unscheduled time. Because I’m also someone with chronic illness (which not everyone realizes!) my rest time has become SO important to me. Scheduling has really helped my ADHD and anxiety, because it’s a lot easier to just look at my calendar and go “okay, this is what I am doing now”, because I have pre-planned for it. Whereas before, I had so many projects and to-do lists, but ended up working less than I wanted to, because I found myself overwhelmed by choice.
As a part of our interview series with the rising stars in pop culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Schooley.
Emily Schooley is an award-winning Canadian actress, filmmaker, and entrepreneur. She has worked extensively in stage and screen media, with projects ranging from small, intimate sets to large-scale feature productions. In her spare time, she fosters rescue cats and loves to travel.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I went to theater school originally, intending to be “just” an actor. Then, around a decade ago, I got cast in an independent project where I went from lead actor, to also helping co-write the series, co-directing some of the episodes, and production managing our shooting schedule. This project ended up being months of work and involved over 100 people, cast and crew.
That project helped me discover that I am just as skilled as a director, writer, and producer as I am as a performer. Since then, I have been working extensively in those capacities — along with acting — and sometimes performing multiple jobs on the same project. It keeps me quite busy, in the best possible way!
Being able to direct and produce has also led to me launching the client-focused arm of my film and video production company (under the name Laughing Cat Creative) where I now create video and podcast content for hire, for corporate clients who want to better connect with their target audiences.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
To be honest, it’s hard to pinpoint just one interesting experience, as I’ve had so many! That said, I will share one of the projects and experiences that I am most proud of.
Back in 2018, I wrote and toured a one-woman show over the summer, called Caged, as part of the Fringe Festival circuit. It was a show that I wrote, performed, and self-directed, based on a previous real-life experience from my past, dealing with domestic violence and police abuse of power.
While touring, I made some awesome new friends throughout the tour, and got to see more of Canada for the first time. Touring the show made me hungry to do more work outside of Ontario.
I also had audience members coming up to me after the show to ask for hugs, and thank me for telling “their” story. Knowing that my work has emotionally impacted other people, and has made them feel seen and heard, was so immensely gratifying.
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?
This is less “haha funny”, and more of a cautionary tale… but around the time I moved to Toronto, I auditioned for what I thought was a legitimate music video. The guy running the auditions told me to sign what was “a standard release form”, which I admittedly didn’t read closely before signing. Which, of course, turned out to be a big mistake.
A few weeks later, I respectfully declined the project when a number of red flags popped up about the project (like the man wanting to film in a motel room with no other crew). A few weeks after that, he tried to sue me for money for “missed work”, claiming that I had violated this supposed “contract”… which turned out to be the release form he’d asked me to sign.
Long story short, this turned into a year-long ordeal which was all kinds of surreal. I found out that this guy had done something similar to a number of other young women as well, also threatening them with lawsuits. Needless to say, those women and I connected. We ended up supporting each other throughout everyone’s court dates, and he eventually lost every lawsuit he’d filed.
The whole situation really made me realize how unethical some people are, and how important it is to read contracts closely. Also, in a weird way, it taught the importance of uniting as a community when someone is abusing their power and position.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’ve got a couple of awesome new projects in development right now:
One is a scripted series about adult former magical girls, who have to come back together and fight a new enemy. But now that they’re in their 30s and 40s, they are in such a different place in their lives than when they were teens — and there’s lots of opportunity there to tell grounded character-driven stories, directly alongside the magical element. So many people tell me that this series needs to be made!
My other big project is the feature film I’m writing — it’s a psychological horror film, about a woman who goes back to her rural small town to escape an abusive relationship. But instead of finding a safe haven, she ends up unearthing some awful family secrets. It’s my first feature that I’ve written, and I’m looking to bring a strong EP on board to help me get it made.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I’ve met and worked with a good handful of people who I grew up watching on TV. In those moments. I do a lot of mental high-fiving my younger self, because I know she would be so proud and more than a little starstruck. Many of these folks are really amazing, really generous, and incredibly talented people. I’ve been lucky to collaborate with and learn from them. I won’t give specifics, but I will say that I have been at some pretty outrageous parties, and it’s awesome to know that other people work AND play just as hard as I do.
On the other side of the coin, there’s someone who I met that I thought was a friend and mentor, only for her to turn out to be incredibly toxic. The kind of person who spread some awful lies as a means of trying to sabotage my career and reputation. This person would always refer to me as an “aspiring” actress — probably because she was jealous of my successes. As of now, I’m still actively working in film and theatre, and she is not. So I suppose that example is a bit of a cautionary tale, to not be a terrible person.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I’ve become a fan of scheduling everything meticulously — including scheduling your downtime. As crazy as that sounds! Knowing that I have a plan and a schedule for when I will work on things has led to me feeling more relaxed, and enjoying my downtime guilt-free.
With my work, no two weeks are ever going to look exactly the same, especially not when working in film and theatre. There are times when I might be booked for a month solid, but then have two or three weeks where I have no projects scheduled. When I get that extended downtime, I will take a few days to sleep in and indulge in self-care, like going for a massage or visiting a spa. And on the weeks when I don’t, I try and leave at least one day in the week where I can sleep in or have unscheduled time.
Because I’m also someone with chronic illness (which not everyone realizes!) my rest time has become SO important to me. Scheduling has really helped my ADHD and anxiety, because it’s a lot easier to just look at my calendar and go “okay, this is what I am doing now”, because I have pre-planned for it. Whereas before, I had so many projects and to-do lists, but ended up working less than I wanted to, because I found myself overwhelmed by choice.
You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
Get good with failure. Seriously. You are likely always going to fail at something, especially a skill you are still learning… but on the flip side, that also means there will always be some other opportunity for you to be successful. One failure doesn’t mean that you will never have another chance at success, and knowing that can help take the sting out of it when it does happen.
Being an artist takes a lot of grit, and a lot of resiliency. I always say that if there is anything else in the world that makes you just as happy, think about doing that job instead because it will probably pay better and give you a little more job security, if that security is what you need. If you love the work more than anything else and know you need to do it: decide what success looks like to YOU personally, and start working toward that. Learn to love the chaos, and the freedom of choice.
On top of that, when you’re a working artist you are also an entrepreneur — you are absolutely your own small business. A lot of emerging artists don’t seem to think about it that way! For anyone in the arts, I always recommend learning business and marketing skills, and thinking about their art as a business.
Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Kindly share a story or an example for each.
As I mentioned earlier, scheduling some do-nothing time on a regular basis is really rejuvenating for me. Dedicating more time specifically to self-care has been the biggest game-changer for my peace of mind. Especially for women, it can feel selfish to prioritize yourself and your needs… and I’ve found that the times that you feel most guilty about taking time away is when you probably need it most.
Personally, I’m a pretty big foodie. I love treating myself by relaxing with something tasty and a glass of wine, while watching something fun on VOD.
I also love traveling, and being somewhere new is always a great adventure that restores my soul. If I have time, I try to get away somewhere fun, even if it’s just for a couple of days.
Beyond that, I’ve also created some “secret” social media accounts for myself, where I can be 100% unfiltered. These accounts are very locked down, and have nothing that identifies me as being the person who owns them. Only a handful of people I know and trust have access to them, and I share a lot more about my daily thoughts there, whenever the mood strikes. I’m a big communicator, and this helps me to get my thoughts and feelings out to people who I know care about my wellbeing.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1) Get rid of anyone who actively disrespects you, and be ruthless about it. A few years ago, I had a meeting with a potential agent who took other calls during our meeting, like they couldn’t even give me 15 minutes of their time. Nobody is THAT important ever, and it really turned me off of working with them. I will always warn people away from working with that agent if their name comes up, because of how disrespectful they were of my time.
2) Get it in writing. No matter who you’re working with, no matter how good of friends your co-creators might be — have a contract for any project you do. Make sure it clearly outlines what is expected of all sides. Even if it’s a no-pay gig. And read all contracts thoroughly. See my story earlier of an example as to why!
3) Learn the difference between people who will only like you when you can do something for them, versus the people who like you and believe in you for who you are. Again, there’s a ton of stories I could tell for this one, both positive and negative. One of my biggest lessons in this area was about becoming more discerning about when people express interest in me. Like a lot of other young women, I got a lot of attention from men when I was in my early 20s, men who always claimed to want to “help my career”. But when I started calling them out on their inappropriate behavior, when I got older and wiser, when I gained weight, and when I started saying no to things, a lot of those men would suddenly turn on me, or stop supporting me. It was a hard lesson, but at the end of the day it says a lot more about their (weak) characters than it does about the awesomeness that I bring to the table.
4) Remember to thank and acknowledge the people who DO support you. It can be so easy to get caught up in the next project if your career is going well, but chances are you didn’t get there alone. I had someone write me a reference letter for a program that I got accepted to, and I bought them a bottle of wine as a thank you gift. They told me that I was the first person to thank them like that! Needless to say, I was shocked to hear that, especially knowing how much this person has given to the film community over the years.
5) Get good at more than one skill. When I was in theater school, I thought I was ‘just’ going to be a theater actor. Now I do film and television, plus voice-over, plus directing other people’s films, plus directing and producing corporate video shoots for clients that work with my company, plus a few other things. I’m working more often than not now, and have been making a living solely from self-employment over the last few years… but if I was just waiting for acting roles, I would probably have to juggle bartending gigs and have multiple roommates, just to make sure I could pay my bills. (No shame in service industry work, by the way! But I am the kind of person who has broken an entire tray of glasses before — more than once, in fact — so it’s probably not the best career path for me personally, haha.)
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Fall down seven times, get up eight.”
Sadly, I’m not quite sure who originally said those words, as I’ve heard them attributed to several different people over the course of my life. Either way, I think it’s particularly wise advice.
Overall, this quote really encompasses my approach to working AND living — no matter how many times I fail, or have a project not go according to plan, or have whatever other crazy thing happen to me (and there has been many crazy things that have!) I’ve learned to pick myself back up and try again. And again and again and again.
It also speaks to learning to be more resilent and determined to succeed, which is very important when pursuing a career in an arts-based industry. For me personally, it reminds me to try new things and take risks… even if I’m scared, even if I think I’m going to fail, because those feelings may never go away, and they shouldn’t be an excuse to not take (smart) risks that might result in giant successes.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are many people who have helped me along the way, in one facet or another. The first people I would like to mention and thank are my loyal friends and fans who support me every month over on my Patreon. This ongoing support towards my career means that I can spend more time writing, developing, and working toward filming more of my own original, creative work. And, in exchange, I get to share lots of awesome insider information with my Patrons, with exclusive behind the scenes content and ongoing updates about what I’m working on, most of which I don’t talk about publicly.
I’m also really grateful for the film reviewers, distributors, and VOD sites I have connected with, who have reviewed and distributed my short films Psyche, and Life and the Art of Lying. Knowing that strangers are out there watching my films, enjoying them, AND that I’m getting revenue from these screenings has really made me feel more confident as an emerging filmmaker.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I really want equity for everyone. For absolutely everyone in the world to have a universal basic income, to have stable housing, to have nutritious food to eat and clean water to drink, and to have access to socialized treatment, so that they can afford all healthcare they may need. My wish for the world is that everyone can live a life free from violence and discrimination.
In my mind, this should not be a revolutionary or controversial opinion… but apparently it still is, at least to the people who profit from exploiting others.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Rather than naming one specific person, I’d like to connect with a more established film producer or a venture capitalist who is forward-thinking. Specifically, one who is actively interested in supporting and helping produce women-driven film and television content that tells intelligent stories while authentically championing diversity.
Securing film funding in Canada is a bit like finding a unicorn; it’s so important to me that we are able to pay all cast and crew a living wage to help tell these original stories. Having a producer on board who can help me handle the high-level financing that these projects will require (or having a venture capitalist who is excited about backing these important stories that need to be told) would be such a blessed support in ensuring these projects get made, so that they can reach the audiences who most want and need to hear them.
How can our readers follow you online?
People can help support my ongoing work and stay up to date on my various projects at https://www.patreon.com/EmilySchooley
Feel free to add me on social media as well!
@EmilySchooley on Twitter and Instagram
@LaughingCatProductions on Instagram and @LaughingCatPrdn on Twitter for my production company
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!