As content creators, tech enthusiasts, and filmmakers descended upon Austin earlier this month, Wider Lens was there to soak up all the creative vibes!
In between inspiring panels and catching the hottest screenings, we met up with some of the Ontario creatives who made a splash at SXSW with female-focused stories.
Below we catch up with some of the creatives behind Roku’s new reality-bending, time-jumping comedy series Slip, created by and starring Zoe Lister-Jones; Picture Editor Sandy Pereira, Sound Editor Eve Correa Guedes, and Production Designer Danielle Sahota.
How did you get involved in this production, and what drew you to the script?
Picture Editor Sandy Pereira: My agent sent me the script, which already had a lot of hype around it due to Zoe. After reading it, I loved it and agreed to take a meeting with the team. I hit it off with them and was excited to work on the project, despite my initial hesitation because I had never done comedy before, but knowing that it had the support of Karen Harnish, the Producer, and the cast made it a welcoming environment. I was really excited to work with the whole team, like Producers Ro Donnelly and Dakota Johnson, along with Boat Rocker. The all-hands-on-deck support for this project was incredible.
Production Designer Danielle Sahota: My agent sent me the script but I already knew the Line Producer, Karen Harnish, who I went to school with at Ryerson. I had some time off work and was going through that existential crisis that sometimes happens when you’re not working. When I read the script, it felt like it was my brain speaking back to me, and I had a really strong personal connection to it and how I was feeling at that moment. I met with Zoe quickly, and we both knew it was the right connection for the project. I was told the same day they wanted to work with me, and it was a one-and-done decision.
Sound Editor Eve Correa Guedes: I had just completed work on a project alongside Slip’s Sound Supervisor Danielle McBride and was looking forward to a bit of time off during summery Toronto when Danielle asked me to help her with Slip. The project seemed predominantly driven by a creative impulse, and the storyline was quite atypical, which made the decision to jump on board very easy. I remember that my very first thought was that it looked like a series I would want to watch.
What was your collaboration like with Director and lead actress Zoe Lister-Jones?
Sandy: While the collaboration was certainly a team effort, Zoe’s meticulous planning meant that there weren’t many issues to work through. Additionally, Zoe had an incredible Director of Photography, Daniel Grant, as well as a talented crew supporting her.
One of the key factors that contributed to the success of the collaboration was the quality of the writing. Often in film and television, the writing, shooting, and editing processes are somewhat disjointed, and there can be challenges in reconciling the three stages. In this case, however, the writing was so strong that it provided a clear roadmap for the shoot and made the editing process much smoother.
Zoe watched cut scenes every night and provided feedback on a daily basis. This level of engagement and collaboration is unusual, and it was incredibly helpful. With Zoe’s feedback, we were able to make adjustments in real-time, which saved time and prevented potential issues from cropping up later on.
While there are other characters in the show, we follow one person’s journey throughout. This made it easier to maintain a consistent point of view and also meant that confusion on the part of the main character was acceptable and even desirable. To help viewers stay oriented within each world, we included visual cues like the character’s shoes by the door and a specific mug. These little touches served as reminders that the character was in a different world, even if certain elements were the same. We had certain landmarks and touchstones that served as anchors throughout the series.
Eve: The collaboration and communication between Zoe and the Sound team was clear and went very well, probably because Zoe’s concept was sharp and coherent from the get-go. Early on, we got to understand what sort of sound Zoe envisioned and, therefore, what our approach needed to be: a sort of “less is more” style. The “slipping” between dimensions was also achieved sonically, although it’s more of a sound design/sound effects and music responsibility rather than dialogue, which is what I was working on. But I obviously needed to understand, prior to editing, what treatment would be applied to certain sections and how transitions from one emotional or dimensional state to another were expected to work audibly.
Danielle: There was a lot of open and honest conversation about ideas flowing from everywhere. I started by drawing into the main themes of the work because there are so many underlying visual opportunities there, especially in Buddhist cosmology. We actually had a Buddhist consultant come in to check the artwork to ensure we were showing respect and appreciation for it and not appropriating anything. Zoe and Daniel, our Cinematographer, would work together on coming up with shots, and I would tie those shots into my ideas for sets. We incorporated a sense of repetition, seeing oneself twice, and repetitive shapes into all of the sets.
Zoe brilliantly wrote these recurring visual motifs into the script, like her shoes by the door in every reality she enters, and had a plan for them all along. We also wanted to incorporate the beautiful images and symbols that already exist in Buddhist cosmology and find contemporary ways to incorporate them into everyday modern life.
The “Multiverse” seems to be having a moment in film and television right now. What do you think is prompting filmmakers to explore this concept of multiple timelines and “the road not taken”?
Eve: It seems so, although I believe people have been interested in this theme for eternity. The magical aspect of it, as well as the power to manipulate the future or past, is irresistible. Maybe the overwhelming lack of control we feel over our own lives, apart from simple and small changes, is also quite alluring. Big metaphorical jumps where we become someone else can, in a way, reveal a hidden facet about ourselves which is obviously interesting. We’re compelled by stories we can relate to, at some level, just like we might lean more easily toward someone who speaks our language. But ideally, these kinds of stories can help us step out of our bubbles briefly and perhaps, if lucky, unearth ideas of change we didn’t suspect lay in us.
Sandy: Is it a sort of post-millennial, post-COVID, post-climate change angst? I’m a little bit older than Zoe, and so she’s coming at it from a different generation than me. There’s always that existential question, “What if I had taken this path instead of this path?” I ask myself that question sometimes, like, what if I wasn’t in Toronto? What would have happened if I had moved somewhere else and ended up doing something completely different with my life? I do wonder because this theme is so in the zeitgeist. We are questioning our reality and questioning where we could have been. It’s definitely something fun to explore in a visual medium. With Slip, we’re always watching things from Mae’s perspective, and this whole journey started because she was questioning her life and her choice of partner, and everything blows up from there. We’re always with her, and we’re always seeing where things could have gone for her. It’s fun to see that existential crisis through a woman’s point of view, because I think women especially have these societal roles set out for them, and we tend to follow them, even when we push back.
Danielle: I think everyone got a little self-reflective during the pandemic, for better or worse. People are talking more about mental health these days, and it’s a conversation that’s being had out loud in a way that it wasn’t before. We weren’t admitting the things that we did or didn’t want in our lives. It leads to unnatural speculation, and almost childlike daydreaming, about who we could be, and it’s not always positive because it can draw us away from the good things in our lives. But sometimes, it can be freeing to let our imaginations run wild. It can lead us down another path and help us see our lives from a different perspective. The general sense of unease of being stuck in our current routine is very prevalent today. People want to imagine what it could be like to live a different life. I think that’s why so many people have changed careers and made major changes in their lives during the pandemic. Slip is actually about rediscovering the past and trying to find meaning in our lives.
-What was it like to work on a production with women in so many creative roles?
Eve: I’ve only once been in a 100% female Sound Editor team, and it was interesting while also a fair reason to feel a bit of pride since it rarely happens – historically, Post Sound is a male-dominated field, perhaps more than any other one.
Danielle: One of the best things about it was that we didn’t have to constantly worry about whether the female characters and their experiences were being portrayed authentically. Sometimes when there aren’t many women involved in the creative process, you end up with depictions of women that don’t really match up with reality. But with this production, there were so many women running the show that we could be sure that our experiences were being accurately represented. I was constantly in conversation with these very strong, authentic female leaders, and the men who worked on the show were respectful and great listeners, which created a safe and open environment for all of us to have honest discussions about how we were going to portray different things. And I think that really helped Zoe, who had so much on her plate with so many different roles, including some really vulnerable and intimate scenes.
Sandy: Almost our entire Editorial team was made up of women. And Zoe, the star of the show, also wrote and directed it, giving a lot of credence to the sort of existential crisis we’re going through from a female perspective. It wasn’t that a man couldn’t have worked on the show, but having women in these roles really lent itself to a level of authenticity that would have been difficult to achieve otherwise. Even when we were trying different things and questioning different ideas, we were all working together from a shared perspective. We were all trying to tell the same story from the same point of view. Zoe had such a clear vision for what she wanted to do with the project, and we were all on board with it. Our DOP, Daniel Grant, is a man, but he and Zoe had a really great creative relationship, and he was able to capture the female-focused lens that we were all trying to convey.
-How does it feel to have creative talent from Ontario on the world stage at SXSW?
Eve: Diversity is key to this industry which is very much based on storytelling. It’s about the people, so it makes sense that our backgrounds be as contrasted and diversified as possible. Ontario is a hub of new cultures and people coming from the four corners of the world. It has been producing great work, so it assuredly deserves to be in such festivals as SXSW.
Danielle: I think seeing so many huge productions come to Ontario has given people the confidence to share their voices more. Canadians come from vastly different experiences than Americans, and there isn’t a Canadian identity in the same way that there is an American identity, so there’s more room to explore weirdness in a safer environment. It’s safer because there is no norm almost. The proximity of all those other ideas coming into Toronto really makes people perhaps realize that they can express their own thoughts on a bigger platform, like a show that makes it to SXSW.
Sandy: I think Ontario having a bigger presence in the film and TV world is due to a combination of factors. We’ve started to become a more sophisticated, more talented pool of people. The industry has grown a lot over the last few decades, and we now have a much more talented and diverse pool of people working in film and television in Ontario. I’ve personally seen the growth, having started as an Assistant 20 years ago and watching the industry evolve around me.
Another reason for the boom is that the industry is starting to recognize the talent that exists here in Ontario. Even Netflix executives have commented on how good Toronto Editors are. It’s not just about tax credits anymore but about the actual talent that exists in the region.
I also think that COVID has played a role in the industry’s growth. Productions have been moving to Ontario because of the pandemic, and people are starting to see that there are great crews here who can handle the job. You don’t have to go to New York or L.A. now. It’s been a sea change over the last few years, and I’m excited to see where it goes from here.
-What advice do you have for women and other marginalized folks who want to enter the industry but are worried about climbing the ladder and presenting themselves and their work?
Eve: I could talk forever, but I’ll stick to simple things. First of all, there is no “one way” to work, but as many ways as there are Sound Editors. It’s a skill that is mainly self-taught (I have rarely sat in another Sound Editor’s room while they work), which means that each Sound Editor has their own style, like it or not. But it’s the way you communicate with other members of the Post Production team that will make you stand out. So, watch a lot of films, go outside, travel, practice active listening, be curious about all things and don’t forget to work on your social skills. My advice for women, in particular, is to try not to look intimidated, even if you are. Have a “fake it until you make it” attitude. As women, we probably do need to work a bit harder, but, at the end of the day, we can also harvest the benefits of it, which ultimately is an unflinching and deep-rooted sense of legitimacy.
Danielle: It sounds cheesy, but the more you can be yourself instead of thinking about who you’re supposed to be, the more work you’ll get done. When you focus on authenticity, your work will naturally become more confident and stronger. I started in this industry really young, and it was hard to get respect at first, so I used to get a lot of anxiety about that. But over time, I realized that the more I focused on my work and being true to myself, the less those anxieties mattered. I was able to let those anxieties go and focus on being a Designer. It’s not about fitting into a certain mold or trying to prove yourself to others. It’s about doing what you love and doing it well.
Practice and experience are key. You only get better by doing. Don’t be afraid to take on opportunities and challenges, even if they seem daunting. And don’t be afraid to make mistakes or ask for help. It takes time and practice, and it takes somebody giving you an opportunity to prove yourself and build your skills and your confidence. You need to give yourself a leg up a lot of the time if you’re a woman, and so the way to get that leg up is by being the best that you can be and feeling confident in that.
Sandy: For anyone looking to become a Picture Editor, I would recommend approaching the role with openness and bringing your own unique perspective and point of view. Express your ideas, even if they’re not necessarily aligned with the Director. It’s always good to remain collaborative and not be afraid to express your opinion. When you’re starting out, try cutting anything you can get your hands on, like short films, scenes, recaps, or web series, to gain experience and get your foot in the door. Look for mentorship opportunities, and don’t hesitate to ask for help or guidance. I Assisted for around 12 years, but I was working on good projects, with amazing Picture Editors and looking for mentorships. If you’re a woman or from any other marginalized community, there are many initiatives and online communities available to help you get started and meet people in the industry. Bringing your unique perspective and point of view is a great way to set yourself apart from others and showcase your talents. Don’t be afraid to be bold!
Check out our Creative Spotlight video with Slip creator and DGC Ontario Director Zoe Lister-Jones.
Next in our SXSW series: Catch up with the creatives behind Bloody Hell, a coming-of-age dramedy about a teenage girl who discovers her sex life is about to become more complicated than she could’ve imaged: Director Molly McGlynn, Picture Editor Maureen Grant, Production Designer Thea Hollatz, and DP Nina Djacic.