A chance meeting with a filmmaker set Laura Mackenzie on a new career path. She grew up in Lower Sackville and studied business and tourism at Mount Saint Vincent University, spending about a decade managing and working in restaurants and hotels in Halifax and Calgary. When she came back to Nova Scotia, she needed a change.
That’s when she met a filmmaker through a friend and started working with him as a production assistant. “I just loved the industry,” she recalls. From there she worked her way through various jobs in the industry and in 2009 made three of her own short films.
These days, she combines her experience in business and tourism and her love of films in her role as the director of Strategic Partners, a presentation of the Atlantic Film Festival, and one of the world’s preeminent co-financing, co-production markets for the film industry. “It’s a real gem, but no one understands it,” Mackenzie says. It brings together people in the industry, including broadcasters, producers, marketers and distributers. Her job is to connect them all and help foster relationships. Recently, she sat down with Halifax Magazine to explain her role and how it all comes together.
How did your previous training prepare you for this role?
The business aspect is everything I am. It’s understanding your audience. It’s understanding the business side of the industry. It’s understanding how to negotiate relationships and terms of agreements. It’s understanding just how to work in the business industry. What I understand is that every little thing I can do to make their trip as productive, and efficient and easy, is going to support the reputation of Strategic Partners internationally. Because we will work with each individual and by the time they get here I know their kids’ names, their dog’s name, I know every single thing about them. We are picking them up at the airport and bringing them to the hotel and then returning them to the airport. While they are on the ground, if there is anything we can do for them, it’s all about guest services.
But you also have a few films under your belt, so you understand that process as well.
Having gone from being production assistant to producer, I know what’s necessary and I know how a producer thinks. Strategic Partners is there to serve the producer. So I know what they are looking for, I know what their mentality is when they come here. So when I put on Strategic Partners, the event, every single thing I do, and every single thing in the program is meant to serve the producer. When they apply to Strategic Partners with their project, can I serve this project? Is there something it needs that I can do for it? Otherwise, there’s no point in bringing that project here.
How do Halifax and AFF fit into the bigger picture?
Strategic Partners is an international event, so I am not biased toward anyone that comes. I am not going to give a Halifax-based producer more meetings or better meetings than somebody else. But I really do try to make sure that if there is somebody who is merging or looking for a way to break in, that I bring them on board as a producer/observer. I work with Film & Creative Industries Nova Scotia [a Crown corporation that aims to develop the film industry in Nova Scotia]. I will set up a location scout with Creative Industries, so those people can go travel around learn about what it is what we have in terms of locations. At the same time they are learning about our tax credits, and our soft money here and across the country is very, very interesting to the rest of the world. Our relationship is symbiotic and important.
What do you love about the film industry?
I love Strategic Partners. When I started working there, I went “Oh my goodness, I am involved in something really special here, something really important.” I think it would be difficult for the industry and Halifax and Nova Scotia to really see what’s going on. If there was a way for me to introduce to Nova Scotia everybody we were bringing here, the awards and Oscar nominations and contacts, these are very special people doing very special things, and I am the person who takes care of them. At the end of Strategic Partners, if a producer comes to me and says, “I got my film financed at Strategic Partners or I met distributor at Strategic Partners or found my co-production partner,” that is something really special. I thrive on that information.
What do you think the future is for Strategic Partners and your role in it?
I think Strategic Partners will continue to evolve. This is my second year as director and I feel I have my legs under me as director. For me, it needs to take a genuine arc and things need to change because there is a reason why they should. As the industry continues to change, digital-first projects are becoming more important, I think that it is part of my role to continue to educate producers, film and television, to take them in that direction. I think one of the most important things I can do is continue to stay current. I read everything I can on the industry, national news, international news. You have to be the most current in the industry.