Grace's Grads: A woman in the director’s chair
Patricia Harris Seeley dreamed of working in film from a very young age, but she always felt it was an unreachable dream.
“We grew up on a farm outside of Sarnia, Ontario, with a TV with one channel and rabbit ears. It just never seemed attainable!” she laughs.
Now the Gemini-nominated documentary TV director has a message for anyone trying to break into film and television: “Just don’t give up. It’s all about never giving up.”
A short while after graduation, Patricia settled into life as a freelance writer, wife and mother in Calgary, Alberta, writing for national magazines and authoring the children’s book Portus Potter Was Loose! (Doubleday). After her family moved to St. Albert, outside of Edmonton, she received a grant to direct her first short film, Farmer, but her perseverance was truly rewarded when she got accepted into The Banff Centre’s prestigious Women in the Director’s Chair Workshops “I’d never gone to a film school. I’d only done one short film,” she explains. “But I applied four times. They’d never had anyone apply that many times,” she laughs, “so they decided to let me in!”
That course helped launch her career. “Program producer Carol Whiteman is so encouraging of women directors. After that, I received BravoFACT! grant to direct my short film Superhero Wannabe.” The 2004 film, which Patricia wrote and directed, won Best Film at the Seven Minute Film Festival, and was screened at festivals across Canada and internationally before playing on Bravo! She has just completed her fourth short film, A Good Knight Story, a medieval film for BravoFACT!
Most recently, Patricia was nominated for the prestigious 2010 Gemini Award for Best Direction in Lifestyle/Practical Information Series for the series X-Weighted, which follows 13 unique families and is also nominated for a Gemini for “Best Human Interest Series.” The series is produced by Anaid Productions, which was established in 1993, and has since been lauded as one of the top 100 most influential companies in the world by RealScreen, and featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
Patricia loves directing episodes for the lifestyle documentary series, mainly because of the element of surprise. “I love how the stories evolve—you don’t know what’s going to happen in the end,” she says. “It’s not like drama where you have scripts written and a shot list made. Every scene is like Christmas where you’re unwrapping these presents you never expected—and sometimes they aren’t exactly what you wanted! But you have to go with the flow.”
On the day the crew shot the episode for which Patricia is nominated for Best Direction, she was supposed to be directing a typical scene where the nutritionist would speak with the Daniels family about their diets. It didn’t go as planned. “We thought it was going to be super-easy to shoot. All of a sudden, Mom and the son get into a huge fight. She drags him upstairs and they start yelling at each other, and then he slams the bedroom door. And we’re thinking, oh no, this scene is totally taking off in a different direction!”
To make matters worse, the director and crew had left their comteks—ear pieces to hear what the participants are saying—in the car that day, believing they wouldn’t be necessary. “The boy slammed his bedroom door in Mom’s face, and I couldn’t hear what the nutritionist was saying to the boy,” she says. The episode ended up being a counseling session and a breakthrough for the whole family. “It became this incredible scene, however, I had to make sure that this gem of a scene also fit into the larger story we needed for the show, about nutrition.”
The series has been an emotional journey for everyone involved. “I’m torn between being really protective of these families, and knowing I’m supposed to share their story,” she says. “They’re opening their homes to us and giving us such a gift: to help us learn about their families so people in the audience can see themselves and come to an Aha! moment themselves.”
Patricia has learned it’s usually best to stand back and watch things unfold. “It’s very draining, because you end up feeling for the family members. And sometimes you have to bite your tongue. Sometimes I want to say, ‘If you just did it this way, it would work!’ But you have to let them discover it themselves, so the audience can discover it, too.
Season V of X-Weighted is set to premiere across Canada October 14th on Slice. The Gemini’s Industry Gala Presentations took place on November 2-3rd. The tape of the event, held at Toronto's historic Winter Garden Theatre, was telecast November 13 on the Global network and the Showcase cable channel.