Students standing in front of screen

Making critical connections

Sixty fourth year students in the Business of Media Course in the Department of Film and Media had the unique opportunity to step outside the classroom and take a field trip to Toronto. During the day-long excursion, students visit various Toronto-based media companies including Cinespace, CTV, CBC, and the Chinese online video platform iQiyi.

The field trip was back on the agenda this year after being cancelled due to the pandemic, with graduates from the past two years also invited to join. Course instructor and Film and Media alumni Alex Jansen, who owns the multimedia production company, Pop Sandbox, says when he left the program, the transition to industry was a challenging one. The course was created to help students explore business considerations throughout the production cycle, from development to production to distribution and marketing, as well as examine various career paths in media.

The primary focus is on film and television, but the course explores different sectors including interactive digital media with an overall emphasis on cross-platform storytelling. The whole day is made possible by a generous donation from alumni Malcolm White, BMO Chartered Financial Analyst, Portfolio Manager, Global Equity, who has a real vision for helping prepare the students for working on the industry side.

“The capstone of the course is we take the entire class into Toronto,” Jansen explains. “First, we do a luncheon at BMO hosted by Malcolm. During the lunch we look at future technology and Malcolm puts a spotlight on industry ahead. After that, the class splits up into three groups and they choose where they want to go.

“We had one group go to Cinespace, the second largest studio system in North America. The president Ashley Rice is a Queen’s alumni. A second group went and met with the Toronto International Film Festival and their programming team, there are a lot of Queen’s alumni working there. The third group, they went to iQiyi, one of the largest streamers in China - this field trip stop was in Mandarin.”

After the initial visits, the students went to new locations with one stop being on set for the Apple series Pachinko. A second group visited the CBC studios, and a third group had a similar experience at the CTV studios.

“Students choose locations based on their interests and where they want to specialize after earning their degree,” Jansen says.

The final stop of the day is a table talk event, essentially speed dating with industry experts, many of whom are Queen’s alumni. The experts include people working in commercials and post production, writers, film critics, academics, editors, directors. “It’s a great experience because a lot of them came from the same program they are currently in, and the current students can see a path to success after meeting them.”

The day wraps with a reception featuring more than 300 alumni working in industry.

“The field trip is really part of the bigger picture,” says White. “Around 12 years ago, I realized the world of media/communications was changing much faster than what was anticipated by academia. The idea of the course was to educate students nearing graduation about these changes to help them adjust and plan their careers accordingly.

“Alex had the foresight to reach out to alumni and add an annual field trip where students could engage with industry.  He has been truly instrumental in turning this vision into reality over the past decade.”

Jansen, who founded the Kingston Canadian Film Festival and ran the Screening Room while still a student, says when he was at Queen’s, he struggled figuring out how to make his way in the business and trying to make connections.

“The real value of this course and this field trip is to help students make the transition and find their career path. It’s a unique industry based on networking and students need the tools to break in and meet the right people, have the right experiences. Queen’s has this incredible network of alumni and it’s just a matter of connecting them.”