Kim Todd, Part 2: Life as a producer

Interviewed by Fil Fraser at Banff World Media Festival on June, 2011

Fraser. Talk about how you became a producer.

Todd. Nobody grows up saying they're going to be a producer. I grew up saying I wanted to tell stories. I studied creative writing at York University and have paid my own way. I went to York because it was the only university that had a creative writing program at the time. I studied with Irving Layton, John Cole, Frank Davies, and Eli Mandel; there was a fabulous group of writers there. I worked at Coach House Press as their student intern; and with Dave Godfrey, a Gov. Gen. award winning novelist, who was also my teacher.

I went to Paris after graduating and found that I’d learned to read and to comment; I’d learned about story. But I was very impatient with myself because I didn't write like James Joyce. I was in Paris after all, so what was going on with that? I also loved and had studied the visual arts. So, in Paris, as a student, I went to the Louvre every Sunday; I so admired the power of those pictures. When I was in Paris, I spent all the time in the galleries. Without any words, they said so much. Then I actually had a storybook epiphany one day, thinking that I should tell stories with pictures, as movies. How powerful is that?

So, I came back to Toronto thinking that I wanted to make movies. I wasn't sure whether I would be writing, directing, or producing them. So, I started working as a PA, made coffee, and was the runner, I was a very good PA. I scrounged work as a waitress and did all the jobs that teach you to value good work when you get it. But it was always about telling stories. I have an organizing bent; I like working with people. Working as a novelist in a garret in Paris wasn't for me. After being a PA, I was an AD, then a production manager. I worked as an editor; I worked on the journal at CBC producing documentaries on the arts; I started an art gallery on Queen St., West, I was very involved in the arts and music scene, and in the dance scene. It was a fabulous time for me.

Recently, I was interviewed about an art show, and about the history of Queen St., West, because we were those pioneers there. So I've always been involved in moving things forward, with creative projects. A little kid once asked me when I was very young at the YYZ gallery, for which I wrote the manifesto… he said, “Why do you do this stuff?” And I said, “It keeps me sane.” Telling stories, working with the producer, director, and the writer to shape a script and getting all the elements together for production: that's very rewarding for me. Frankly, as a woman, the role that I was allowed to go into was producing. The industry could see women as producers; it's a kind of maternal organizational role and there are many women producers.

F. and many of them pioneers....

T. Yes. There are many of them now. But they couldn't see women as directors in those days. And, of course, the first thing I did as a producer was to hire women directors and women writers. It wasn't in a militant way, because I gravitated towards the sensibility. At one point, when we were doing The Adventures of Shirley Holmes, which was about a young girl, I said to Elizabeth Stewart, who was the executive story editor, “We need to get some men on this writing team. We have no testosterone in this room!” It had always been the other way. The writing teams were always men. In those ways, we women changed the face of the industry, bringing some kind of balance and sensibility there. People ask me if I regret having become a producer instead of a writer. “I'm not finished yet,” is my answer. Certainly, I have often done the writing. But, getting the stories told, especially in television, is such a collaborative effort. It's so wonderful….

F.  Yes, but you bring all the parts together; you've done everything. It's the most collaborative enterprise I can imagine. The producer has a picture in their mind about what show they're doing; the director says, “I know what it's all about”; the writer says, “Don't you touch a syllable!”; and there’s the art director who says, “This is the way it ought to look.” And you have an editor….

T. The editor just sits back and waits! It will come to him or her in the end.

F.  And the genius of the producer is getting all of those elements to work together and make the same movie.

T.  My daughter, who is now 22, said to me when she was about six, “It's sort of like you're the mommy of the production,  isn't it, mommy?” She saw the role. My job was to pull it all together and make the best movie we could. If you have a writer and director who don't agree, that's the producer's mistake.  The producer puts the team together. It’s true that broadcasters have approval and make decisions in television, and distributors and other powerful people make suggestions in film, so you may end up with people in creative roles who are not compatible; it’s my job to make sure we’re all making the same great movie. I love that challenge. I love making sure that I'm getting the best from everyone, that they're buying in, that they feel appreciated and respected. But also that they respect each other. You have to avoid territorial wrangling.