Cjay Boisclair is an award-winning filmmaker hailing from Kamloops, BC. Multi-talented in every corner of the industry that she touches, Cjay isn’t afraid to dip her toes into anything new.
Her debut short script, The Bench, garnered numerous nominations and awards at film festivals around the world. Cjay’s second script, Stood Up, followed, winning the Women in the Director’s Chair (WIDC) Short Works Award and immediately went into production. The heartfelt short film debuted at the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival and is currently enjoying a robust film festival run. As of August 2020, Stood Up has been accepted into 78 film festivals internationally with 48 awards and nominations.
Most recently, Cjay Boisclair was selected to join the second cohort of 50 women entrepreneurs to join the BANFF Spark and Super Channel Accelerator program, supporting and empowering women in entrepreneurship.
Cjay Boisclair on the set of Stood Up. Photography by John Enman
We love to see creators span across British Columbia. Tell us about the motion picture industry in Kamloops
The film industry in Kamloops is constantly evolving and growing thanks to the hard work of our local film commissioner, Victoria Weller, and many other local filmmakers. Vicci has brought in training initiatives, financing opportunities and productions to the area, opening the doors for local filmmakers to pave their own way into the film industry. She is a champion of anyone willing to work hard and very supportive of her local community of filmmakers.
Growing up, I never thought a career in film and television was even an option, it wasn’t even on my radar. It’s not one of those jobs that are listed or talked about in school, realistically I didn’t even know it existed in BC, let alone in Kamloops. I feel so lucky to do what I love!
When I first started in the industry, they had to ship people in from Vancouver to fill background roles. Now we own and operate a successful talent agency (What up my Askem Talent peeps?) and send talent all over BC from the Interior and Okanagan. It’s mind-boggling what a turn around that is!
At the beginning of my career, my sons and I were regular background performers just starting out in acting. We couldn’t find adequate representation in the area so my husband, Duane Boisclair, started Askem Talent to support us (he has supported me through every crazy dream and aspiration and there have been many!). News travels fast and the day we got our license we were meeting about filling a call for a feature film. We took that leap and have been growing since then. Askem Talent now supports talent all over BC with a specialty in the Okanagan and Interior.
This year we did a major expansion in the middle of COVID and plan another one in the winter, as well as being chosen as a Banff Spark participant. This program, meant to spearhead female entrepreneurs in the entertainment industry, will help accelerate an already thriving organization and give our talent pool even more opportunity!
A newer benefit of being a “remote” location is initiatives like Storyhive, the WIDC, Reel Youth and Doc BC who are seeking out new creators in our area. Without programs like these, I do not believe I would still be in this industry or have come as far as I have in such a short period of time. They have invested in me and my career personally through various mentorships and sponsorship AND my community by offering ongoing training and opportunities. Many more local productions are popping up and new people are joining the trade!
You’ve shapeshifted in many roles in the industry, how did those experiences build your work as a filmmaker?
Living in a location lacking typical film resources has had both a positive and negative impact on me. There is no film school in Kamloops so what you learn is on location, by showing up, paying your dues, and jumping at every opportunity. Most of our local crew are multi-talented and used to fill in where there is a need or doing multiple roles. It gives us all a varied skillset and understanding of the industry.
The downside to this is having to travel to the Lower Mainland to get gear and adding days to your schedule as well as rarely having the chance to excel and master skills (unless you create your own opportunity or move). We just don’t have enough productions up here to make a living in our own community or keep that kind of equipment.
My first job in the industry was as a background performer, my second as a production assistant, then actor and assistant director. Soon, I had a resume two pages long with all sorts of titles and skills. As a director this has been an ideal experience. I understand most of the lingo and needs from all the departments, so I’m not fighting with my own ignorance. Film is a constantly evolving mashup of storytelling, personalities, creativity and problem-solving. The more you know and can understand, the smoother things will run and the happier the crew.
What was the first project you worked on that made you want to pursue a career in motion picture?
The first film I ever worked on was Power Rangers (and I wasn’t even chosen on my own merit, they chose me for my truck!).
Back then there weren’t enough background performers in Kamloops, so big productions, like Power Rangers, would ship up busloads from Vancouver. I was lucky and a friend of mine was one of them. He was experienced and took me around the set explaining everything, crafty, union vouchers, wardrobe how to’s, the hierarchy, everything. Without his wisdom and enthusiasm that first day I probably wouldn’t have fallen so hard for the industry. So, thank you, Derek Usher, you were the first person to encourage and teach me about the film process.
The whole experience was amazing. We ran for 8-10 hours a day for four days, running from an imaginary beast (and not all of us made it either!). The whole experience was a pivotal moment in my life. Up until then, I was a boring suburban housewife, meandering through life, doing what was expected (and doing it well with enjoyment, no complaints!). Now, I caught the bug!
I knew instantly that I wanted a career in the industry, but I thought just as an actor. When an opportunity came along to direct my own work and I stepped into that role, it was like the heavens parted, the trumpets sounded, and the angels sang! Never have I been so sure (and unsure) of myself.
Rekha Sharma, Stood Up
The motion picture industry has shapeshifted over the last few years, in your eyes, what do you see for the future of film?
I think the future of film, even post-COVID, will thrive and grow exponentially in BC. I imagine more productions will shoot in the Lower Mainland and some will push up our way as well as our domestic growth here.
With the current COVID pandemic, it seems that the Okanagan has become a hot spot for filming, it is our hope that this will increase and the Okanagan and Interior together can share a crew list and live sustainably through the year while working in film.
We have lofty goals, eventually including having a training studio and education centre.
You are currently working on the feature adaptation of your short film The Bench, tell us a bit about your process in producing it into a feature
In 2018 I wrote my first script, The Bench, a short drama about a homeless teenager just trying to survive. It became an award-winning story internationally and helped get me into the Women in the Director’s Chair (WIDC) Short Works Award. The program offered mentorship to all the participants and funding to one production. Luckily my film, Stood Up, was chosen!
In October of 2019, Stood Up had its World Premiere at the Saint John’s Women’s International Film Festival. Since then it has been selected in 79 film festivals internationally and currently holds 48 awards or nominations (August 11th, 2020).
While in post-production of Stood Up, I started adapting The Bench into a feature-length screenplay that I plan to direct early next year. It is an authentic story, weaved from lived experience as a homeless youth, destined to impact its viewers and our local community.
We plan on using as much local crew as possible and providing on-set training to those new to the industry. We also will be shooting it in Kamloops and will be showcasing our landscapes and talent. The buzz from this production will hopefully create more attention on the Interior for filming in the future.
Cjay Boisclair, Rekha Sharma and Jason Burkart on the set of Stood Up. Photography by John Enman
What do you think makes for creating a great team for a project?
What makes for a great team? What a loaded question! I am very lucky that my local film community volunteered on my first film. It was truly surreal. We were all there with one purpose, everyone felt like they had the same stakes and opportunities. It made for a very chill atmosphere where everyone was encouraged to grow (mostly, we all have that one person, am I right?).
The traits most of our team shares are; being comfortable in who they are (this is really important, I feel like if you are comfortable in your own skin you are more likely to bring something unique to the table. One of my favourite things about film are how everyone is slightly different from the norm and has amazing, unique perspectives); knowing their craft (or a willingness to learn for trainees) but with an open mind to new ideas; team players (crucial, I have no time for drama, we are all grownups, can’t we all just get along?); and a desire to be a part of the project (if you can get crew who are passionate about the film you will see it in the end result AND the crew will bond better).
We ended up with a very loyal crew who have joined us on many more projects (and we’ve joined them on theirs’ too!). In fact, there is a core of about 9 people that always seem to work together while others drift in and out depending on availability. Those people that were there in the beginning, who all came together to make my vision come to life (all volunteer!), they are my people and always welcome on my sets. I am honored that they would donate their time and talents and will always be one of their supporters.
In fact, I was fortunate to build up a relationship with an amazing young DP, Nolan McAllister, very early in my career. He was one of the first people to encourage me to write and direct, he volunteered his time, talent and gear, and made everything I could think of out loud, look beautiful on film. He is the first person we call with a new idea or production and often the first person signed up as crew.
It takes every position to make a film. As a writer/director, I try to always remember that everyone is there working to bring MY vision to life. I am very thankful my team is willing to share their talents with me, and it is very humbling to have that kind of support.
We believe that if you take care of your crew, they will take care of you. I think a good director realizes the value of the people they have around them and can encourage the best out of them. It is a team effort, any successes I have had are because of my team, right down to our p.a’s. I am only a conductor weaving their talents together.
On our sets, we really try to make a positive, family-type environment. This is especially true with crafty and catering, our spreads are the best and I know the whole set appreciates it!
What’s the best advice you’ve received that you would pass along?
I have learned more in this career by doing, than anything. Textbooks and tutorials are great resources for new ideas to understand how things work, but there is nothing like being on set; learning by finding out what doesn’t work and making mistakes.
If you want to get into directing, make a film. If you have no money, no friends, no resources, use your cell phone. Put together a short film and edit it yourself! It is amazing how much your thinking changes if you know the end game and the way you want it cut together. It will inform your choices on camera angles, blocking, lighting, camera movement, everything. You can really create a piece of art, not just storytelling, with enough foresight.
For anyone who wants to be a creator; apply for everything, volunteer for your first few credits, be nice to EVERYONE (you never know who will be the next director), work the extra-long hours, watch the tutorials, listen to experienced crew’s advice, be innovative, pay your dues, be thankful, and find a mentor and ask for help!
The biggest lesson though is the same in every industry. If you want it, you have to work for it, so see every “No” as a short-cut to the next “Yes”.
Cjay Boisclair, The Bench
What’s next for Cjay Boisclair?
Lol, it is an odd thought, “What’s next?” when your roster is full! Currently, our focus is getting “The Bench” into production, completing the Banff Spark program, a new documentary, and expanding Askem Talent. We are still working on other projects but they kind of float in a master pile, slowly gathering detail and bulk, until something pushes one of them to the foreground. Right now, there is a series and a feature both competing to be the next focus!
I would also love to direct one of the MOW’s shooting in the Okanagan. There is something incredibly satisfying in creating a film that makes your heart smile and is a throwback to simpler days. I grew up watching all the old black and white and technicolor love stories with my grandma (Oma). Stood Up was written right after she died in a moment of complete and utter heartbreak and is heavily influenced by those early memories and epic romances. It is sweet, innocent, and full of heartwarming charm. In a way, it was the perfect send off to someone who had such a huge impact in my life and makes her legacy last that much longer.
It’s amazing the things that can inspire you too. The Bench was written from my own experience as a troubled, homeless youth and while it shows the realities of a harsh life, it also gives hope and inspires compassion. I don’t know what my next inspiration will be, or which project will capture our hearts, or even the genre! It could come from a simple conversation, the punchline of a joke, a tragedy unfolding before my eyes (hopefully not!), a simple memory, or a whisper in the wind. Whatever it is though, my team and I will be ready!