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The Way Forward

by Lisa Shamata

I miss it: a set, a stage, a camera, the people. The irreplaceable thrill of being there when human talent and months of preparation bring a production to ‘action!’ Even a dreaded winter night shoot is appealing right now! Bring on the cold toes, hot ginger tea and bad carbs! Those long hours when art is crafted, stories are told, laughs are had, and worries are shared. Then we move on to the next one. Sometimes years go by before we pick up where we left off.  But we do.

As a unit publicist, I work with cast and crew during production to capture the visual and written materials that studios and broadcasters use to convey the essence of a project and find their audience. I depend significantly on skilled, diplomatic photographers, behind-the-scenes camera people, and virtually every other department for their participation in helping get my job done. I’ve spent half my life on sets in some beautiful (and not so beautiful) places and seen some pretty cool stuff. I’ve also seen and heard things I can never repeat.

There have always been ups and downs in this business. Long days. NO days. The cold. Strained relationships. No money or no time. The inability to plan more than a couple of months in advance. Sometimes the projects we put our blood, sweat and tears into go on to win fame and accolades. Sometimes no one sees them. Yet, we keep coming back. And we will.

The pandemic magnifies these challenges, but as we go through it, I think we gain an important perspective on who we are, what we miss, and what matters most: the foundation of support and camaraderie that is the real magic in our industry.

A key player in bringing us together is The AFC. I’ve known about the organization for years because my actor-father, Chuck Shamata, is a long-time supporter. What I didn’t learn until recently is that The AFC is in place to support all kinds of entertainment industry professionals who work in TV and film, music, theatre, and dance.

When deciding on a donation, John Lewis (IATSE Director of Canadian Affairs), said during a recent town hall meeting, “The AFC was the obvious choice of where to give when COVID hit because they have a proven track record understanding the particular needs in our industry and provide quick results”. John also noted that The AFC participates in weekly national union meetings, which actively expands their ability to anticipate how to best serve the community and make the most of their supporters’ generosity.

My dad has been a fierce advocate of actor’s rights for as long as I can remember. He and my mother led with their example of being there for us, each other, and their friends in the industry since the 1960’s. Resources have evolved tremendously since then and the need for them has never been more apparent. My brother Jesse, a director and writer, and I grew up aware of the inherent struggles but we both joined the family business. We’re all still at it.

An IATSE 667 member since publicists joined in 2003, I have gained health benefits and a wage scale that have improved my family’s quality of life, no question. Equally important to me is that being part of a collective is about having each other’s back, and using the strength in unity to take positive, equitable action.

It’s heartening to see the burst of kindness and creativity brought on by this adversity. When people feel deprived, there is a tendency to place blame. Our community has pulled together like never before. My union, for example, has focused entirely on how to help members, their families, and the industry as a whole get through this crisis. In addition to providing up to the minute financial support access, it has encouraged members to use mental health resources and offered exercise and industry skills courses. It has issued messages of solidarity with Black Lives Matter and sought to support elder members. Committees – Women’s, Youth, Pride, Green – are enthusiastically working to expand their messages and get back to work. Their level of engagement makes us stronger and more united. Is there more to do? Of course, but look how much is being accomplished when we work together for common causes.

Marcel Duchamp said,“I don’t believe in art. I believe in artists.” While I agree with Marcel’s sentiments, I believe there is an artist in all of us. The assistants, the people in camera, construction, lighting, grip, AD, hair, art, make-up, wardrobe, props, transport, catering, craft and publicity departments, as well as the actors, writers and directors. Everyone has a story, and every one of us plays a part.

There is art in making do with less, thinking before we take what we don’t really need, listening, connecting, finding new ways to adapt, and making a point to remember what we’ve learned from all of this. The best art, I think, is that of living harmoniously. Never in our lifetime more than now.

This pandemic and ensuing events have shown us in the truest, global sense, that the only way forward is together. We are all stronger that way.

In that spirit, I encourage you to accept help if you’re struggling, and if you can afford to share – your money, time, voice, information, resources – do it! It is appreciated.

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