Boots on the ground
Profile by Jane Ledwell
Louise Lalonde says a teacher friend recently observed about her students: “If you speak, they listen”—she shrugs slightly—“but if it’s on a screen, it’s like it has more value.”
That’s important intel for a filmmaker like Louise. But, she says with conviction, “You don’t put anything on a screen without a script.” Later, she comments, “The best part is always the writing. I’ve always loved writing,” and that’s the enthusiasm that led her to start the annual Screenwriters Bootcamp, a free PEI summer screenwriting training program. For the tenth year this year, six high-powered film industry mentors who will work with 25 participants who successfully compete for their places in five workshops. “One thing we can always do here is write,” she says. “L.M. Montgomery proved that! All you need is a pen and some paper and the will.”
At Bootcamp, “There are no workshop fees, and one reason I did that was to remove those barriers,” Louise says. “If artists are broke or are not flush, it doesn’t change the fact that they need mentoring,” she says. “Some people might ask, at this point, can’t you sit at home and train yourself? But that’s not the case, certainly with screenwriting. You have to develop these skills: how to captivate the audience, how to build tension, how character can be perceived—the dialogue has to be realistic…”
Louise laughingly calls filmmaking her “third career.” She had worked in an office, and on Parliament Hill—then after visiting PEI for what was meant to be a vacation took a job at Holland College in a bilingual secretarial program. When the program ended, she stayed. Louise wasn’t looking for a career in film. “I’ve always been a hobby photographer,” she says, “but it always seemed so unattainable to work in film.”
A producer friend was working in Halifax in 1998 and asked for help, and, Louise says, “I just got the bug. It was all so magical… I went to film school in 2001.” That was a wonderful opportunity, but she admits, “I didn’t know at the time how hard it is to break into the industry, and how long it takes. It’s a bit of a young person’s game.”
She has written produced, and directed three completed dramatic short films. She also has lots of writing in English and French that hasn’t been produced.
A fabled cook, Louise modestly says she “has always been involved with food” and is working on an educational documentary on food during wartime. “I didn’t realize what I was starting—that it is really about war and all its atrocities,” she says. “It’s a challenge to detach myself from it.”
She’s all the more grateful, then, for the distraction of another documentary project, “reliving the 1970s” by creating “a time capsule” of her brothers’ world-famous French-Canadian folk-rock band, Garolou. “Because I’m so close to the subject, I have to go back to draw out the questions, so those who weren’t there can know the inside story,” she says, relishing the challenge.
Louise typically works ten-hour days: “One minute writing press releases, the next writing a budget. It’s never boring, but it’s tough.” She smiles, “I spend a lot of time fundraising for other people to have opportunities.” The goal of the Screenwriters Bootcamp is always “seeing films made,” but she adds, “I want to support the individuals involved, like they’re my little ducks. I want to see them fly. The goal is to see people flourish, and to get our stories told.”
Her work has paid off personally in the form of a Wave Award, three years ago, from Women in Film and Television-Atlantic, for (as she describes it) “women who have done things in their careers.” But real rewards of filmmaking, as Louise sees them, are not just individual.
Louise is grateful for provincial support for the Screenwriters Bootcamp and hopes to see government invest in Island media arts more widely: “I certainly hope government sees the value of supporting the arts in general and filmmaking especially,” she says. “There is so much opportunity to grow an industry… There has been success—there can be a lot more.”