The Art of Creative Entrepreneurial Mentorship with Frances-Anne Solomon
By: Rashida Ashley
Toronto, On - Award-winning filmmaker and producer Frances-Anne Solomon discusses mentorship, entrepreneurship, and creativity as the recipient of the 2022 “WIFT Toronto Crystal Award for Mentorship” in recognition of her outstanding contribution in helping to motivate, guide, and support emerging and mid-career professionals in the Canadian screen-based media industry, often serving as a role model to younger entrepreneurs as they grow in their careers.
What does it mean to create space for yourself and others by doing what you are passionate about? Better yet, what does it take? What led Frances-Anne Solomon to receive the WIFT Toronto Crystal Award for Mentorship was a road that constantly needed to be tilled for others such as herself. Solomon could not stand by while she experienced, time after time, an artistic industry that put a wall between people of color with exceptional creative abilities and positions of leadership or pathways for project completion.
Frances-Anne Solomon embarked on her career at the BBC in England TV Drama Producer. She then went on to found CTMG in 2001. Her creative works include feature films such as HERO (2019), A Winter Tale (2018), and the sitcom Lord Have Mercy (2001). Solomon is also a lecturer at the University of the West Indies, New York University, and Duke University. She is also a member of The Directors’ Branch Executive of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the recipient of many international awards.
Frances-Anne Solomon has received the WIFT Toronto Crystal Award for Mentorship due to her outstanding contributions in helping to motivate, guide, and support emerging and mid-career professionals in the Canadian screen-based media industry. Particularly acting as a role model for young entrepreneurs. In this interview, Solomon speaks on what it means to be a mentor in the film and media industry and offers her experiences as a creative entrepreneur.
When did you feel it was the right time to become a mentor?
At the beginning of my career, I was a producer at the BBC. I joined the organization in the 90s, long before diversity, Black Lives Matter, and Me Too. I was the only woman of color in the department. Right away, I felt the need to create access for people who look like me.
I grew up in Trinidad and Tobago, where people who looked like me were in the government. Doctors, lawyers, all the leaders, and amazing people around me were black people. So, for me, being in a completely white environment was outrageous. I immediately wanted to create space for people who looked like me because it felt very unfair.
At the BBC, I created scenes for writers, directors, and actors to come in and strut their stuff. I never saw it as mentoring. I was just creating space and making things equal.
What aspects of your industry could be improved or developed that could be reflected in your work as a mentor?
In reality, every aspect of the screen-based industry is owned and controlled by white people. Whether it’s from production companies, broadcasters, distributors, newspapers, or reviewers, you name it. These structures in the West are owned and controlled by white people. We don’t own as people of color. We don’t own the means of production of any aspects of the industry. So you can develop a story, but then you can’t sell it because no one in the production and the broadcasters is interested in our stories, was at the time. Even if you get commissioned and make the show by any miracle, you can’t distribute it. You would have to distribute it yourself and pay for it yourself. Then the reviewers will come in and say, ‘I don’t know why this story is being told.’That was what I was seeing.
So working at the BBC, this was a fully vertically integrated organization that created, produced, marketed, and sold content for a UK audience. That was a model that I saw very early in my career. So when I left the BBC to set up my own business, the one thing they didn’t do, of course, was catered to people of color and Black people. So I wanted to set up a similar pipeline of services that would serve our audiences globally. Very ambitious, I know, because I didn’t have any money to do it.
We have a training arm to upskill our communities, a production arm to make content, a festival arm with three festivals to show content, and a distribution arm to distribute content. That’s how I felt we needed to operate so that nothing could stop. Of course, you need money to do it, but I’ve alwa