Erin O’Connor is back at centre stage as the new general manager of the Calgary Film Centre.
Erin is a Calgary native who has been a dancer, choreographer and artistic director. She then changed roles in her career and became the executive director of One Yellow Rabbit and the High Performance Rodeo, and most recently, managing director of the art gallery Contemporary Calgary. In 2013, Erin won the Rozsa Award for Excellence in Arts Management in Calgary.
In April, Erin took on responsibility for the day-to-day operations at the $28-million Calgary Film Centre that will open May 19 with three modern sound stages and three multi-purpose workshop and warehouse spaces. With the exciting opportunity in front of her, we asked Erin about her new job.
1: Has your background as a performer helped in you as an arts administrator?
Absolutely, as a dancer, choreographer and director, I’ve envisioned entire productions from concept through to performance – choreographic development, costume and lighting design, through to coordination of all elements required for professional production. Having worn that hat, I have the ability to understand a creative mind, the full scope and purpose of a creative project, and I have had the experience of trusting the creative process and doing whatever it takes to make it a reality. Often what it takes is proper management. I would say that my experiences serve me well in arts management.
2: What exactly does general manager of the Calgary Film Studio do?
It’s a monster of a job, as I am finding out. (laughs)
It’s everything from assisting the Board of Directors with strategic and business planning, revenue projections, cost controls and finding a sustainable business model for the organization. Then I have to take that model and put it into practice, all the while ensuring stable operations. Sales and marketing are critical to keep a healthy pipeline of activity. And, of course, facility management. We will be moving from construction to operations shortly and there will be a need for diligence in building oversight and maintenance. Currently, I’m working on the contracting of services and leasing tenancy agreements so we are ready for our first project.
As General Manager, I will be planning and managing the aspirations of the organization, the operations of the facility, and, most importantly, providing support for the creative industries. None of it happens without all of the pieces. You don’t get one without the other. The arts can’t survive without the practical elements of business.
3: What do you see as the primary value and role of the film centre?
The primary role of the film centre is to support the growth of the creative industries in southern Alberta and, more specifically, the Calgary region. We plan to support a critical mass of national, international and local productions allowing for an increase in the quantity of creative projects in this region.
Projects in the film centre will create all sorts of ancillary opportunity for support services and job creation. We hope to play a role in bolstering economic diversification in this region.
For me, personally, this is a great opportunity to be in at the ground level of a start-up organization in a growing industry.
4: What sets Calgary apart from other places for the arts and creative industries?
Geography and stunning location options … Alberta’s vistas and scenery is the main reason why directors choose to come to Alberta. This is supported by award winning crews and now a film centre that elongates the season and provides scheduling flexibility against uncertainties due to weather. We have a nice niche in the market and can now fully service the industry.
5: Do you have a favourite movie shot here? Unforgiven, The Revenant, Brokeback Mountain?
Yes I do. It’s Terrance Malick’s Days of Heaven and that’s because I have spent many summers in southern Alberta and am very familiar with the region where this movie was filmed. I enjoy fly fishing so I have walked those river valleys and lived those days of heaven on the Oldman River, literally! That movie refers to a sense of place that resonates with me.
Editor’s Note: In 2011, The Guardian newspaper in England ask in a headline “Is Days of Heaven the most beautiful film ever made?”