Beth Stevenson worked her way up in TV production and now owns a globally renowned Canadian production company.
Securing financing from EDC, she’s grown Brain Power Studio.
By Sarah Kelsey
“My mother and father were to blame for my life in the media,” says Beth Stevenson. “My mom had four children and decided to take a night school course in media at Algonquin College School of Media and Design. Though she wrote for newspapers in her spare time, I once heard her in the kitchen saying that if she hadn’t had kids, she would have gone into media full-time.”
As for Beth’s dad, he was a bit of a media pioneer himself, having gravitated to the use of overhead projectors to teach students in his classrooms. He even received the nickname “Overhead Bob” for his love of the device.
When it came time for her to decide what she wanted to do, Beth says she didn’t flinch: “I told my guidance counsellors I wanted to go into radio and television at Algonquin. And that’s what I did.”
She started her post-secondary career in news, working in the camera department and learning the ins and outs of behind-the-scenes production. Then she pivoted, feeling a desire to express her creativity, to focus on fictional content and writing scripts with legends like Jim Henson and The Kids in the Hall. From there, she moved into the world of development, working on everything from one-hour dramas and short half-hour kids shows to setting up international release deals for projects.
In 2010, Beth started contemplating launching her own production company.
“I was missing the entrepreneurial side of my brain and work,” she says. “I had young twins and I lived north of Toronto. I started to selfishly wonder what would happen if I started a film company in Newmarket. I could avoid the commute and help the community I loved. That’s how Brain Power Studio was born.”
Inspired by her father who used to tell Beth and her siblings they could “change their circumstances and do anything if they used the power of their brain,” the company is a globally recognized producer and distributor of media. Their partners include Lifetime, Hallmark, Discovery, BBC, Channel 5, Amazon Prime Video, and Netflix. She estimates 60 to 70 per cent of the company’s revenue comes from exports.
“It’s a different way to approach the process than traditional filmmaking, where you have to wait for the greenlight to secure resources to develop a project.”
Everything they develop is made in Ontario; there’s a 7,000 sq ft studio in Barrie, a 4,000 sq ft standing set in Sharon, Ontario, and a three-story corporate office in Newmarket. That office and Beth’s own home have been part of her films’ sets. Brain Power even has a 60’ x 40’ x 20’ green screen that can “help fairies fly, super heroes fight, and farm animals talk.”
Beth manages every facet of production, from creative ideation to financing as well as overseeing teams based in Canada and Europe. She’s personally financed over 50 films and nearly 3,000 hours of series. Among the most popular are holiday rom-coms like Twinkle all the Way, Hometown Holiday, and Christmas with a Prince trilogy. The company has also been delivering mystery franchises and action-based movies during the last few years.
Brain Power’s success is, in part, because of its unique business model. Beth built it as a one-stop-shop for everyone’s production needs, from wardrobe and facilities to makeup artists and film crews. “It’s a different way to approach the process than traditional filmmaking, where you have to wait for the greenlight to secure resources to develop a project. We have the inventory of items at-the-ready, so we can start working on something right away.”
The biggest challenge to date has been securing ongoing financing for her projects. Even though she had a lengthy tenure within the industry and started her own company, Beth says many banking institutions (even those she had worked with for decades) made the company jump through hoops to access credit. “It was an absolute grind, and securing financing is grinding at the best of times,” she says.
“You will know from the moment you step on a set whether this is the industry for you.”
What helped was establishing relationships with reputable trade ecosystem partners like Canada’s export credit agency, Export Development Canada (EDC).
One of the ways Beth tapped into EDC’s support is through their Account Performance Security Guarantee, which was issued to her financial institution. This guarantee eliminates the need to tie up collateral, enabling entrepreneurs to accelerate their growth plans.
“We support the growth and success of women-owned and -led businesses at every stage of their export journey,” says Catherine Beach, National Lead, Women in Trade at EDC. “Our goal is to inspire, educate and build awareness of the benefits of exporting, which is a catalyst for business growth in today’s global marketplace.”
Beth also tapped into the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) for “small operation and equipment loans,” saying the organization “allowed us to take on loans at an operational level that wouldn’t cripple us and allowed us to grow.”
Her biggest piece of advice to anyone wanting to break into the entertainment industry, beyond locking down financing, is to do the research and make sure it’s a space you want to play in.
“If it was easy, everyone would do it,” she says. “You will know from the moment you step on a set whether this is the industry for you. It’s fun, it’s fantastic, and I’m lucky I’m into it. We have a lot of fun doing what we do, but it’s also a lot of hard work and I started my business with years of filing cabinets and credits to my name.”
Beth says she wouldn’t trade her life or work for anything. Brain Power has even become a bit of a family business, with her husband and kids pitching in on various projects. Her dad as “Overhead Bob” even became a bit of a mascot for the company.
“To quote Julia Roberts: ‘I’m just an ordinary person with an extraordinary job.’ And I love it.”