By Olivia Buchner
Laurie May has been in the film business for over twenty years. She is currently the Co-Founder and Co-President of Elevation Pictures, one of the largest independent distribution companies in Canada with award-winning titles such as The Imitation Game, ROOM, and Moonlight. She is also an Executive Producer on the recently released film, The Broken Hearts Gallery. Prior to Elevation, Laurie served as Executive Vice President of Entertainment One and Alliance Films and was Co-President and Co-Founder of Maple Pictures where she was involved in many notable releases including Academy Award winners Crash, The Hurt Locker, and The Cove.
Laurie began her career in film as the Senior Vice President of Business & Legal Affairs for Lionsgate, where she also sat on the board of directors from 2005-2010. She received her law degree from the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, practiced corporate and entertainment law at Oslers, and was an adjunct professor of Entertainment and Sports Law at Western Law School. She has also acted as a mentor for Women in Film & Television and in 2010 was the recipient of the WIFT Outstanding Achievement Award for her accomplishments in the Canadian film industry. In 2017, Laurie became a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. We spoke with Laurie about her career journey, releasing films during a pandemic, and her advice for women who want to follow in her footsteps.
You have a very impressive and diverse background in film, from legal affairs to being an Executive Producer on the newly released film, The Broken Hearts Gallery. What drew you to film and what do you enjoy most about the industry?
I love the creative energy of the film industry. Early in law school I got interested in entertainment law, which was a great path into the film business. I worked on corporate, production and distribution work at Lionsgate, and transitioned that into a more business role running Maple Pictures (the Canadian arm of Lionsgate), which sold to Alliance Films, then Alliance Films sold to Entertainment One, and we launched Elevation which has become the largest independent English distributor in Canada. What I especially love about film is the passion for storytelling, from working with writers and directors, producers, sales agents, and talent; this is a collaborative industry of people engaged in telling stories that move us, make us laugh, educate us, entertain us. In these crazy times, you can see as always the power of film bringing people together.
Having worked in the film industry for over 20 years, is there a specific project or accomplishment you are most proud of?
There have been so many projects that I am proud of, at Elevation winning the TIFF Grolsch People’s Choice Awards for our films The Imitation Game, and ROOM, and Academy Award Best Picture wins including for our film Moonlight, highlighted that we were succeeding in what we set out to do, which is bring elevated content for audiences. On a personal level, my greatest accomplishment in the industry was becoming a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2017.
Film is a collaborative industry of people engaged in telling stories that move us, make us laugh, educate us, entertain us. In these crazy times, you can see as always the power of film bringing people together.
Elevation Pictures debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2013, and since then, has had many major achievements including multiple Academy wins and two TIFF Grolsch People’s Choice Awards. What inspired you to launch Elevation Pictures and what is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned throughout your journey?
There was a lot of consolidation in the Canadian film industry, so there was an opportunity to create a new Canadian distributor, to focus on a slate of “elevated content”, supporting Canadian filmmakers, and working with international partners to bring the best independent films to audiences. There have been many valuable lessons, but the most valuable one is it’s all about teamwork. We have an amazing dedicated team at Elevation, from my Co-President Noah Segal who spearheaded our production arm, producing amazing films like The Nest in theatres this Friday, and French Exit which is closing night at the New York Film Festival, to everyone who works at Elevation, who share the passion for film and drive to succeed.
Elevation Pictures had a number of titles at TIFF 2020 including one of this year’s most anticipated films, Ammonite. How did you prepare for this year’s festival season in comparison to previous years?
We are very proud to have three films at TIFF, two prominent distribution titles: Ammonite starring Kate Winslet (who won the TIFF Tribute Award) and Saorise Ronan to be distributed by Neon, and The Father starring Sir Anthony Hopkins (who also won the TIFF Tribute Award) and Olivia Colman to be distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, which both launched into the start of awards season. We also had one of the buzziest sales titles, I Care A Lot, directed by J. Blakeson and starring Rosamund Pike (who is a TIFF Ambassador) and Peter Dinkledge, which got an amazing reception and stellar reviews. The planning was a little different, more focused on the new screening plan including digital screenings, and how to engage audiences without the buzz of red carpets and big events, but overall I think TIFF did a great job and we are very pleased with how all the films played.
The film industry is traditionally a very male-dominated industry. What advice would you give to other women interested in pursuing a career in film?
Yes, the industry has been traditionally very male dominated, but I was always inspired by the strong female role models in the industry, from Sherry Lansing who ran Paramount Pictures to Phllis Yaffe at Alliance Films. The industry has been shifting towards inclusivity and diversity, including making room for women in front of and behind the camera, as evidenced by the TIFF initiative, Share Her Journey. Women have a strong role to play, so go network, find a mentor, find your passion, and go for it. Everyone has obstacles along the way, it’s about muscling through them and learning from them that makes you stronger, so you can make a positive contribution and hopefully inspire others along the way.