Hard work is starting to pay off for a pair of filmmakers who recently moved to Ladner.
Producer Mark Ratzlaff and writer Nimisha Mukerji are among the teams selected for the 2020 edition of the National Screen Institute Totally Television.
The course provides customized training for Canadian producer/writer teams to develop story ideas into polished packages for the global market.
“It's a big moment for us because we have always dreamed of creating a series together,” said Ratzlaff. “Even better, it’s inspired by our families. The NSI program is about taking your project to the next level, so it all feels like one giant leap closer to becoming a reality.
“We know there’s still a ton of work ahead of us, but we feel really fortunate to be one of the four teams selected from across the country, and the only ones representing B.C.”
The course gets results. Both phase two projects from 2018 were picked up by production companies for further development, six series have been produced, five series have been optioned, one project was produced as a feature film and 3,000-plus jobs have been created in Canada’s screen industry.
The 12-month distance learning course consists of two phases, each with an in-person boot camp in Toronto. Teams work with story editors to fine-tune their scripts and concepts, and meet a curated slate of pitch and marketing consultants, executives from major broadcast networks, streaming services, and production and distribution companies to deepen their market intelligence to best identify where their projects fit. Teams advancing to phase two attend Content London in December 2020.
“We can’t wait for March when get to go to Toronto and work alongside some of the industry’s most esteemed writers, producers and showrunners,” added Ratzlaff. “We plan on taking full advantage of all their experience and advice. Our goal has always been to continue working together, so to move the show into development through this program is pretty incredible. It means all that hard work is really starting to pay off.”
The couple spent the last six years in Toronto, but bought their place in Ladner in April 2019 after they became parents to son Khyan.
Mukerjiwas raised in Delta. She attended Cougar Canyon Elementary and then Seaquam Secondary. Ratzlaff grew up in Richmond and graduated from C.E. London Secondary.
“Both of us grew up loving movies,” he said. “While attending UBC as an English lit major Nimisha worked at Rogers Video, which was kind of its own film school. She stumbled on the film production program and applied the same year as me. I loved writing and directing films in high school with friends and even won a provincial award for a public service announcement I directed.”
UBC's program only accepted 15 students a year at the time, and continues to have a reputation nationally as producing some of Canada's preeminent filmmakers. Ratzlaff actually shot his UBC short film in Ladner, at his grandparents’ house just off Ferry Road.
“They were kind enough - and naive enough - to open their home to a green crew of 30 people,” he recalled. “She also ran catering though, so it worked out very well.”
After graduation Mukerji went on to produce and direct the award-winning feature documentary 65_RedRoses which was picked up by Oprah Winfrey for her Documentary Club on OWN.
Ratzlaff worked as a documentary editor, while writing and directing a collection of award-winning short films that screened at festivals around the world.
“My film Beauty Mark, which Nimisha and I co-wrote, took me to the Cannes Film Festival as part of Telefilm Canada’s Not Short on Talent showcase,” he said. “Then I attended the Canadian Film Centre in Toronto, founded by prolific Canadian director Norman Jewison, who made In The Heat of the Night, Moonstruck and The Hurricane. Nimisha and I then produced another feature documentary called Blood Relative together, which we shot in Mumbai that was nominated for a number of Canadian Screen Awards and won the Audience Award for Best Canadian Documentary at the Vancouver International Film Festival.
“We have collaborated many times over the years, from short films to segments for Sesame Street. Being married to your creative partner isn’t always easy, we’ve had to work hard to find a way to balance life and our work, but it’s the best.”