Producer Trish Dolman is the founder and president at Screen Siren Pictures Inc., an independent television and filmcompany based in Vancouver, B.C. She has been in the media biz for 22 years and has produced over 10 documentaries, 6 feature films and several international treaty co-productions. In addition to the numerous awards her productions have garnered, Dolman herself has gotten attention as one of the most influential women in Vancouver’s media landscape from several organizations, and has sat on the CMPA Board of Directors. Judging from her backstory, all of this was part of the plan.
No late bloomer, Dolman set her sights on a career in media all the way back in high school. It seemed a good way to bridge her interests in several fine arts (literature, photography, ceramics). While studying at McGill University, a film course by professor Ron Burnett caused her to fall in love with film and from there she transferred to Concordia, completing a Communications degree with a specialization in film. She began producing while still in school, graduated in 1992 and has been working in the business ever since- documentary and scripted, directing and producing.
Dolman founded Screen Siren in Vancouver in 1997, and has carved out a niche in Western Canada as a notable feature film producer. As she notes, there are not a plethora of feature film producers in English Canada. Part of Screen Siren’s success has to do with having developed a pedigreed reputation as a partner in international co-productions. Christine Haebler has been a co-producing partner for 6 years now, and you will see her credited on a number of their works, such as Daydream Nation, a feature film starring Kat Dennings, Reece Thompson Josh Lucas and Andie McDowell, Foreverland, starring Max Thieriot, Laurence LeBeouf, Demian Bichir, Sarah Wayne Callies, and Indian Horse, an upcoming adaptation of the novel by Richard Wagamese, to name just a few.
Screen Siren’s latest documentary is Eco-Pirate: The Story of Paul Watson, a passion project for Dolman which she wrote and directed. Doing a documentary about the famous environmental activist was a dream come true: “I wanted to make a documentary about Paul Watson, like my whole life, and was able to do that, and had an amazing experience and kind of realized a life-long dream, and got to tour the world going to different festivals.” Eco-Pirate screened at over 25 doc festivals across the world, winning awards at three, including Hot Docs.
With broadcast docs now fewer and farther-between, Screen Siren focuses on either documentary series (such as the upcoming electronic music series Legends of EDM and the dramatized/ factual hybrid The Conspiracy Project) or international co-productions with high caliber directors (such as Some Kind of Love, currently in post-production and directed by Thomas Burstyn).
On the fiction side, Screen Siren’s latest is the recently released Hector and the Search for Happiness, co-produced with the German company Egoli Tossel, among other co-producers. Screen Siren signed on as co-producer in 2012, completing the casting and acquiring the remaining financing. It was released in the U.K, U.S.A. and Canada, and screened at TIFF 2014. Dolman says one of the most rewarding aspects of that project was the relationships: “You know, on Hector, there was really a family that was created, of people that traveled the world and survived a lot of ups and downs. I feel that we’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with Simon Pegg, for example, who’s a pretty incredible gracious, thoughtful man.”
Like many CMPA Members, Dolman believes that producers’ voices are stronger together, and says her time on the Board was a great opportunity to learn from leaders in the industry. For young people starting out in the business, Dolman stresses the importance of learning from established producers- starting off working as an assistant producer or intern may be more feasible than starting one’s own company right off the bat, given the degree to which business has consolidated. “The unique thing about producing is that really most of it you can only learn on the job. It’s very difficult to be trained in producing at school. . . it takes many, many years.”
If Dolman is right that it takes 10,000 hours to learn how to produce, it would be wise to start following her advice sooner rather than later.