Market Insights

Elevation Pictures Co-Founder and Co-President landed a leading role in international film industry.

Risk-taking is a popular ‘storyline’ at Scotiabank Women Initiative® (SWI) events where Canada’s top women executives often describe the risks they took and obstacles they conquered to build successful careers. 

The August 2nd ‘Fireside Chat’ with Laurie May, Co-Founder and Co-President of Elevation Pictures, offered an equally thrilling plot for a captivated audience of current and emerging women leaders. 

Laurie’s risk-taking included scenes from the Hollywood #MeToo movement, running her film company amid COVID-19, and planning red carpet screenings during recent labour disputes. But the ‘Oscar-winning moment’ came when Laurie advised women to embrace, and pivot with, each career risk, by “calmly dodging the rocks they throw down the mountain at you,” whether in the Hollywood Hills or any industry where women make their way.

Be open and make knowledge your armour

“We all need to take calculated risks to take advantage of opportunities, and we can do that by surrounding ourselves with the right people who will challenge us,” said Michelle Khalili, Managing Director and Head of Scotiabank Global Equity Capital Markets, and Executive Lead of SWI across the Global Banking and Markets (GBM) division, as she introduced Laurie at the Toronto gathering.

Laurie definitely delivered that inspiration to the crowd, as she described her three-decade career. Her script charted a path from aspiring journalist, to Bay Street lawyer, to studio executive, to Board member of the Toronto International Film Festival. Oh, and don’t forget “Voting Member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science.”

Ultimately, Laurie founded and is leading Elevation Pictures, one of the largest independent film companies in Canada, where she shepherded Oscar-winning pictures like Moonlight, The Whale, and Everything, Everywhere All at Once. Her successes even prompted The Hollywood Reporter to name her among ‘the Most Influential Women in International Film’ in 2023.

How did she do all this, asked event moderator Loretta Marcoccia, Executive Vice President and COO, Global Banking and Markets, and Executive Sponsor of SWI for GBM.

“You don’t need to know what you want to do when you grow up. It’s really about getting out there and living in the world, being open to opportunities, and then taking them,” replied Laurie. “And, if that doesn't really work, shift over and open yourself to another opportunity. I kept putting myself in places that I was passionate about, and I was always talking to people to get there.”

For Laurie, “being open” meant listening to a mentor who nudged her towards law school, raising her hand to help fledgling film companies launch IPOs, moving from a blue-chip law firm to a big studio, and, later, co-founding her own companies.

But how did she pull off these important and strategic ‘pivots’? Laurie admitted that it wasn’t always easy: “When you are an entrepreneur, it’s your business and you have a lot of mouths to feed, so that’s a lot of responsibility. For me, I always take the time to educate myself, so I keep reading, going to conferences, and talking to people. Knowledge is my armour, because the more you learn the more confidence you get.”

She continues to apply those risk-taking skills today, as she and her team choose great Canadian-made films, while also battling the global studios for distribution rights to ‘the next big picture’ that could tap into the ‘zeitgeist’ of the moment and entertain and excite people: “You have to remember that nobody bats a thousand. You won’t win every time, and, there’s no shame in saying, ‘I don’t know the answer to that question, so let me get back to you’.”

Dodging rocks thrown down the mountain

Like any good movie script, Laurie describes the obstacles that women can encounter on their career journey. Noting that the film industry is a hotly competitive environment, she describes how, “There have been men along the way who didn’t make it easy. You could be a woman with kids, parents, and a husband who need you, so you are climbing the mountain while carrying rocks. Then, there are people at the top of the mountain throwing rocks at you. Sometimes you want to say ‘forget it,’ and go home, but you can’t let the barriers pull you down. You have to find the people who will pull you up, and hang around them, because that will make a big difference in your life.” She credits her ‘supporting cast’, including “my lovely group of women back at the office”, her family, industry peers who cheered her on, and great partners in the film industry.

This helped Laurie pivot from one challenge to the next, such as running her company amid the pandemic, when consumers craved content but theatres closed and productions stalled. She’s also busy navigating the dynamic landscape of disruptor film distribution platforms and regulations, while trying to plan a star-studded film festival amid the uncertainties of a Hollywood strike. “Today, the world is changing, so you just have to trust your experience, trust your team, and do the best planning you can with the information you have. Then, be ready to pivot if you need to.”

These insights definitely resonated with attendees at The Scotiabank Women Initiative event, who included senior executives, and emerging female leaders who seek networking, skills-building opportunities and support, to help build their own economic and professional success.

But Laurie’s closing remarks left everyone with the real screen gem to aid their careers: “When things have gone wrong, I used to hold it inside or explode later. Since then, I’ve learned the best power is to stay calm and focus on ‘what are we going to do?’. By staying calm, you can figure it out, even when they are throwing another rock off the mountain at you.”

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