Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Filmmaker Robyn Campbell and Ana Gusson Is Helping To Change Our World
Robyn: Inspiration can come from anywhere. Have a running notes document to write down difficult conversations you have, details of interesting people you meet, and tough experiences you have. Reading the document when you’re stuck on a scene or character is extremely helpful.
Ana: Give your team direction, but don’t try to do the work for them
As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Robyn Campbell.
Born and raised in Brazil, Ana Gusson is a Director and 2D Animator. She came to Canada to attend the Classical Animation Program at Vancouver Film School. Now based in Vancouver, she has worked as an animator in productions like ‘My Little Pony: The Movie’, Netflix’s ‘Archibald’s Next Big Thing’ and Dreamworks’ ‘Trollstopia’. Most recently, Ana directed ‘Pivot’ an award winning short film that is currently on its festival run. Ana is currently working as a Series Director at Kickstart Entertainment.
Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?
Robyn: I grew up in a small city in Saskatchewan Canada and didn’t meet a person who worked in the entertainment industry until I was in my twenties, so despite my love for writing and art, I never knew how to actually pursue it as a career. I went to university and studied biology and sociology, and while I was doing research in Endocrinology (isolating hormones in a lab for 16 hours a day) I realized I really didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life.
I went online and applied to film schools and was accepted into one that started the week following defending my thesis. So without much time to really think about it, I packed a suitcase and moved to Vancouver. Following film school, again I was left feelings like I had no idea how to break into the industry. Thankfully someone finally suggested I apply to be an assistant to someone successful people in the industry. I applied and got a job as an assistant to a show creator within a week.
Ana: Creativity and imagination played a big part in my childhood. My favourite activities always involved storytelling and engaging with people through it, like role-playing games and putting on puppet theatres for my family. I made my first film at the age of 11 and by 14 was telling everyone that I wanted to be a filmmaker when I grew up — which was very odd for a girl in the countryside of south Brazil at that time. I ended up going to University for Graphic Design because it was a more “realistic career”, but I found my way back into filmmaking and worked as Art Director and Assistant Art Director in TV commercials, short films and animated advertising. I moved to Vancouver, Canada in 2015 to study Classical Animation at the Vancouver Film School, where I directed two short films that taught me to believe in my creative vision again and reignited my passion for filmmaking once again.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Robyn: When I was an assistant, I was a bit TOO dedicated to my job sometimes. Some executives from DreamWorks were coming to the studio I worked at, and I was pretty nervous and wanted everything to go super smoothly. My brain was going a million miles a minute that morning and when I was making my breakfast I nearly cut the tip of my finger off. Thankfully I had fake nails on, because the acrylic stopped the knife from reaching the bone. Rather than immediately going to the hospital to get stitches, I was like, ‘I HAVE TO SET UP FOR DREAMWORKS’.
So I bandaged my finger up and went in to work and set up the meeting room. As soon as my boss saw my bandage — which I was bleeding through — they asked what happened and immediately told me to go to the doctor. They were super shocked I came in. I needed five stitches and still have nerve damage in that finger.
Basically, I learnt that I need to take care of myself and nothing is more important than that. And to be extra careful with knives when I have a big meeting coming up.
Ana: The first short film I directed was a fairy tale-inspired period piece and I hired friends and university colleagues to help me out. It was chaotic: I shared the Direction role with two other friends and did the Production Design for the film as well. I tried chewing more than I could swallow and when I did delegate, I had a hard time giving notes and asking for changes, because I wanted everyone to like me. I ended up overwhelmed, overworked and having to settle and make do with things that I didn’t like. The one that haunts me to this day: a beautiful establishing shot ruined by a huge modern zipper on the back of a too-expensive dress. The lesson that took me another few attempts to learn and I am still struggling to fully absorb is: say no and ask for what you want.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
People who tell me their most personal and vulnerable stories after watching my work. I try to be as raw and authentic in what I write, and it seems to allow people to tell me how they relate to it in their own experience. It’s a beautiful experience to connect with people on such a deep and personal level. I feel very honoured to be someone people feel comfortable sharing with.
Ana: The person who currently fascinates me the most is my paternal grandma, Catarina Corbellini Gusson. She’s amazing. She went to school for only 4 years but knows more about life than anyone I know. She raised 9 children and now at the age of 98, continues to climb stairs up and down and cook for herself and others every day. Her advice for a good life? Don’t walk too much and if you know have food and work for the next day, you are blessed. She loves a good joke and loves seeing her house full of people.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
Robyn: I’m not sure she’s considered ‘history’, as she is very much still involved in creating masterpieces, but Margaret Atwood is such an inspiration for me. Her courage to write about things that make people uncomfortable but matter so much is something I aspire to.
Ana: Frida Kahlo. Her indomitable spirit in the face of physical and emotional pain is truly inspiring. She didn’t limit herself in the face of adversity and never let anyone stop her from pursuing whatever she desired.
Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?
Robyn: We are currently working to share our animated short, ‘Pivot’ with the world to spread its message. The film about a girl who has always felt pressured to wear the feminine clothes her Mom buys her, but on her 12th birthday she’s had enough and feels like she can no longer hold back the feelings she has about her mom not accepting her for who she is. Our goal is to give young people courage to stand up for who they are and to show parents how objectifying their children hurts them.
I am also currently writing a live-action feature film based on my experiences with addiction and PTSD. My intention is to provide hope and guidance to people who are currently going through similar experiences or people who have loved ones who are and hopefully destigmatize these poorly understood conditions.
Ana: Animation has given me my creative voice back and want to pay it forward. I want to develop more projects that can inspire girls from faraway places to use filmmaking and art as a way to express themselves and hopefully empower them to take charge of their own futures. I also had the fortune of having great women leadership role models, so I make sure to dedicate time to participate in youth mentoring programs like Film2Future.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?
Robyn: I guess deciding to learn to love and believe in myself? I never made a super conscience decision to change other people’s lives. I just knew I had to change my own, and in learning about how to love and believe in myself, it became something I could share with the world. A level of awareness of the human condition, and a deep amount of awareness about my own human condition, allows me to create art that hopefully teaches others how to accomplish it themselves.
Ana: The 2020 Pandemic hit me with a sense of urgency in life and awakened a long-dormant dream of being a Filmmaker. When the ACE Program opened for applications for its second iteration, I felt it was the perfect opportunity and timing for me to take a leap of faith.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Robyn: A studio executive who was also a judge at a festival ‘Pivot’ was part of told us he was a dad to two young girls and the film has deeply impacted the way he parents them. He said it made him realize he was forcing his beliefs on his children in a way he never would to a friend or adult family member. He wasn’t allowing them to develop their own opinions and autonomy. He said watching the short brought him awareness of the fact he was doing this and has allowed him to take a step back and let his daughters form their own thoughts. To me that’s a huge win.
Ana: We have been very fortunate to receive a lot of love and good responses from the audiences that watched ‘Pivot’. We heard so many stories of how people relate to the film.
I hope that people who watch ‘Pivot’ feel encouraged to be themselves and let themselves be seen by the world without fear of rejection. I hope that people try to be more open to accepting their loved ones as they are and not how they want them to be.
Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?
Robyn: I think it really comes down to equality among all people. All people, including children, should be treated with respect. Young people who are the most vulnerable, are often treated in ways that adults would never consider okay. So if society at large could just take a step back and check in with themselves on whether the way they are behaving is right, that would be a small step that would make a huge difference in many people’s lives.
Ana: We still have a long way to guarantee equal opportunities for men and women. Beyond equality of payment, there needs to be a system in place to support women and their choices, like access to reproductive health, affordable and reliable child care, etc.
I believe in the power of representation and I think the government needs to support more initiatives to bring women and people of colour to the center of the conversations, to open room for them to occupy roles of leadership, write and tell their own stories. When we see ourselves represented, then we believe we can be it as well.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- First drafts are meant to be rewritten to the point of unrecognition while still maintaining the heart of the story.
- The 10,000-hour rule applies to writing and storytelling. It’s a skill that needs to be practiced extensively to be good at.
- If you’re not uncomfortable or scared to share it with the world, it’s not personal enough
- Inspiration can come from anywhere. Have a running notes document to write down difficult conversations you have, details of interesting people you meet, and tough experiences you have. Reading the document when you’re stuck on a scene or character is extremely helpful.
- People giving you notes on your writing is an honour. If someone takes the time to read your work and give you feedback, thank them even if you do not agree with their notes.
- Trust your gut;
- Being clear and direct in your notes is being kind to your team;
- Give your team direction, but don’t try to do the work for them;
- It’s ok not to be liked by everyone;
- You don’t have to know all the answers all the time.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Robyn: For me, it is the reason to create art. I think as a storyteller I have a responsibility to share a truth with the audience they may not already know. I think time is the ultimate resource and as an artist it is my responsibility not to waste the audiences time. They better come out of the experience having learnt something, literally anything, about the world or themselves, or else I have failed them wasted their precious time on earth.
Ana: For a long time, we were made to believe that we were all competing with each other, but there is room for everyone. And by having more voices and diversity around us, the conversation gets better.
We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Robyn: I am a big fan of Elisabeth Moss’s work on ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. She has shown a lot of courage to portray very difficult things many women in the world are still experiencing. Her acting is obviously amazing but additionally, I’m a huge fan of her directing style. She has a unique perspective and ability to enhance the metaphors of each scene through her shot choices etc.
Ana: I’m a big fan of Geena Davis and her Institute for their efforts in making the Film and TV Industry more inclusive. I’d love to collaborate to create a Kids TV show based on her motto “If you see It, you can be it”.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Robyn: I’m not sure it’s my favorite but one I have been saying a lot lately is, ‘talent is a pursued interest’ which was said by Bob Ross. Whenever I feel insecure about my capabilities, I just remind myself that grit and determination are the keys to success. I just need to keep writing to become better which is rather simple and doable.
Ana: I love Frida Kahlo’s: “Nothing is absolute. Everything changes, everything moves, everything revolves, everything flies and goes away.” It reminds me to live in the moment, find beauty wherever I am and enjoy people’s company whenever I can. Being an immigrant, I often feel like I am the thing that “flies and goes away”.
How can our readers follow you online?
Robyn: on Instagram @robyn_campbell1 and @pivot_animated_short and I write poetry under the account @r.w.dawn
Ana: We are in social media as @pivot_animated_short, both in Instagram and LinkedIn. I am on Instagram and LinkedIn as @anacgusson;
This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!
Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Filmmaker Robyn Campbell and Ana Gusson Is Helping To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.