“I will never forget the universal and palpable emotional state the audience was in while the film played. It was the first time the audience was not made up of family or friends. It was a humbling reminder of how communicative film can be and that it’s important to use the medium to tell meaningful stories.”
Those are the words of Toronto-born producer and graphic designer Michelle Solomon when talking about the highlight of her career. She was talking about her first feature film Emma premiering internationally at the Breckenridge Festival of Film in Breckenridge, Colorado.
Solomon has had ample amounts of success in her career. She transformed the brand Ace Building Materials by making them current and relevant with her graphic design skills. She produced the award-winning film Chalk Dust and the upcoming film Sunny Side Up. She is set to work on a television show with former NBA star Kareem Rush, and co-founded the production company Picosphere Inc. She founded the company Adoorn, an app which will revolutionize social shopping right in the palm of your hand, which is set to release early next year. Despite all of these successes and achievements, and being known internationally for both her producing and design abilities, the premiere of Emma still stays with her, and working on the film shaped who she is today.
“Emma is a realistic look at the world of childhood cancer and how the disease goes beyond just the person diagnosed. It’s important to not commodify and exploit a very real experience that, unfortunately, many kids and their families go through,” said Solomon.
Emma tells the story of seventeen-year-old Jayson. Jayson thinks too much. He is introverted, friendless, and wakes up wanting the day to end. That is until he meets Emma, the captain of his school’s dance team. After his psychiatrist tells him to be more involved, Jayson joins the school newspaper and is sent to write an exposé on Emma’s rumored pregnancy. Instead, Jayson uncovers that Emma has cancer. Suddenly, Jayson is pulled into a vibrant world where real love and true sacrifice flourishes. Through Emma, Jayson learns about life, love, and the importance of letting go.
“Emma was a story that needed to be told. It was based on the personal experiences of the writer, Simon Paluck. What initially drew me to the film was the way that childhood cancer wasn’t glamorized or made effusive. Many films showcasing kids with terminal illnesses, often portray an idealized version of the truth. The illness becomes a tool that convinces characters to fall in love or travel the world. Experiences surrounding childhood cancer goes deeper than that. It is specific and nasty. With Emma, I like to think we showed one of many truths,” said Solomon.
The film has gone on to win a list of awards. These include: the “Royal Reel Award”, Canada International Film Festival, in 2015, the “Best Feature: Venture Category” at the Paris Online Film Festival 2016, “Freaky Feature” (Best Feature) at the Broken Knuckle Film Festival, 2016, and “Best Indie Film” at the Los Angeles Film Awards, 2016. At this year’s Festigious International Film Festival it won “Best of Fest”, Best Narrative Feature”, and “Audience Choice Award: Narrative Feature”.
“It’s entirely humbling to know many are responding to the film’s message. With film production, there is always a moment of doubt where you think others will not understand what you’re trying to do and critique it unmercifully. Thankfully, this has not been the case for Emma,” said Solomon.
But what is perhaps Emma’s greatest achievement is not the official selections at film festivals or it’s long list of awards, but the work it has done for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
To raise funds for the film, Solomon came up with the innovative idea to partner with Make-A-Wish foundation and hold a silent auction. She wanted to give back to the community through the film, so the silent auction was to raise funds for both the film and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“This type of innovative fundraising is just one of the ways Michelle has proven she is a natural, talented producer,” said Veronica Porfilio, the film’s executive producer.
As a non-writing producer, Solomon says she is always trying to find creative ways to expand a film’s reach.
“My personal mantra is that instead of thinking outside of the box, recognize that there is no box,” said Solomon. “Personally, I felt compelled to use the film to make a greater difference. I was able to gather over $17,000 worth of donations and raised enough money to not only finish funding the film but also donate a major portion to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Our contacts at the organization really took to the idea of spreading awareness through the ‘show-don’t-tell’ approach of film.”
Solomon’s approach to producing earned the entire cast and crew’s respect immediately, despite being her first feature. The film had a small budget for such a massive project. They employed union actors and shot at over ten locations. Solomon would not let these challenges negatively impact the story.
“Michelle was able to secure a highly sought after location that was instrumental to our film without going over-budget. Without that location the film would not have been as successful as it was. When she first spoke with the location manager it seemed we would not be able to use the space to film Emma, but that did not deter Michelle from bargaining because she knew the location was key to the film’s success. After weeks of negotiation Michelle secured the location.
Michelle’s talent as a producer shone through every task while working on Emma, and it shaped the producer she is today,” said Porfilio.
Including Solomon, there were ten young, dedicated professionals lead our executive team working on Emma. Solomon says each person was there because they were committed to telling the story.
“That type of energy is powerful and we kept each other motivated, especially through the challenging parts of independent filmmaking,” she concluded.