Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work in the movie-making business? Smiely Khurana has the deets! This budding filmmaker started her own photography business while still in high school, and made the transition to videography when she moved to Vancouver to attend film school at Capilano University. However, business has always been in her blood.
Smiely recently produced a short film called The Substitute, one of six productions that premiered at the Crazy8s Film Festival in Vancouver on February 22. When she’s not working her magic to bring a script to the screen, you’ll find her shooting videos with her friends, getting out into nature, or working to make her industry a more sustainable one.
When did you get started with your photography business?
I started in grade 11! When I was still in high school, I was taking all of these photography courses and got asked if I could take some photos for a couple. That was my first professional, paid shoot! After that, I posted those photos online and started getting more and more inquiries, so it just became a little part-time job while I was in high school.
Then I started doing prom and engagement photos before eventually switching to weddings. I soon discovered that it wasn’t just taking photos I loved, it was the whole business side of it – getting to meet clients and marketing myself online. I was hooked. I went into university for film and honestly didn’t know what I was getting myself into.
When I moved to Vancouver, I discovered Vancity Business Babes and saw one of their highlight videos online. I thought hey, I can do this too! So I reached out and offered to shoot a video for them and Danielle Wiebe, the founder of Business Babes Collective, actually messaged me back! I went to an event and did some filming for them.
Afterwards, my video from that shoot was shared around on a bunch of different platforms and I started making connections. That’s how my videography business started! I ended up meeting new clients and businesses that wanted videos for themselves and their own work.
Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I think it’s always been in my blood. Ever since I was little, I’ve always had that networking, marketing mindset. I remember making jewellery and selling it to the kids in my neighbourhood! Even now as I’ve gone into film, that business element has always been super appealing to me.
Did you create a detailed business plan or did you wing it?
I definitely winged it. I didn’t know what I was doing at first! Usually, I’m a super organized list-maker, but some things are just outside your control. I didn’t know anything about film going into film school. That’s something I’ve really learned, you never know really know how something’s going to turn out until you try it.
What goes into running your own business that others may not realize?
I feel like people don’t realize how much actually goes into a “one hour” photoshoot. Sure, you might film for that hour but there’s so much more that goes on behind the scenes, from preparing for the shoot to editing and post-production. It’s also the little stuff that costs money, like special editing software or maybe the equipment you need.
You’re also learning constantly. You’re never not learning something, and a lot of that education happens on the go. Technology and software equipment changes so you need to keep up to date with that, same goes with new marketing trends also just honing your craft. There’s a bunch of stuff like this that you don’t realize till it actually comes up!
What were some of your early challenges in establishing yourself and how did you overcome them?
This first one might just be an internal thing, but my age was a challenging factor. There were times when I thought, I’m only X years old and this other person has been doing this for ten years, why should a client choose me? Thankfully, I’ve been pretty lucky with the clients I’ve worked with in that they’ve trusted me and my ability, but I know there might be a lot of young people thinking that they don’t have the same credibility because of their age, but that’s not true!
It’s nice working with female entrepreneurs because they’re very supportive. But videography has always leaned more towards being a male-dominated industry, so sometimes I ask, how can I establish myself better? There are definitely times when I feel a bit insecure about it.
Can you tell me a little bit about your work on your film, The Substitute?
I produced a number of short films to develop my craft, and I’m currently producing a Crazy8s film. Crazy8s is one of the largest film events in Vancouver, bringing together people from all around the province and sponsors from all over the Lower Mainland.
Out of 300 pitches, they choose six teams to produce a film. The Substitute actually made it to the top six! We had one month to prep for this film and eight days to shoot, edit and deliver so it was very intense, but the support you get from the industry is phenomenal.
It’s about this young, passionate substitute teacher who must protect her disinterested class from an evil curse. It’s an adventure comedy and the moral of the story is to just highlight those under-appreciated goals in the world. A substitute teacher is one example that we take for granted, there are all of these jobs that people do that don’t have films made about them. It’s such a challenging, ambitious script.
How do you incorporate sustainability in your work?
I’m extremely passionate about sustainable film production. With all my projects, I always make sure we take a sustainable approach. I went to this event hosted by VIFF and it was all about sustainability in the motion picture industry.
I was in school when I first learned how much the motion picture industry is contributing to waste in the world, and it was shocking. We’re taught to print everything and dump it all in landfills. I came back to school thinking, if school isn’t doing enough to teach us about this, then I have to do something about it myself. I made it a goal that the next film I produced was going to be as sustainable as possible. My crew decided to be paperless and we eliminated single use items; No plastics, no water bottles, and we also had proper waste.
I didn’t think this would attract any attention, but eventually someone reached out and I was asked to do a talk at Capilano University about my film production. It was through that event that I started working with Reel Green as an ambassador, and have been going on sets talking to other producers about how they can make their film sets sustainable.
My real niche is bringing sustainability into higher education programs because that’s what we’ve really been lacking. I started working with the director of our film program at CapU to provide recycling and compost bins, and we’re also starting to go paperless.
Do you have any advice for someone going through the same process about dealing with frustration or self-doubt?
Self-doubt never really goes away, especially as an entrepreneur. You’re always going to have days where you’re dealing with frustration and insecurity about your skills. When you’re feeling self-doubt hit you, try to understand where it’s coming from. If you feel your skills are lacking, maybe that’s a sign to practise and get better at your craft!
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