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Profile: Emma Fugate

by Jane Ledwell

Emma Fugate (photo: Buzz)Emma Fugate has three different business cards: “One for my accounting business, one for my role as president of Film PEI, and one as a partner in Onset Communications, a (film industry equipment) start-up.” 

Side roles as an organizer of Playing with Choir or treasurer of West Kent Home and school, the Charlottetown Film Society, and Women in Film and Television—Atlantic don’t require business cards, just a bit of the creative energy that also fuels Emma for a busy home and family life.

It’s not the life Emma expected “growing up in England in a commuter town, with people going off to office jobs.” While she loved and re-loved movies as a child, especially musical movies, “I didn’t know film was a career option.” Out of university, she worked in human resources, eventually working with Nissan and setting up a new department as a “vehicle evaluation engineer.” “That’s how I met my husband, a ‘real’ engineer,” she laughs. They dated across borders, he living in the US and she in England and both travelling to Japan and internationally. Eventually they married in England, but “having done the long-distance thing,” she says, they were ready to live together. Emma’s parents-in-law moved to PEI where they owned a house, and Emma and her husband followed them here.

Emma applied to the Holland College business program. It was full—but the College had space in accounting, with a January intake. She started in accounting, loved it, and eventually completed both the accounting and business programs. Her on-the-job training was doing accounting for her friend Melody Dover’s new business, Fresh Media, and, in a few years, Emma graduated to running her own business, E Accounting.

It was an indirect path into the film industry: filmmaker Brian Sharp (now one of her partners in Onset Communications) became a client, and, Emma says, “Eventually we spent more time talking about film stuff than accounting stuff. He said that what we needed in the industry was production accounting, so I took a course in Toronto and loved it.” Production accounting, it turned out, is to Emma “the most interesting accounting.”

As Emma says, “It’s called show business for a reason. There’s so much business—billions and billions of dollars.” While Emma loves the creative process of making a film and is thrilled to have made two music video projects as a film-maker, she also thinks beyond the creative process. “I think, wouldn’t it be nice to make a film—and get it distributed and make money and have people get paid.”

She says, “If filmmakers here can make content with nothing, imagine what they can do with something. I feel like now the stars have aligned, with Film PEI able to access funding to expand, with the province on board with a media incentive, and with other simple things helping… It’s pushing the industry to start to grow.”

Emma’s filmmaking pitch is a business pitch. “Film is very accessible—almost everyone has watched a television show or watched a movie—why not see our own stories?” she says. “The importance of a strong arts sector is: PEI is a beautiful, wonderful place, with good food and friendly people—but,” she reality-checks with some regret, “there are lots of places like that in the world… Only our culture doesn’t exist anywhere else. It can’t be replicated.”

Film, Emma reminds, “is a supremely exportable product: you can put it in front of anyone with Internet, and you don’t have to pay the bridge to ship it.”

This fall, she’s excited about the Charlottetown Film Festival, has a short music-inspired film hoping to produce, a singing fundraiser with Playing with Choir, and Onset Communications’ film assistant equipment ready for market.

Living in PEI, surrounded by writers, artists, and musicians, being “bitten by the film bug,” Emma says has been “really cool… If I had stayed in England, I can’t imagine I would do any of this. I would be working for Nissan, travelling for work, spending too much time away from my family.” Instead, she has a bag full of business cards— and a note on her phone titled “Things to Produce,” a list of 200 ideas.

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