This Hits Home: An Interview With Sydney Scotia

Sydney Scotia is an award-winning actor, producer, singer/songwriter, and dancer. She believes that media should be used to elevate important issues and champion social change, and her maturity, drive, and compassion help her take projects from suggestion to storyboard, to screen. As director and producer of This Hits Home, she draws on her experience both in front and behind the camera to tell a story about a silent epidemic that will no longer be silent.

How did you start making films and what was the first film project you worked on?

I was inspired by the producers and film crew while acting on the set of Some Assembly Required, often sitting at the village trying to learn as much as I could. A cast mate and I produced our first short film, I Dare You, on a long weekend break from the show. It was accepted into the short film corner at the Cannes Film Festival. Showing our film in France was one of the most exciting and inspiring experiences of my life. I have been very fortunate to work with many wonderful people in all aspects of this industry and I knew very early on that I wanted to pursue a career on both sides of the camera.


What genre of filmmaking are you looking to work on and why?

I am drawn to tell stories that provide a complete escape, whether drama, comedy or fantasy, and am equally drawn to convey truths that educate and inspire action. As an actor, I have had comedic and dramatic roles, and as a story storyteller, I have written fantasy, produced drama, and in this documentary, created a film designed to inspire social justice for women whose lives are permanently altered by intolerable and abhorrent physical abuse. I If there is a story to tell or a story that needs telling, then I am open to many genres of film at this time in my career.


What is the most challenging aspect of being an independent filmmaker?

Fundraising and wearing the many hats that an independent filmmaker must wear from hiring crews, to booking and directing talent, to managing a budget, and so much more and all on a limited budget are the biggest challenges.


How challenging is it to fund indie films?

I am lucky to have very generous people in my life that believe in me and in the subject matter of this film. They are compassionate and philanthropic and they took a leap of faith to support this documentary. I also used my own savings and did not pay myself for over three years. I believe whole-heartedly that this film had to be made and that I had a responsibility to create a film worthy of the survivors’ very personal, sensitive, and devastating stories.


Your recent documentary is a feature about trauma and brain injury in women devastated by domestic violence. What inspired you to make This Hits Home?

My dad (a neurologist) was asked to visit a local shelter to discuss establishing a traumatic brain injury clinic for survivors of domestic abuse. He was visibly shaken when he returned home. He saw women, their children, and their pets devastated by domestic violence. He saw a mom and her son using some coupons they were given to get essential items in a storeroom in the shelter. They were locked inside for their own safety while the offender was free outside. My heart broke hearing this. I gathered up as much as I could, rented a U-haul, and drove a truck-load of donations to the shelter. After I left that shelter that day, I knew I had to do more.


I was introduced to Maria Garay and learned about her quest over several years to determine if repeated abuse led to her mother’s early onset dementia and, ultimately, her death. There had been a lot of press about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in professional football players, boxers, and other athletes, but the link had not been made between repetitive head trauma and victims of domestic abuse. We arranged to have Maria’s mother’s brain sent to the world’s leading CTE researcher at Boston University for examination. This story unfolds, and many others unearthed during the filming of This Hits Home.


You also work as an actress. What is it like to be an actress and a documentary filmmaker?

I love to create on both sides of the camera. These are passions – not work – and as such, my days start at 7am, end at midnight, and I love every minute of it. In addition, I write, sing, and play guitar and have released 4 singles on Spotify over the past year and even created and directed my own music video. Being an independent filmmaker allows for more flexibility, except when the crew and the flights have already been booked! I threw a business degree into the mix so there are a few necessary all-nighters but I consider myself to be so lucky to have so many wonderful opportunities!



Please name three of your most favorite directors. Have they been influential in your work?

Stephen Spielberg. He is the gold-standard, he is dependable magic, and his diversity – from ET, to Schindler’s List, to Ready Player One, represents the kind of story teller and creator I strive to be. Quentin Tarentino is both shocking and whimsical, retro while still hip to current pop culture, and one of the most creative and brilliant minds in the business. He’s the director that the world’s most talented actors always want to work with – for good reason. Kathryn Bigelow – as the first and only woman thus far to ever win an Oscar for best director, she has broken through that glass ceiling and has inspired and paved a path for a generation of young women, including myself, to know that it's possible and to reach for the stars in a business where women previously struggled and felt they didn’t have a place.


If you have to choose between acting or making documentary films, which one would you choose and why?

I honestly cannot choose one over the other. These are two different, but equally important ways of telling a story. I love the creative process in acting and filmmaking and will, hopefully, if I’m lucky, continue to do both.


Do you have any plans for making another documentary? What is your next film project?

I do have plans for a docu-series. I also have a pitch submitted for an episodic series as well as two feature scripts near completion. I will be co-directing and producing a short film next month.


Why do you make films?

I think I make films because I am a dreamer, I love storytelling, I love to shape the story, I love to perform and I love watching other people perform. I make documentaries because there are important stories out there that need to be told, that can truly change the world for better and make a positive impact on the peoples’ lives – as filmmakers we have an obligation to tell these stories – its our contribution to providing an escape, inspiration, education, and motivation. I think my history also gives clues as to why I chose this path. I danced competitively for seven years before moving to Los Angeles to pursue acting. During that time Olga Korbut, the Olympic Gold Medalist, took me to Hong Kong, China, as one of her performers. I was only 10 years old at the time. A film crew from mainland China made a documentary about our visit while we were there. The cameras and the boom microphone had a huge impact on me. I was mesmerized and in awe of the entire experience. I still love to dance, but that was when my focus switched from dance to acting. I was too young at the time to even imagine becoming a documentarian but that was when the seed was planted.



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© Toronto Film Mag I 2020