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By Vicky Tam

In 2002, he was telling a rock star how to act.

Two years later, he was filming lesbian relationships that millions of people watched every week.

Then he found himself on the set of a funeral home a year after. How’s that for a Ryerson success story?

More people packed the engineering centre lecture hall Friday evening to see director Jeremy Podeswa than those who normally attend class there. About 100 people went to the latest installation of the Kodak Lecture Series to hear the Ryerson graduate talk about his television and film experience.

Podeswa, 44, graduated in 1984 with a Bachelor of Applied Arts in motion picture studies. Since then, he has directed episodes of numerous television shows, including Six Feet Under, The L Word and Nip/Tuck.

His feature films, Eclipse and The Five Senses, have been screened at the Cannes and Sundance film festivals. Kamal Al-Solaylee, theatre critic for The Globe & Mail, led Podeswa through a discussion of his work.

The selection of clips shown during the interview spanned from his beginnings to the present. David Roche Talks To You About Love, Podeswa’s first short film and his third-year project at Ryerson, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Fittingly, his upcoming film adaptation of Fugitive Pieces, a novel by Canadian poet and author Anne Michaels, is tentatively scheduled to debut at the festival in September. The technical approach and opportunity to make films in school was what attracted Podeswa to Ryerson. But he said the school should focus on teaching students on how to break into the industry.

“It would have been nice if it was a little more pragmatic in the way you’re going to career build,” he said. Podeswa also said the program needed more of an emphasis on acting.

He suggests aspiring filmmakers take acting classes to become better directors, an option he wasn’t offered in his four years at Ryerson. He stressed the importance of using Ryerson’s drama program.

As a student watching his classmates “suffer from working with non-actors,” Podeswa spoke to the faculty about making stronger connections between theatre and film. Podeswa paused mid-interview to ask Kathleen Pirrie-Adams, an image arts professor and co-ordinator of the lecture series, whether this had changed at Ryerson.

The audience chuckled at her reply that “nothing formal” had happened yet. Podeswa found the inspiration for David Roche when he was at Ryerson. The film was adapted from the actor’s one-man play.

“Toronto had an extremely vibrant theatre scene in the ‘80s. Unfortunately, that’s dipped a bit now,” he said. Podeswa left Toronto for Los Angeles after graduation to complete a director’s fellowship at the American Film Institute for advanced film studies, claiming that there were limited opportunities and that Canadian television was too “conservative in those days.”

Yet he attributes his change to Queer As Folk, an American series about gay culture filmed in Toronto, and its willingness to hire young filmmakers to direct television. After his first major directing job with the show, he was asked to direct an episode of Six Feet Under. The show became a critically-acclaimed success and is, in Podeswa’s opinion, “one of the best shows made for television.”

While his work on American television earned him fame, he is adamant about Canada’s role in his career. “The feature films could have only been made here,” he said. “It was those movies that led to the television opportunities. I don’t think it’s imperative to leave to be successful.”

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