By Al Downham
The Ryerson Communication and Design Society (RCDS) has approved a $20,000 funding application for a film produced by its own vice-president finance.
The unnamed film — influenced by flicks like Gone Girl and Prisoners — is being spearheaded by RCDS VP finance Luke Villemaire as an extracurricular project. And although the film crew plans to include over 40 Faculty of Communication and Design (FCAD) students and alumni in the two-year project, some RCDS staff and members have called the funding a possible “conflict of interest.”
“I thought it was fishy, the vice-president finance of the RCDS receiving money from the RCDS for his project,” said third-year performance dance student J.C. Vaughan.
The film’s approved funding is $4,500 more than any other approved request made during the 2014-15 school year. Villemaire pitched the film in late July to the RCDS Board of Directors (BoD), containing the society’s six executives and nine FCAD directors.
Villemaire said he “would [apply for funding] whether [he] was vice-president finance” or not, calling the RCDS “overarching support” for all students.
The RCDS constitution and bylaws cite rules preventing conflict of interests of this sort. When Villemaire and the film’s crew applied for funding by pitching to the BoD, Villemaire was required to leave during the discussion and voting period of the BoD pitch meeting.
“Luke came to us as a student, not vice-president finance,” RCDS President Casey Yuen said.
Miri Makin — the manager, student relations and development for FCAD’s office of the Dean — said she was an impartial staff member in the film’s application, overseeing the process and advising Villemaire on conflict of interest concerns. She said her goal was to “make sure there is no bias happening,” signing off receipts for reimbursement with Yuen.
“Luke hasn’t gotten any money yet,” Makin said. “[Students] buy the necessary supplies or pay for the venue, then we check the receipts and provide them with a cheque.”
According to the RCDS constitution, students approach the VP finance to strengthen their pitch presentations and budgets before presenting to the BoD. Jasmin Husain, events manager for the RCDS events committee, said the film’s large funding request was approved because Villemaire knows how to cater pitches to the RCDS BoD.
“If execs were to apply, there needs to be a higher committee that overlooks [the BoD],” she said. “Based on [Luke’s] role, he would have a larger expertise. And whether that gives him a bigger advantage, potentially. But the average student could do the same under the advisory of Luke.”
Villemaire said the “initial idea was wanting to utilize students from all different programs” and letting everyone in the film have creative influence. He also sought funding outside the RCDS, including on Kickstarter and Crimson Fish, an alumni-run production company providing $50,000 of equipment and post-production services to the film. The entire budget goal is $110,000.
Husain said Villemaire has the experience to help student projects receive the funding, but RCDS initiatives to inform students about available funding is “something we need to work on.” Vaughan, for example, didn’t know about student project funding until this year.
The RCDS plans to increase their student project fund pool from $100,000 to a higher, undetermined amount, according to Yuen.
The RCDS 2014-15 Manager’s Report cites that although 86 per cent of funds were approved, “not distributing available funding to FCAD students” and “student frustration with overly complicated funding processes” were two challenges that year.
“It upsets me people are looking at this in a negative light because before [the RCDS], people had to do a lot of fundraising and selling cupcakes for these shows,” Villemaire said. “There are big numbers, but this one is striking because it’s out there.”