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Tonya Williams | Los Angeles & Toronto | Strong Values!!

-Founder | Emmy Award Winning Actress: Young and the Restless -

October 17th - 21st, 2019 | 19th Annual Reelworld Film Festival

I love, love, love, love stories - I was that two year old that needed a bedtime story every night. I started to read when I was three because I wanted to get more stories. My mother would leave me at the library when she did errands. The library was my haven - I loved books and then I found television, and was obsessed, I still am. Later it was films, and by the time I was 17 years old I was the only person I knew who watched foreign films. To this day I watch TV dramas from Iceland, Poland, German, Denmark, Australia, and the UK. I even love a bad story. I use that as an opportunity to figure out why I don't like it. I had always loved the arts - classical piano by the age of five, then add violin, and tenor saxophone later. I love that these are tools that help us understand our emotional abilities. To see a painting that can bring tears to your eyes, to read a story that change the course of your life - art and transformation is my key stone, my purpose and when we take the things we love and believe that a higher power is guiding us with these tools then you can't fail. You will always succeed, because it is your actual destiny, your purpose to be on this earth. Common sense dictates that no one/no thing would give you talent in a certain area and then set you up to fail when you walk that path. I believe if you are 'failing' or whatever that looks like to you then perhaps you have not found your purpose, your true destiny. So instead of feeling sorry for yourself or blaming others - stop, process, and pivot - change direction, follow your instincts as you might be on the wrong road. AND don't forget, success might not look like the movies tell you it looks. Success is a feeling - you feel good - it's not about how much money you make or the size of your house. I know what it's like to want a career in the entertainment industry in Canada and have few to no opportunities to advance that. I also know what it's like to live and see such diversity around me in real life, but not see that reflected on our 'screens' - it can also be demoralizing to see the few on screen images that are diverse be the negative stereotypes. So my desire for Reelworld Film Festival and Reelworld Screen Institute was my way for trying to make a change. I had been attending film festivals since I was 17 years old and it's the one place that is the most fertile ground for meeting everyone one on every level in the entertainment industry. There is no other place you can find, directors, actors, screenwriters, producer, crew, casting directors, entertainment lawyers, agents, managers, wardrobe people, hair and make up people, location managers, cable runners - everyone! so when i was trying to figure out how i could help others find their success in this industry it was a slam dunk for me - I knew that creating a film festival specifically for the people I wanted to help was where I needed to be and do. Being one of the first visibly black actresses on a soap opera show in 1979, I know too well the lack of representation in the media/Hollywood and the struggles/challenges I faced.

What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?

Finding qualified BIPOC staff was one of my biggest hurdles. I hadn't realized that I would need to build in 'training' as part of my business plan but I didn't and can now proudly say that lots of festivals across Canada have hired people trained at Reelworld.

What books are you currently reading? And your recommendation for entrepreneurs to read?

Sapiens A Brief History of Mankind by Yuval Noah Harari. I recommend entrepreneurs read a lot of history - emerging entrepreneurs might think that their ideas or their challenges are unique to them, reading about how people over the past 5000 years have dealt with the same financial and human resource issues is refreshing, comforting and you can get a lot of your questions answered. I have found the Bible an amazing resource for business practices - there is info on 'not to lend money or borrow money if possible', there are sensible practical day to day answers to business questions in there. Read Proverbs - there's a reason King Solomon was considered the wisest man - you can't run a successful business without wisdom so learn from those who had it and hopefully that will help you create it in yourself.

Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits? How did you handle it?

I'm an only child, so that's not as much of a concern for me. People with siblings might have more to say about this. I've certainly seen people struggle with this. Being an only child also means that your parents don't tend to compare you to siblings, they actually support and applaud anything you do, because you are their only one! So i've found that a plus for me. But in terms of friends, because my success came early, while I was 16 years old, I have had to deal with jealousy and people needing to try and sabotage me. My way of handing it, might not work for others, but it works for me. I ignore it. I don't give it power. I distance myself and I continue to help that person, but I don't rely on them, since I know it's not in their ability to help me if they are also jealous of me, but because I am helping them, it mitigates the damage they might wish to cause me since it would make no sense for them to burn me, while I'm their possible reason to success. So I wouldn't call them friends necessarily but allies, or colleagues you need to work with and have on your side in some way.

When it's about business, I'm very analytical. I don't feel emotional about it - something is or it isn't and it's not personal. You have to look at everyone and everything with that analytical eye. The world is chaotic and can be dangerous. If you step into the world of wanting a business, you have to take all the positive and the negative that comes with it. Assume people are going to say negative things about you, assume someone is going to try and steal your clients or your money. Don't let those things be a shock when they happen - of course it's going to happen - figure out well in advance how you are going to handle it before it actually happens then you'll feel more in control of the process and not a deer in the headlights when it happens.

What would you do differently in hindsight? What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business success?

I wouldn't have started my 'festival' while I was still working full time, acting on a television show. I overwhelmed myself and pretty soon I knew I had to choose one, and I chose my 'festival' - every person is different, but I enjoy life better when I'm committed to one project at a time. I feel more focused and sharp when I do that. The single most influential factor in my business success happens to be a natural quality I have. I don't take things personally. I'm lucky it comes naturally to me, it's just how i'm built, but I'd say to anyone that doesn't have that naturally, learn it. I'm not sure how you do, but it will be your saving grace. Think about it - when you don't take things personally you have a clear perspective. You don't waste time thinking about retaliating. You just move forward, past the interloper and it's like you don't even see or hear them. They are in your rear view, and you just keep advancing. To stay stuck in a place and time, rehashing what someone said or did to you is just a waste of your precious energy. Just take their comment or action - acknowledge that they said or did that - and MOVE ON! Success is the best retaliation.

What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?

I wish I had spent time figuring out an 'succession plan' - I didn't think about it at all, while I was mapping out how to reach my goals and it's so important. Your business shouldn't die because you do.

What advice would you give to an upcoming entrepreneur locally and internationally?

Read a lot. Ask a lot of questions. Never stop learning. Find strong values early in life and stick to those values no matter what, and I mean no matter what. Even if you lose a job or money or clients, none of that is more important that sticking to your values (but first make sure you have good values!) In every decade of your life, stop and reassess. I'm a big believer in reinventing yourself. Redefine what success is, lead and not follow what others think it is.

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