Jesse Szymanski

Top 40 Under 40 2012

Photography Pedersen

Age: 33

Job Title: Producer, Prairie Dog Film + Television

Why She’s Top 40: Doggedly pushing an entertainment team to pick up national awards and put $10 million into the local economy.

Key To Success: “I’ve always been a bit of a leader, some may say bossy, assertive. When I know what I want, I go for it with full capacity.”

After Blackstone’s leading lady, Michelle Thrush, accepted her Gemini, she frantically tried to thank her producer: “Jessa Saman … Jessitica Samans … Shamanskee … She’s my date and I can’t even get her name right!” After a couple of interviews, she went backstage with Jesse Szymanski, and they entered an elevator. “The door closed and we turned to each other,” remembers the producer. “She grabbed my arms and we jumped up and down, all the way down the elevator, screaming like five-year-old girls.”

Against all odds – a small audience, small budget and the inhospitably small TV industry that is Edmonton’s – the hyper-realistic APTN show set in prairie reserves was entering the Canadian mainstream. “Doing a one-hour drama in Edmonton is a bit of a phenomenon,” says Szymanski, who was instrumental in introducing the show to Australia and New Zealand markets, where it speaks to Aboriginals Down Under.

“For me, as a non-Native, I’ve been able to learn so much from the show. It’s so nourishing,” she says. “I get goose bumps talking about the show.” She checks her arm. Yes, she has goose bumps.

For the show’s success, she credits “the tenacity that is Ron Scott,” executive producer of Blackstone and Prairie Dog Film + Television. But Scott also deserves credit for putting a TV obsessed 28-year-old in charge of his creations. What he saw in the former Citytv entertainment reporter was great leadership, something she honed as the second oldest of 11 Ukrainian grandchildren.

“Because we’re in Edmonton and there are few producers available, I do handle many,  many, many things.” That includes, but is not limited to, “accounting, publicists, the fridge has broken down, a cast member has walked off set and wants more money.” And, as she says this, her phone buzzes for about the 13th time in 30 minutes. “That’s standard.”

At home, the single mother hides the phone until her two-year-old is in bed, and then it’s back to answering calls and emails and making lists until the lights are out.

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