Orlee-Rose Strauss is a CHAT graduate who has achieved fame in New York City producing feature films.
The 29-year-old, who was born in Ottawa, returned to the Toronto school recently to talk to students about her unique career path.
“It’s been amazing to talk to young Jewish kids about filmmaking because the irony is there are so many Jews in the film industry – which becomes evident when you are in L.A. or NYC – and yet for some reason, growing up in Toronto in my Jewish community, thoughts of a career in that field felt like a pipe dream,” she said.
AT CHAT, Strauss took media classes, drama and anything to spark creativity.
“In my English course, I remember having to write a paper. I asked the teacher if, instead of writing, I could do a film. I was always looking for opportunities to do creative things,” said Strauss.
After graduation, Strauss took a gap year in Israel and went to an Orthodox seminary for women.
“I was exploring my religious side. I learned a lot about myself and about Judaism,” said Strauss.
Moving back to Toronto, Strauss applied to the new-media program at Ryerson University.
“The program was not what I expected, but there was a professor who had given me a project doing a few short films. He recognized my passion for it, and helped me move into the film program.
“I started directing my first major project when I was in third year; then, in fourth year I did my thesis: a short film comedy about my experiences at Jewish summer camp,” said Strauss.
After graduating from Ryerson, Strauss went on to pursue a masters degree at the University of Southern California (USC). Before starting USC’s spring semester, Strauss produced a short film in Toronto called Blink. This film won best film and best director at the Air Canada enRoute Film Festival in 2012.
Strauss studied directing at USC, and she told The CJN about the program’s onerous route to making movies on a studio level.
“Senior Film Production at USC is a class in which only three people get to direct a movie each semester. The selection process is daunting. About 300 script submissions and 100 director submissions are whittled down to 30 scripts with 12 directors. One of the 12 directors have to find a writer, a script, and a producer to pitch to a panel of teachers and students. It’s super-intense.
“I ended up doing the script that I pitched; a story about a Catholic seminary boy the night before his ordination into the priesthood. A big part of my pitch was about my experiences in the Orthodox yeshiva, struggling with feelings of faith and curiosity of the world.
“It was like a boot camp for studio film making and a great experience.”
While at USC, Strauss spent time interning for production companies such as Plan B Entertainment (who produced Moonlight) and Apatow Productions.
“During this time I met Henry Joost and Ariel (Rel) Schulman, directors, producers, and founders of the New York City production company, Supermarché, at their premiere of Paranormal Activity 3. I loved their work. I had watched all of their commercials and short films and told them if they ever needed an assistant to call me,” said Strauss.
Strauss graduated from USC and worked on a television show called Drop Dead Diva. During that time, Joost and Schulman went to Los Angeles to film a movie and were looking for an assistant.
“I was offered the job and it went well. I moved to New York and, slowly but surely, I started segueing into a producer role,” said Strauss.
Strauss has produced two feature films with the company; Nerve starring Emma Roberts and Dave Franco, and the Sundance hit White Girl.
When working in pre-production or in production on a project, the hours can be very long.
“While we were prepping Nerve, I was in the production office by 8:00 a.m., and there until midnight. In production, usually 13-14 hour days – I saw more sunrises on that movie than most people see in their whole lives,” said Strauss.
In 2016, Strauss received two Clio awards honouring branded content she produced for Derek Lam’s 10 Crosby, and Robert Graham’s The Second Sound Barrier. Strauss has also made a number of short films for Vogue magazine starring Margot Robbie, Taylor Swift, and Kendall Jenner.
Strauss is prepping for two features for 2017, an adaption of The Monkey Wrench Gang, written and directed by Joost and Schulman, and Blackout a coming-of-age comedy from celebrated New York playwright Josh Koenigsberg.
Strauss’s message for aspiring filmmakers is that it’s possible. “There is a great Canadian film industry that needs more exciting young voices. Just start making movies, it’s so easy to shoot on your cell phone. Develop your personal style and the types of stories you want to tell,”she says.