Why a Toronto production company believes in a new Kindness Economy

Even while creative and media agencies have seen their daily routines disrupted, they are still working: creatives can come up with ideas, and media agencies have buys to manage.

But that’s not the case for the thousands of people working in the production industry. As governments across the country shut down all but essential services, their work dried up almost overnight.

After the initial shock of the shutdown wore off, the team at the nine-person Toronto production company Heyd Saffer began thinking about what they could do at this time. “We’re a group of producers. We may as well do something,” said executive producer Cynthia Heyd.

That impulse to do something—to make some things—has led to the launch of three different COVID response projects in the last four weeks. This is a group of producers bringing their own ideas to life, not for a marketer or agency, but for the communities they live in and the people they work with.

In part, these projects are about finding a creative outlet for Heyd Saffer employees. But Kari Hollend, a producer at Fyfe Shader (part of Heyd Saffer) also sees it as a time when their skills can be beneficial beyond commercial concerns.

“What we do in the world of creators and makers and content, is we have a wide reach… there’s a way to communicate that not everyone knows how to do and we have that voice. That’s how we can help right now,” she said.

While there has been a lot of talk about the food and restaurant industry being shut down, there has been very little mention of entertainment and production. According to PwC estimates, Canadian film and TV productions account for $5 billion in revenue, employing more than 117,000 people full-time. The Canadian Media Producers Association says the sector generates more than 180,000 full-time equivalent jobs.

“Not enough is being done to highlight these workers and other crew members whose work evaporated literally overnight,” said Heyd. “Anyone that is freelance was out of work and there is not an early end in sight.”

They created Feed-the-Need, a GoFundMe to provide meals to frontline workers, prepared by food service partners who would normally be doing a great deal of work for  the production industry and events. Feed-the-Need has raised more than $18,000 and delivered 1,500 meals to three different hospitals over the holiday weekend.

They also created a video PSA to remind people of the unique perspective that children have on this crisis. The video was directed by Fyfe Shader’s Matty McKane using crowd-sourced footage.

Kids have have questions and are uncertain about what’s going on, said Heyd. “We decided to find out what they think about the COVID crisis, how we can fix it and what role we all play… We created a video to let them know they are not alone in this. There are other edits to come, all from a kids POV.”

And then there’s the Kindness Economy, which may be the most abstract, but also the most ambitious of the projects. The website and social content focuses entirely on sharing stories about people helping one another get through the crisis. “Instead of focusing on the fear and dread, we are going to turn a spotlight on all of the good that is coming out of this time,” said Heyd.

The idea sprang from a Facebook group that Hollend created almost immediately after the shutdown happened. The initial goal was to create a resource for people who make an ad happen—the gaffers and grips, the people working in lighting and continuity—by helping them find project work and share advice with people who had lost their income.

“It really was born out of a fever-panic moment,” she said. “I do feel this desperate need to protect the people that make the content.” It quickly morphed into a more generalized people-helping-people group, however, with over 12,000 interactions since its March 15 launch.

In a group where people were instinctively helping others, Hollend saw something profound unfolding: Transactions driven not by financial imperatives, but by people compelled to help other people during extraordinary times.

That same instinct could also be seen in the way businesses were innovating and repurposing to join the fight against COVID—producing ventilators and protective equipment for healthcare workers and sanitizer for everyone.

“To see how people and brands and creators are having all these innovations, and ideas that were just being literally born out of this reaction, and a call to action to COVID, I thought it was unbelievable,” said Hollend. This is what inspired the Kindness Economy.

“We decided, as a group of producers, to put our heads together and figure out a way to harness it all, to create a hub where we can just witness the kindness economy that is coming out of this situation,” said Heyd. “We could use it to inspire and spotlight the different acts of kindness that are going on right now. I think it can maybe inform a newer kind of world.”

These projects are a manifestation of how these extraordinary circumstances inevitably push creative minds to imagine what life will be like after COVID. It’s something Heyd and Hollend have been thinking about a lot lately. “I hope it becomes more collaborative and fair,” said Hollend.

“I hope that the values we’re learning—we are respecting people and listening to people—all those things that sometimes we struggle with in the pre-COVID world, I think we’re going to pay much more attention to them,” added Heyd. “I just think it starts to get ingrained in everything you do, and you start to do things that are more helpful for others.

“I think that that’s going to live on. I really do.”


David Brown