Edie Weiss: At the top of the industry, but still striving to make it better

—As the CEO of Radke Film Group, Weiss is at the top of Canadian production, but her passion is helping disadvantaged youth find their way in the industry—

Edie Weiss jokingly describes herself as an “accidental producer.” But let’s face it, you don’t become one of the Canadian production industry’s most acclaimed and respected leaders by accident.

“I didn’t come to this with a plan to get into the [production] industry,” says Weiss, who started her career as a marriage and family therapist before taking a pivotal detour in the mid-1980s to become a marketing rep for acclaimed commercial photographer Shin Sugino, eventually making her way to Rawi Sherman Films.

It was there that Weiss met the late commercial director Richard Radke, with whom she would launch Radke Films as a small one director shop in 1992. Today, as president and CEO of Radke Film Group, Weiss oversees a production mini-empire that has grown to include Steam Films, OPC, Soft Citizen, Common Good, Free Society and The Vapor Music Group, and has earned a reputation as a great spotter and nurturer of young talent. When it comes to production, there are few in the industry mightier than Weiss.

“Edie Weiss really stands out in a crowd,” says Mighty Women judge Shelley Lewis, an art director turned director. “She has been running incredibly successful production companies in a very turbulent industry and somehow, she always finds a way to stay ahead of the curve. She began her company at a time when film production was truly a man’s business. She shook things up then and continues to [do so] today.”

And while Weiss left a career in therapy behind, those skills continue to inform her approach to business. “I think anyone in business, if they could be trained in psychology business, they’d probably do far better,” she says. “It helps you reframe the necessary things people need to hear in order to move to a different level. They need to feel there’s empathy, they need to feel heard.”

Her success in building Radke Film Group into a production powerhouse cemented Weiss’s professional reputation, but it’s her work with economically disenfranchised youth that she considers her legacy and her greatest contribution to the industry.

Launched in 2007, POV Films offers training to members of underrepresented communities, helping them find a place within Canada’s predominantly white production industry. Ensuring greater diversity, in any business sector, is both a moral and economic imperative, says Weiss.

As a child of immigrants—Weiss’s late father Ernest was a Holocaust survivor who arrived in Canada shortly after WWII—she remembers how difficult it was for families of immigrants to gain acceptance. “Something about that struck me,” she says of the decision to launch POV Films. “I’ve had such amazing partners and a successful business, [and felt] it’s now time to do something. It really felt like a calling for me.

Weiss says she and Radke partner Scott Mackenzie started noticing just how many of the young professionals that came to them for help with placement, career advice, etc. came from privileged (and almost always white) families.

“They already had a tremendous amount of advantage… and I felt almost guilty that—having come from a social work background—I wasn’t doing enough to give opportunities to those who were disadvantaged,” she says. “I felt I had an obligation to do more for people who didn’t have that opportunity.”

Since its inception, POV Films has helped more than 250 youth from the GTA find work in production, with a specific focus on BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and refugee communities. More recently, POV launched a program specifically for Aboriginal youth, which attracted 20 entrants in its first year.

“[Working to ensure greater equity and diversity] is the area I feel most excited about…we’re really going to change the nature of the industry over the next decade,” she says.

“The thing I feel most proud of is that we launched POV Films as a dream in 2007, and we’ve built it into an incredible organization,” says Weiss. “I just see a world where this is going to become stronger and stronger for us.”

While Weiss has personally achieved the height of success, she has never stopped trying to help others climb the ladder. “Her advocacy and mentorship of up-and-coming creative people in our industry is incredible,” says Blueblancrouge president Wahn Yoon, who also serves as board chair of POV Films. “She is constantly promoting them, mentoring them, connecting them with others, and giving them guidance.”

Yoon recently asked Weiss if she could take a quick coffee meeting with one of his mentees, a promising producer and director. “She gave him not only two hours of her time, but she pulled her executive producers, her best directors into the meeting,” he says. “She instantly created almost a little community around him. It was just astonishing.”

He remembers attending a graduation ceremony for POV Films shortly after its inception, and marvelling as Weiss spent much of the evening introducing graduates to people in the industry who might be able to help them.

Being named one of Canadian marketing and advertising’s Mighty Women is just the latest in a string of accolades for Weiss, who last month became the first person from the production industry to be inducted into Canada’s Marketing Hall of Legends.

But Yoon says there are no shelves displaying her many awards, and she recently told him she will use any of the publicity she receives from her endeavours to raise more money for POV Films and expand the program into other regions.

“There’ll never be a time that I’ll retire because there’s too much to do,” says Weiss.

Chris Powell