I decided to interview Jessica L’Heureux—who I call ‘femme extraordinaire’—for this last issue of our summer edition. Jessica launched the bilingual (French/English) company Far West Productions in Edmonton with Benoit Pellerin and Corey Loranger and they’ve been ripping up the television and digital space since their uniting of forces two years ago. Jessica is the director of the web series Abigaëlle et le date coaching—the first francophone web series shot in Alberta! I play Abigaëlle in the romantic comedy and on our single day off Jessica graciously agrees to let me interview her… thanks Jess! We meet at Duchess Bake Shop—an institution here in Edmonton. We start to chat ‘bigger picture’ over a croissant. (The flour is imported from France!)
Ça va faire bizarre de te parler en anglais… (It’s gonna feel weird to talk to you in English…)
Oui vraiment! Mais en même temps ça va me forcer de pratiquer mon anglais pis d’aller au bout de mes pensées… de parler de mon travail en anglais—chose que je fais pas d’habitude. (Completely! But at the same time it’ll force me to practice my English and to push through to the end of my thoughts… talking about my work in English isn’t something I usually do.)
Si tu trouves pas les mots en anglais, dis les en français—les lecteurs se débrouilleront! (If you can’t think of the words in English, switch to French and the readers will just have to figure it out!)
Ça marche! (That works!)
So! We’re in Edmonton right now! I’m here for this contract but this is your home base.
Yes! I moved here six and a half years ago. I worked in Québec as a journalist for Radio-Canada and I knew I wanted a change and actually felt really ashamed about not speaking any English—at all! I mean Canada is a bilingual country and another language is good for the brain. So I sent my resume to all the Western provinces and Radio-Canada in Edmonton was the first one that said yes. So here I am. It was impulsive.
Wow! And you seem so at home here.
I love it here.
I feel like Edmonton is still an undiscovered gem of Canada.
It is! People ask me all the time “Why Edmonton?” They just don’t know how great it is here. There’s an energy—it feels like a young place with an entrepreneurial spirit. People want to make things here. The vibe is if it doesn’t exist yet, just create it.
You’ve worked in journalism for so long, has it been hard to plunge into the world of a fictional web series?
They’re such different forms of storytelling. In journalism it’s all about the facts but you’re still trying to be a storyteller. I had been doing it for 15 years and it’s almost like I was on automatic because I knew it so well. And now I’m directing fiction for the first time and I have to readjust every second! So yes, it’s hard but I’ve never felt so free.
Yeah for first time directing! Is it what you were expecting?
When we were talking about making this web series and my name came up as the Director I said “oké oui” and then “uh oh!” I was a little naïve but I really jumped in because the context was so right with the Far West team. There’s no pretension with us. We want the project to be the best possible and we know that if we combine forces we’ll make it better. So I didn’t feel alone.
So you don’t feel the pressure of being a director? And taking the blame for the success or the failure of the project? Am I scaring you?
(Laughs) Oh no, I’ll take responsibility for the success or the failure because I have that title of Director. But I don’t feel I need to decide everything all the time because I’m the Director.
I’m fascinated by all the details involved in directing. Little details that amount to the bigger picture… which will be the web series!
Yes, I love the details! Like the colour palette for example! I watched the movie Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain many many times which inspired the colours I wanted to bring to Abigaëlle et le date coaching. That’s just one of the details.
Can you see the final product/bigger picture in your mind?
Yes, I have a good idea in my head.
What does it look like?
Oh wow, just thinking about it now I’m like nervous all of a sudden. When we filmed the final scene I was so… émue… it was so perfect! It was like what I had pictured in my head.
I pinch myself on set—I see everyone working their ass off to make this web series happen and I’m looking at all those people and I think “oh my god everybody’s so creative!” Whatever you’re doing on set—everyone has an eye for detail and their own ideas and we see all of that culminate as the bigger picture on the screen. It’s what I had in my head but much better.
In your personal life do you think in terms of a bigger life plan? Like planning or envisioning years in advance?
Well I’m really good at the day-to-day details but ever since I quite my permanent job at Radio-Canada to start a production company I can’t think bigger. I feel really free right now. I’m starving to do a lot of things! I’m still processing this project and it’ll take time to put words to my feelings but… I can’t think like I used to. I can’t say “in five years my life will look like this.”
How’s the talking to me in English going? Feeling weird?
Yes it is. (Laughs) I feel like “are we playing a game or something?”
The Abigaëlle set is balanced pretty well with men and women. Was that a conscious choice?
Umm not really. We really found the best people. I do love how equal our set feels. I’ve had experiences where Directors of Photography would question my choices as if they were trying to make me crack. I wondered if they did that to their male friends. I wondered “is it because I’m a woman?” It’s too bad that question even comes up.
Work pet peeve you want to share with me?
Ooooh well… I see in the workplace that women without kids will be asked to take on more work because they have “more time.” As someone without kids that’s definitely happened to me before. I’m happy that my team doesn’t do that.
What’s next for you?
Vacation! I love traveling and since I started Far West Productions I haven’t had time. When I’m traveling, ideas always come to me. I also used to read a lot… now I’m just reading grant guidelines and it’s so boring—oh god!
Oh yeah that’s a special kind of pain. And what’s next for Far West Productions?
We release our web series Abigaëlle et le date coaching this fall on TV5. We also release our food truck magazine show Sel et Diesel on UnisTV and we’re shooting Season 2 this winter. I’ll be directing and producing 13 half hour episodes.
So it’s a good thing you quit your cozy permanent job.
Jessica and I proceed to chat for another hour about everything and nothing. It’s refreshing to get to know her outside of our work space where we both usually settle into an uber-focused mind set. I’m a natural focuser and I find I have to work on letting my mind meander. I recognized a fellow focuser in Jessica and was attracted to that quality. And now at Duchess Bake Shop we’re letting our minds meander and bigger plans, pictures, ideas and thoughts are emerging—we’re in the zone!
Photograph by Sébastien Guillier Sahuqué
Jessica co-founded Far West Productions in May 2015 with Corey Loranger and Benoit Pellerin—a project propelled by her passion for storytelling and directing. She produces and directs the series Sel et Diesel which will air in September 2017 on UNIStv. The series explores the food truck culture across Canada. She also produced and directed the first Francophone web series shot in Alberta: Abigaëlle et le date coaching, financed by Telefilm Canada and Fonds TV5. The web series will be available on line on the TV5 website this fall. She has worked for over twelve years for CBC/Radio-Canada as a journalist and director.