Meet the Women of ILM – Whitney Townsley

Mar 9, 2018

TELL US ABOUT YOUR ROLE AT ILM, AND HOW LONG YOU’VE BEEN IN THE FILM INDUSTRY.
I am the HR Advisor in the London studio. I started as HR Coordinator back in May 2014 when there were only three of us in HR, Recruitment and Talent. This gave me the opportunity to help shape the structure of our department. Now along with knowing the systems and processes inside and out, I’m working on more defined HR projects. Although I’ve been working in creative industries for over a decade, ILM London is my first job in the film industry.

WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND? WHAT WAS YOUR MAIN COURSE OF STUDY IN SCHOOL?
My journey into HR wasn’t exactly straightforward! When I first attended University in Canada, I enrolled in a general Bachelor of Arts programme, eventually switched to Jazz studies and then finally graduated with an Arts and Entertainment Management certificate. When I moved to London, I had been working in the music industry in Vancouver as Business Affairs Coordinator and was looking for a bigger industry pool to learn from. That’s when the wonderful world of VFX snapped me up and I haven’t looked back since! Since being at ILM, I’ve graduated with a Level 5 diploma in Human Resources Management through the CIPD.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO GO INTO VISUAL EFFECTS?
One thing I knew from a very young age was that I love the creative industries and believe they have an important role in the world. Music and creative writing were always my strengths and so I followed those passions. One of the parts of my job whilst working at the record label in Vancouver was to obtain approval for our music to be featured in film and television. I was in contact with many studios, including Disney, and started to realise how many people it took to create the final film that we see in the theatres.

When I started at ILM London, that realisation became even more apparent! The work that our employees do is incredible, to say that the films would not be the same without them is an understatement. Being a part of the visual effects industry might not have been the driving force in my career like it has been for so many of our employees but I am inspired everyday by the amazingly talented people I get to work with. They inspire me to be the best I can be at my job, to ensure that they feel supported and have a positive experience working at ILM.

WHAT WAS THE MOST CHALLENGING POINT IN YOUR CAREER AND HOW DID YOU RISE ABOVE IT AND PERSEVERE?
The biggest challenge I’ve had to face was finding the strength to give up an amazing job that I loved but had grown out of in order to push forward and progress my career. I knew that I needed to make a change but change is scary and difficult – and who wants to deal with that stress! After a trip to Europe, I realised that in order to take that next step I needed to leap so I applied for my work Visa, quit my job, packed up my life and moved from Canada to the UK. It is by far the best thing I’ve ever done. Not only have I successfully progressed in my career but I have also learned so much about myself as a person. As hard as it was, and as hard as it still can be, it was beyond worth it. Risks are worth it. No challenge is too difficult, there’s always a way to overcome.

DID YOU HAVE SPECIFIC FEMALE MENTORS OR ROLE MODELS THAT HELPED PUSH YOU FORWARD?
I’ve always been surrounded by, or maybe surrounded myself with, strong female role models. My family not only taught me but showed me that women can do anything and be anything. The women in my family have worked and flourished in industries that have had the stigma of being predominantly male, namely the police and fire departments. I’ve watched my Mother work hard and navigate through the fire department from being a desk clerk at the fire hall to communications officer to Captain to training the new recruits at the academy.

That level of influence carried over into my career. My first job was working in a dog grooming shop owned and operated by a woman, my first office job was receptionat at an all-female law firm and now at ILM I’m surrounded by some of the strongest, smartest and most driven women I’ve ever encountered.

All of these women amaze me but they’re just people. The fact that they’re women is something I celebrate and recognise now but hopefully there will come a day where these types of achievements are looked at as just that, as achievements and not break-throughs.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE MOTIVATIONAL MANTRA?
‘Wake up. Kick Ass. Be Kind. Repeat.’

HOW DO YOU THINK THE FILM INDUSTRY CAN BETTER ENCOURAGE GIRLS AND WOMEN OF ALL AGES TO GET INVOLVED IN FILMMAKING?
The film industry is one that actually has the power and the presence to make an impact. If we show girls that there are female driven films (actor, director, producer, writer, artist, editor) then they will see the possibility. There’s a reason why everyone got the ‘Rachel’ haircut, enrollment in forensic science courses is through the roof and everyone wants to own a husky – they saw it on their screens. If we show girls that there are females in front of and behind the camera, behind the computers, on the boards and in the offices then they will see the possibility. Let’s go into schools and encourage girls to be interested in creative arts, technology, science and math. We’ve got the power to make this change.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO WOMEN CONSIDERING FILM, AND SPECIFICALLY VISUAL EFFECTS, AS A CAREER CHOICE?
Believe in your aspirations! Research schools, network and collaborate with like-minded individuals and look for work experience or internship opportunities. Most applicants for our work experience are females, our running team is 50/50 and we have females in each of our departments, a career in visual effects is well within reach.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE WHO WANTS TO TAKE HER CAREER TO THE NEXT LEVEL?
You have to want it, be confident in your desires and abilities and be prepared to work for it. Some people get places without putting much effort in but I’m of the belief that nothing is worth anything unless you had to work for it. Put the hours in, keep learning, ask for help, if you fail then find another way and follow your instinct. In a perfect world, I’d give the same advice to both genders!

We’ll get there.HOW CAN MEN BE BETTER ALLIES TO WOMEN IN THE WORKPLACE?
The same way that they can be allies to each other and we can be allies to each other. Every colleague, no matter their gender, race, religion, age or sexual orientation, deserves to be treated equally. I would expect all of my colleagues to respect and support each other, act collaboratively when the task calls for it, exercise compassion or patience if the moment asks for it, provide constructive feedback or show appreciation when required and accept each others differences and not let them get in the way of achieving magnificent work. In short, treat them exactly as you should anyone else!