Inspirational women in the film industry — Part 3: Interview with Catherine Legge

Title illustration: on location in Arctic attire.

Some time ago, we launched the blog series “Inspirational women in the film industry”.
As part of this series, we have already published two inspiring interviews with outstanding women working in the film business. They shared compelling stories with us, talked about their professional and personal challenges, and also gave useful advice for other women in the industry.

For our third blog story, we are incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with our esteemed new jury member Catherine Legge, who is an award-winning executive producer, showrunner, director and writer of documentary films and series with 25 years of experience in the business.

As an investigative journalist, her curiosity and empathy have led her into secret communities and people’s lives to tell stories that burst stereotypes, play in the grey areas and dance at the edges of the harder truth.

Catherine is also strongly committed to supporting the next generation of voices through volunteering and mentoring young filmmakers, directors, and writers, especially women. As such, she has been a mentor for the Women in Film and Television (Toronto) program for several years running.

Get ready to be inspired as we now delve into Catherine’s remarkable journey and gain insights from her wealth of experience in the TV and film industry.

Catherine Legge (portrait)
Catherine Legge, executive producer, showrunner, writer, director.


1 What made you decide to pursue a career in the film industry? Was there a particular event or time when you realized that working in film was your passion?
When I was young, maybe because I was the fourth child of 4, I became a strong communicator with an overwhelming sense of justice. So, becoming a journalist was my dream forever. But I went to journalism school at Carleton University in Ottawa and back then, it was a “just the facts please” type of craft. I thought, well that’s boring. Then I discovered TV. I literally grew up in front of the television and knew its power. Television taught me everything I knew. So, when I realized that I could combine words, pictures, and music into a much more emotionally compelling story, I was totally captivated. My classmates' TV assignments were strong reporting on important student issues. I was turning the issues into a mini documentary with a shopping mall Santa as the main character and writing his mock narrative of the world in verse with comedy and music. I was different and I’ve never looked back.
2 The film industry is in a period of upheaval when it comes to diversity and inclusion, both in front of and behind the camera. How do you feel about this transformation in recent years, have you noticed it strongly?
Its impact is so overdue. As someone who has always been drawn to stories with life experiences alternative to mine, I'm thrilled by the richness of the social fabric I get to experience today. Especially as a woman. When I first started in TV, I really wanted to do women-focused stories and I pitched them. I was working on a show with a female host and two feminist bosses, but they discouraged these kinds of stories. At that time women thought we would get ahead by not standing out. We were supposed to blend in and let our ideas do the talking. Of course, we didn’t, and we gave up a powerful tool in the process. As a freelance producer/director I had to pitch what would sell to the bosses if I wanted to eat. I always pushed the envelope, and my ideas were quite subversive but now I feel I had to leave an important part of my identity out. I’ve been trying to make up for that. It changed largely due to the men and women of color or 2SLGBTQ+ creators who simply refuse to set aside their identity for acceptance. Now, I’m watching series after series with my teenage daughter, and they are unapologetic. Female characters are portrayed as complicated, flawed, and powerful and that’s normalized. Along with the incredible Black and Indigenous stories creators are making in Canada, our world is so much richer.
3 You are deeply committed to supporting and mentoring young professionals, especially women. Where does this engagement come from and why is it so important to you? Did you also have a mentor at the beginning of your career?
I started in journalism at a terrible time. Like today, the headlines were filled with media making deep cuts to their staff. I couldn’t get any work related to my field and planned to become a lawyer instead. But I stuck it out for a few years working outside of my field and conditions changed. The advent of MTV and Much Music in Canada meant that suddenly young people’s voices were valued. I was lucky enough that my first few jobs in TV in my 20’s really wanted a young perspective. I worked on these vibrant, irreverent, status-quo challenging shows and my news agency, the CBC, always had my back. More particularly, my bosses had my back. Despite what I said about my feminist bosses not wanting female stories, they were mentors to me in so many ways. They raised my standards, my expectations and empowered me in such a way that every other job I had needed to measure up to. That’s a gift. I’ve worked with many other shows that didn’t have my back and often didn’t like the challenging perspective I wanted to take or shaking up the status-quo style I had. They either left me alone or came at me. But that’s where mentors come in even after you part ways. In times of doubt, you can remind yourself that, “brilliant people really liked my work, my voice, and believed in me”. And you keep your hunger on what success feels like because you’ve tasted it. That’s half of having a career, not allowing your vision to be marginalized by the mediocre folks who don’t understand.
4 What do you think are the major challenges and opportunities for (young) women in today’s film industry? And what advice can you give them to achieve the success they want in their professional lives?

The young women I have worked with or that I am mentoring are much, much more accomplished than I was at their age. If there is a program, an internship, an opportunity or list they can get on, they’re going for it. It's wonderful to see them get noticed but I worry these events of recognition aren’t translating into job offers. Show them the money. When do they get paid for all the promise and potential they have? Take directors for instance. Only the most experienced women I know who have been fighting for years for their shot, are now regularly getting the meaningful work they always deserved. That’s leading to their success and more work. I’m thrilled for them. As someone who is mature in my career, I still want doors open for women my age to try new things. I want to do new things! But what are we doing for these driven and accomplished young women earlier in their careers to equip them for paid growth and success? Inside the broadcasters, I am shocked at the number of casual contracts and astoundingly low pay young people are making. They can’t afford to live in a big city. So, who is able to afford a career in television or filmmaking? People of privilege. We’re going to continue to lose incredible talents because they simply can’t afford this career.

So, I know most of us have to subsidize our dreams with other work. The advice I give young female creators is hang in there, but don’t wait. Develop your own ideas. Do your homework, study the market, and then bring your own unique voice to sought-after projects and pitch them. Partner up with like-minded people and support each other. Pitch and pitch and pitch. Create with your phone. Share your voice on social media. Content is still Queen. Don’t wait for anyone’s permission.

5 Looking back on your career to date, which woman has inspired you the most and why?
I had a hard time answering this question because there was never one woman. Over the years I have been most inspired by women who push through all the clutter AND can do it with comedy. It’s one kind of success to play the game well enough, it’s another to win and change the game, but the women I truly admire did that and laughed about it. They gave the audience a “we did it” wink. So, the people who come to mind are comedic storytellers like Mary Tyler Moore (I know she’s fictional, but I love her), Jeanne Moos from CNN changed news, of course Shonda Rhimes who changed drama, Tina Fey who changed comedy, Amy Schumer who makes imperfection feel good, Mindy Kaling who is making us feel the world in new ways, Samantha Bee who makes fearlessness fun. Midge Maisel (another fictional character) from the brilliant brain of Amy Sherman-Palladino who is my current career obsession. I wish writer/director Sarah Polley was my best friend. That woman can tell the truth like no one else does. Oh, and Taylor Swift. This woman is redefining the music industry – the actual business – by telling her story and pleasing her fans and those girls are going to change the world. I was recently lucky enough to take my teenage daughter to her concert. We were seated nearby Tiger Woods and his teenage daughter and her friends. It was more powerful to me to watch these girls sing and dance their hearts out with 80 thousand other women and I looked over at him and felt like he could see the future is female. At that moment, I felt like passing him a tampon. (This is a joke referencing a recent controversy involving Tiger Woods.)
6 Was there a specific achievement or moment in your career that you are particularly proud of and that you would not like to miss?
I remember I got a job on the flagship national newscast at CBC. I was going to be a producer/director flying all over the world creating documentaries on the biggest issues of our time. A few months into it, the very prominent anchor of the show invited me to lunch. Walking into the dark restaurant and seeing him at the corner table I felt like I was meeting the Godfather. This man had helped define news for the last quarter century. He mentioned some recent documentaries I did and the rather unique style and tone I was taking – they were creative, irreverent, and surprising. He noted that they were also getting a very big audience. Then he asked me what I would do if someone at the top levels didn’t like my style. Would I change? Despite pulling an all-nighter in the edit suite and sitting with this very intimidating man, I didn’t skip a beat. I said, “If everyone likes what I’m doing I’ve failed. I’m not here to be liked, I’m here to have an impact.” I don’t know where that came from but it’s me. I still want to have an impact.
7 Imagine being completely free in your choice of topic and not having to think about the budget. — What would your dream production(s) be?
As a life-long freelancer and now a producer, I am very practical so it’s just so hard to let my mind go there. Thanks for asking this. I’d love to work with Amy Sherman-Palladino, Shonda Rhimes, and Mindy Kaling on a musical comedy Taylor Swift biopic series. It would be “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” meets “Never Have I Ever” with every musical piece having the opulence and sass of “Bridgerton” telling the story of a young superstar’s coming of age navigating the pitfalls of love and fame.
8 And last but not least, our final question, please finish this sentence:
If I were a film, I would be… And why?
If I were a film, I would be “Reality Bites 2: Eat the Apple” because “Reality Bites” was the story of my life at the beginning of my career. I lived as Winona Ryder’s character. During a turbulent media and social landscape, she was a young smart and frustrated woman who saw things going on around her and wanted to tell authentic stories to help people exist in them, forgive themselves, fight for change. But the bosses were in charge back then. I watched it with my daughter recently and realized after the career I’ve had that I really want to write a remake: with Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, Steve Zahn characters as they’d be now. It’s a coming-of-middle-age story. I would interview all of the actors, who’ve had such incredible lives and careers, and base the characters on who they think those folks would be now. And I’d make a beautiful documentary about it. “Eat the Apple” has been a mantra in my head a lot lately because of a documentary I’m working on about a woman who escaped a doomsday cult and re-invented her entire personality. It’s a tribute to Eve blamed for the fall of mankind because she was curious, she questioned the status quo, and she craved knowledge. We need that. So, I hope people out there reading this can hook me up.

To discover more about Catherine's work, visit her website at