This is how I get stuff done – Anna Canton

Over the next couple of weeks, we are introducing you to a series of phenomenal creatives who generously share with us (and you, by reading this post), their creative and commercial acumen in their respective practices.

Today, we are absolutely delighted to introduce you to Anna Canton, the gutsy, talented and forthright multi-hyphenate creative. We first met Anna at a producers workshop in 2019 and was super impressed by her clarity, empathy and incredible skills in so many areas. Fa’afetai tele lava/Many thanks Anna for sharing your wisdoms, experiences and wit with us.

We’ll let her words speak for themselves in our interview. Enjoy!

Anna Canton,

Can you please introduce yourself in 25 words or under? (family whakapapa and title you use for your work)

Ko Anna Canton toku ingoa.

Ko Ngāti Werehi, Ko Ngāti Hainamana ngā iwi.

Nō Te Tai Poutini ahau.

He Tumu Whakaputa Kiriata ahau.

(Anna Canton – Creative Producer).

When did you know you were creative? Was it a singular moment or more gradual?

I am compelled to create. I want to tell stories, I want to wow people, make them cry, horrify them. I have been connected to my creativity and art from my earliest memories – drawing, painting, storytelling, dancing, filming, making. I wanted to be an Artist and a Teacher when I was a kid. I went to Art School to study painting, but when I discovered the film module I realised I could collaborate with my mates to tell bigger and more fun stories, rather than be locked in a painting studio by myself for 4 years. So I ended up specialising in film for my degree and I have worked in the film, TV and media sector ever since, going on 18+ years. I have since added qualifications in Project Management and Te Reo Māori to my skillset to enhance my ability to deliver these projects.

What does the word creative mean for you? What made you get involved with creative projects?

For me, creativity is problem-solving, creating order from chaos. I’ve moved ultimately into producing because I love to make creative stuff, but I also want opportunities to influence the world around me, which for me means not just ‘making’ but also project ownership and leadership. As a Producer I love high-stakes, intense, edgy stories that bring a different perspective. I care about diversity and representation in our industry. I love genre film: thriller, action, horror, fantasy, sci-fi (both watching and making). So a script has to be a bit badass for me to like it. But I also have to enjoy collaborating with the Writer or Director. I want to have deep conversations and ensure we can feel safe to explore and challenge each other. Full collaboration and trust is important for me. So if your script is cool but you’re a dick, I won’t add you to my slate.

What does a typical day look like working with you? What have been the top 3 (It can only be one or two if you like) highlights of your creative practice?

Because I work in creative leadership I spend a lot of time in meetings, but this is where the whakawhanaungatanga (relationships) occur. For me, it is people first – who they are, what they feel, what makes them tick, what moves them? How can we have fun and disrupt expectations?

I work 2 parallel creative lives, I am a very busy person! The first is my freelance film practice as a Producer (and previously as a Director and Editor). I love bringing people together on projects to see what they set on fire. This work might include script development sessions, production planning, finance, distribution & festival strategising etc. Some of this sounds heavy, but it is all in service to the story and the film – challenging my team to make the best and boldest creative decisions they can, and make sure audiences will see the damn thing. As my journey into producing is through the arts as opposed to a financial or business pathway, I always bring a creative lens to the role.

I now do this part time, as the second is my full time commercial role – I use my creative storytelling skills and vision in my mahi as a Marketing and Brand Manager, which I have done for the last 9 years. This is where I make my pūtea, as the reality of the creative sector is that the remuneration is not as good or consistent as having a commercial salary, so I fit my freelance practice around this, it enables me to be a creator as well as to pay my bills.

I currently work for Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu (the largest iwi in Te Waipounamu), running a team of marketers, content creators and designers. We produce the creative brand story and marketing material to inspire, inform and promote the Ngāi Tahu brand and sub-brands to whānau and the public; including customers, agencies, partners and other stakeholders both local and international. I have worked particularly in brand transformation – rethinking and realigning ways to tell brand stories that authentically connect with audiences.

What do you do for self-care/time out?

Time out LOL. I tend to be an active relaxer and I am still creative in my spare time. My personal escape is to do and make things with no particular end-game or delivery (to separate it from ‘work’), to just luxuriate in the tactile and in physical expression. I am a crocheter: making colourful and unusual creatures called amigurumi. I am a flamenco dancer and I also love life drawing. I love going to art galleries. I also like to listen to The Beatles, Nick Cave and Billie Eilish very very loudly.

Is anyone in your family also creative? If so, do you work together or not and if so, why? 

Yes! My sister is Alice Canton, Theatre Artist and Performer, Founder of White_Mess.  She is an incredible communicator, a provocateur and one of the bravest artists I know.

We operate in a similar fashion: having both a corporate and creative practice (we are overachievers, we have a Tiger Mother). We have occasionally dipped into each other’s projects but never officially done an ACxAC collab yet.

What are your top 3 tips for finishing a creative project?

Sorry these are super boring but classic things to finish projects!

  1. Make a task list and tick things off. Seems obvious but don’t keep it all in your head, you gotta have the visualisation to get through the dirge of project exhaustion. I use a platform like Trello to track and collaborate, otherwise I also use post-it notes to list each task and gives satisfaction when you get to screw each one up and throw it in the bin when it’s done.
  2. Stay accountable – transparent communication. When you have to let others know where you are at, or where you have slipped behind, this helps to stay on track and helps you to remember this is not a solo venture. I have to have conversations with my Director, Executive Producer or funding partners, sometimes challenging conversations but it keeps me in line with my delivery responsibilities. It also means you can reach out for support if things are going awry.
  3. Don’t get bogged down by creative perfection.Once you have your systems in place, there is space for creative mess, and allowing the creativity to flow, and allowing flaws (ie, your systems can be perfect, but your creativity can be a mess). Unexpected cool stuff can happen on a set, or in the edit suite, better than what was planned – that’s the weird magic of creative projects and our job is to push the boundaries of creativity whilst still delivering a final product.

How do you measure your creative success?

If someone cries or laughs at a screening. If people are talking about your work, sharing it or referring to it. If your work has a life beyond you. I produced a short film “GRAVEL 3000” years ago, and literally 6 years later, I met a woman who had seen it in a screening back then who said she still felt chills whenever she heard the sound of gravel crunching. That is a win for me!

What is one thing you’ve never shared about your creative practice to anyone that you would like people to know about you?

You’re always going to doubt yourself.

Are you superstitious or religious? If so, what rituals/ beliefs do you do/ have/or not?

I’m not religious. I believe in people. I believe in the power of making shit happen through commitment, collaboration and passion.

Please share a time where your creativity was not valued or running low and what you did to get out of it? What did you learn from that?

I’m generally quite a hard-headed person, as a diminutive woman-of-colour fighting to be heard in spaces of power and leadership. I have had my fair share of being dismissed, undervalued or overlooked even when you know you have something good to pitch, be that with funders, senior leadership or clients. Or even when you are in the daunting ‘middle phase’ of a film production as it takes literally years from inception to screening, so project fatigue is real.

I have to always bring it back to my ‘why’, reconnect with my creative team and have a good hyped-up chat to remember what we love about the project in the first place. When I’ve had desperate times of “not feeling the love” for a film (nothing kills passion like doing a cost report), I’ll meet up with my Director and just thrash out how much we love a character, or a cool bit of plot or visual we have planned to bring back my excitement. 

How do you close out or finish a project? Any special rituals?

So often we just move onto the next thing! But I do love celebrations, screenings and chances to talk with cast, crew and whānau afterwards.

What are you currently working on and where can we buy it/see it? 

Alongside my brand work with Ngāi Tahu, I am currently producing 2 projects:

A short film, ‘Homecoming’ which is NZFC Fresh Shorts funded, with Writer/Director Grae Meek, an up-and-coming and immensely talented filmmaker. The film is a psychological drama about a transgender woman returning home to come out to her parents. This is in pre-production, with a crowdfunding campaign coming later this year, to be released late 2023 to the international festival circuit.

A feature film, ‘The Pissy Tits Street Gang’, with Nadia Maxwell (‘Human Traces’, ‘Reunion’) written by Rosie Howells (‘Wellington Paranormal’) and Directed by Matasila Freshwater (‘Vai)’. It’s a coming-of-age comedy about an odd-ball group of friends set in small-town New Zealand. The project is currently in development with funding support from NZFC.

Please feel free to share website links x

Annakey Productions:

Website: Annakey Productions Home

Facebook: Annakey Productions | Facebook

Instagram: Annakey Productions ( Instagram

My crochet/creative instagram:

Anna (@_anna.can_) • Instagram photos and videos

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