Class of 2014 – Innis, CSI
Innis & CSI alumna, Dani Legault, completed her degree in cinema studies in spring of 2014. She also holds a diploma in radio broadcasting from Seneca College, class of 2007. She has been continuously employed in syndicated radio since fall of 2007, variously as a technical producer, content producer, or writer.
Currently she writes The Twenty, a nationally syndicated Top 40 countdown show which airs locally on 99.9 Virgin Radio. She interviews all musicians who appear on the show and has spoken with celebrities such as Katy Perry, One Direction, Will.i.am, and Ed Sheeran. In addition to her radio work, she has pitched television shows to Space, Warner Brothers, and Dreamworks.
What were your programs of study while at U of T (i.e., minors, majors, specialist)?
I specialized in cinema studies. Many of my courses outside of the cinema studies department were in women and gender studies, sexual diversity studies, and equity studies.
In a few words, please outline your career path. Where do you see your path leading?
I completed the Seneca College’s radio broadcasting program, which has a mandatory internship component. One of my classmates had begun to produce a nationally syndicated evening show called the Sound Lounge for the CHUM radio network before we even graduated, and she helped me to get an internship with that show. I helped them with interactive components of the show by answering text messages from listeners and set up their first ever Facebook page, before Facebook even let you have company pages! When the associate producer left her position, I was given a chance to fill her shoes, and that was how I landed my first paid position in radio. In my time with CHUM, I also had a brief stint as the writer for the CHUM Chart and the nationally syndicated MuchMoreMusic Radio Countdown.
Later, I worked for what is now formerly Astral Media as a board operator and technical producer. I continued to seek out writing opportunities and worked on the Virgin Hit 20 and a show called Akon’s Hitlab. When the former writer of The Twenty left the company, I snapped up his position, and when our host suddenly relocated to another station within the company, I had to step up to the task of interviewing many of the artists who are featured on the show. In a nutshell, I would say I have succeeded because I have learned to recognize opportunities when they come along. From here, I am hoping to start to build my own platform for my work (as opposed to writing and performing interviews for somebody else) and I may look for work outside of the radio industry in festivals or arts management.
Who has been your favourite (or most memorable) person to interview? How was their interview significant to you?
It’s hard to pick one favourite because nearly every artist who walks through the door is so passionate about their music — that passion is infectious, even if I’m not a fan of their work per se. That said, I’ll never forget interviewing K’naan. He was one of my earlier interviews, at a time when I still wasn’t entirely confident in my skills. When he sat down in the booth from me his body language was totally closed off: folded arms, sitting back from the mic, deadpan answers to my questions. Fifteen minutes later he was completely animated as he told me how difficult it was to overcome his anxiety and perform in front of the United Nations when he was just a new artist. When the microphone shut off, he joked that he thought he was going to cry and that I should have been a therapist. That was a real breakthrough moment for me as an interviewer. It was when I realized that maybe I wasn’t so bad at it after all.
What is one of the biggest difficulties you’ve encountered working in radio? How did you overcome it?
I have a hard time interacting with somebody when I can tell they’re putting up a fake front. It really puts me on edge. I’ve found there are a lot of people in the entertainment industry who behave this way; they aren’t genuinely interested in you or interested in supporting you, even if they want something from you. Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do about those people. I had to come to terms with that and I dealt with it by seeking out genuine allies in the industry. I found a good mentor or two, and I tried to surround myself with as many real friends as I possibly could. It’s so important to have a network of people with an insider understanding of how cutthroat this business can be. It’s also really important to maintain your friendships outside of the industry! You start to get tunnel vision after a while.
What is the most important lesson you have learned during your career?
I’ve learned a ton about when to say yes and when to say no. I’ve said yes to many opportunities which absolutely terrified me at the time, whether it was taking on artist interviews or stepping up to run the board during a hectic remote broadcast where there were many technical tasks which needed to be completed quickly and precisely. It’s a stressful environment. But I feel that every time I faced a challenge head-on, I rose to the occasion, which in turn gave me greater confidence the next time I had to do something new. The flipside of this is that I’ve needed to learn to set boundaries. Working in radio while going to university full-time meant that every day I had to decide whether my career or my education was my first priority. I’m very lucky to work with a supportive team who encouraged me to complete my degree, because sometimes I had to turn down opportunities in order to give a presentation or write an exam.
Which, if any, extra-curricular activities were you involved with outside of the classroom (e.g., clubs, teams, volunteerism, on-campus employment)?
My job kept me way too busy to participate in any clubs or student unions! I actually really regret that. Back in college, I never had the time to get involved in campus groups either. But I’ve volunteered with TIFF and TIFF Kids. I’m more heavily involved with TAAFI — in summer of 2014 I was a box office lead and oversaw other volunteers, and I’m hoping to bear even more responsibility in 2015.
Did you participate in any “experiential learning” opportunities as a student (e.g., fieldwork, international experience, internships)?
I took the cinema studies course on writing film criticism, and I was lucky to get into a class on film festival programming with Cameron Bailey. I wasn’t able to commit to the cinema studies experiential learning program, but back in my college days I had to complete 100 internship hours to graduate, so I’ve lived that unpaid labour life.
What is your favourite memory from your time spent at Innis College?
I made my best school friends in third and fourth year, even though most of them are five or six years younger than I am. I really just enjoyed sitting around with them between classes. French cinema was probably one of the best classes I took throughout my entire time at the university.
Do you have any advice you would like to share with current Innis students?
I came back to university a few years into my career because I felt I needed an intellectual challenge that I wasn’t getting at work. As stressful and frustrating as it could sometimes be, the academic environment in university was exactly the outlet I was looking for. I’ll never regret making the choice to pursue a degree. But, if you’re a cinema studies student who wants to get a job in a creative field, be realistic; a degree predicated on writing papers often won’t be enough. Employers are looking for experience or some kind of technical training. Start building a portfolio of work now, or consider supplementing your degree with a college program that is going to provide you with the hands-on experience you need. For anyone hoping to do what I did and live a dual life, bouncing between the mainstream media and the academic world, they really don’t get along so well, but stick to your guns. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t combine critical thought with your sick obsession with pop culture.