Joseph Blasioli

Documentary Filmmaker

Joseph Blasioli is a Toronto based documentary filmmaker, television producer and director. A veteran of more than thirty-five years in the industry, he began his career as an assistant film editor on The Last Frontier, a top rated Canadian underwater documentary series in the 1980’s. He then began successfully freelancing as an editor, writer and director before producing his first documentary feature in 1992 called Blast ’Em, a theatrically released, internationally acclaimed look at celebrity culture by way of an uncompromising New York paparazzo photographer. Ten years later his next feature documentary, The Last Round: Chuvalo vs Ali, was also released theatrically and nominated for a Genie, Canada’s equivalent to an Academy Award.

Still a successful freelancer, Joseph Blasioli then formed Firvalley Productions in 2005 to focus on the growing demand for non-fiction lifestyle, documentary, and reality television programming. To that end, he continues to create, produce, and direct many successful programs and series across multiple formats, earning multiple awards and nominations for Gemini and Canadian Screen Awards, Canada’s equivalent to the Emmy.

Where did the idea for your career come from?

Firvalley Productions was born as much out of demand as desire. By the time it was created, I had a fairly solid reputation as a documentary and reality-based director and writer for television. The non-fiction format was still very new and having just finished Popstars, then the highest rated reality series in Canadian history, this landed me the opportunity to first direct and eventually help shape the creation of many reality-based programs for a number of new cable channels, such as HGTV, Food and Slice for Alliance Atlantis in Toronto. As the demand for new programming kept growing, I was then fortunate and well-positioned to partner with Maria Pimentel to transition from gun-for-hire to independent creator, producer, and owner of new content.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I happen to be fairly hands-on in all creative aspects of our most important shows. To that end, we like to keep our slate relatively small so that I can still direct and write most of the shows we create. Ergo, if we’re in any form of production—pre, present, or post—I’m directly involved with contributing to the daily tasks at hand. It makes for long and extremely busy days, but it’s something I very much enjoy. Of course, between productions I’m either hoping for something to be renewed or trying my best to solicit or come up with new ideas to pitch to our broadcasting partners.

How do you bring ideas to life?

It’s not that difficult once you have the basic concept of why the broadcaster might find the idea of the show exciting or appealing. You just do your best to make sure that every formatted element serves that goal and that nothing is superfluous. You’d be surprised how difficult it is—given time restrictions mostly—to get every relevant element into a program. So, it’s often a bit of a painful process because it then becomes more about what you’re being forced to keep out of the project. And because we work in the non-fiction genre, there’s also a lot of repetition of production tropes, which means being fresh and new about anything except the surface layers can be extremely challenging.

What’s one trend that excites you?

What’s most exciting to me now is that there’s a bit of a Wild West feeling to the industry these days. With the relative explosion of streaming and digital platforms, not only have geographical borders been pretty much obliterated, but the demand for content—both old and new—is back. So, if you’re a competitive sort, like I am, it’s a fun time to test and challenge yourself in a whole new way.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Always thinking about what project is next, and always understanding that it’s really up to you—and nobody else—to create or foster the next opportunity. I can’t think of anything I’ve been successful at or proud of that can’t be directly linked back to something tangible I’ve either written down and presented to someone else, or simply promised to myself. It’s all part of the excitement and uncertainty that makes this industry so appealing.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Be patient. Don’t take things too seriously—so much in life is pure luck or good fortune—but that doesn’t mean letting go of your ambitions. Put in the time. Be honest and sincere with yourself. Always do your best to do a good job when available and to be a good person throughout the process. Don’t take any opportunity for granted. Don’t make money the goal, either – following that path easily leads to creative bankruptcy in my opinion. Be constantly curious and questioning. Create and borrow and steal from anything at any time. Your work always becomes uniquely yours once its filtered through your own sensibilities.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

My friends that I’ve known for the longest amount of time still kid me about my belief or long-held claim that with six months of direct training (as opposed to years and years and years of schooling), any of us could do almost any high profile or high paying job that exists, including flying a jumbo jet or performing most forms of surgery.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Should they have already proven their value more than once, always, always trust your instincts.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Once again, follow your instincts, so long as they have served you well in the past.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

We once had a series taken from us because I wasn’t fully appreciative, and maybe a bit arrogant, about the gravity of a situation that, in retrospect, was largely due to my refusal to correct my own poor attitude and relative indifference. I sure learned the hard way that like any personal relationship, business relationships must also be treated with humility, dignity, and respect.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I’ve always thought that personalized and permanent wooden Advent calendars, with large drawers varied enough in size to hold real gifts like socks, chocolate bars, or books would be must-haves for every member of every family who loves celebrating Christmas. And that’s a big market.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I bought a vintage book for my daughter for her birthday. One, because I knew she would like it, Two, because I knew that inscribing it meant she’d keep it for the rest of her life—even if she doesn’t yet realize that. That purchase made me feel good.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I’m constantly using a popular thesaurus site. It took me years to wean off a hardcover version, but since then, you wouldn’t believe the time that I’ve saved.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Lord of The Flies by William Golding. That book gives a lot of insight—and accurate insight I believe—into human nature.

What is your favorite quote?

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” — Mark Twain

Key Learnings:

  • Be patient and try not to take things too seriously, but at the same time, never give up on your dreams.
  • So long as they’ve never pointed you in the wrong direction, trust your instincts.
  • Treat business relationships with respect, the same as you would personal relationships.