Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Filmmaker Karen Schuback Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Edward Sylvan


With my debut feature film as a writer, director, and producer, ANGEL MOUNTAIN, I purposely created a community of characters from entirely different backgrounds. I wanted cultures to collide so that the audience could see how friendships and families can be so much richer if we just step outside our comfort bubble. The film also touches heavily on mental health issues that were highly taboo, especially during the film’s time. The same goes for the 45 minutes short BECOMING LOLA that I completed a few years back. The story deals with a fifty-something-out-work actor who is down on her luck. She doesn’t fit the mold of the “starlet,” but her heart is pure. She accidentally stumbles into a situation that will pull her into a world of very colorful and deeply passionate creatives.

As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Karen Schuback.

Karen Schuback started her career in the Entertainment Industry in Los Angeles, California. She worked in development for various Production companies then moved to Camden/ITG to become an Assistant Agent. Realizing her passion lay in design, Karen went on to a successful twenty-year career as a Product Design Director for many large companies. After retiring from Product Design, Karen decided to dive back into her passion of becoming a Filmmaker. Immediately enrolling in the Actors Workshop Studio, she began to re-examine the process of making a film from the ground up. “I would never try to direct an actor behind the camera unless I was able to understand all aspects of their job in front of the camera.” Karen spent the next ten years working on over twenty Independent films, videos, and commercials. She observed the talents and soaked up the knowledge of Veteran Directors, Cinematographers, and Production Designers. “My instinct is to guide and nurture the creative process, working and molding designers and creating a finished product from start to finish in my past career has given me the stamina and the skill to execute all aspects of a film.”

Karen continues to work behind the camera and has had the opportunity to direct multiple independent films and her own passion projects. Never too old to learn, Karen has continued studying with a few brilliant, legendary filmmakers through MASTERCLASS, Ron Howard, Werner Herzog, and Martin Scorsese. Moto: “We are the only ones that can make our visions come alive, and no one is going to do it for us. Keep the camera rolling.”

Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?

I started my career in the entertainment industry, working in development and an assistant agent for CAMDEN/ITG in my early twenties. However, realizing my passion lay in design at the time, I went on to a successful twenty-year career as a Design Director working for various wholesale and retail companies. After retiring from design and raising two incredible kids, I decided to dive back into my passion for becoming a filmmaker. I have spent the last ten years studying acting and all aspects of a film by working on over twenty independent films, industrial videos, and commercials. By observing the talents and soaking up the knowledge of veteran directors, cinematographers, writers, and production designers, I have molded myself into a proficient filmmaker with a very humble outlook on how fortunate I am to be doing what I love.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?

Like so many of us when 2016 came around, I found myself in a fog of disappointment and deep sadness. I am usually an optimistic person, but the challenges we were facing as a country were frustrating. So, I decided to write and create two comedies. I can honestly tell you that as I was writing the scripts and developing the characters, I found such a feeling of positive energy it turned things around for myself and a lot of other folks. The first short I created was an LGBTQ short called “To Die For.” It’s a story about two dueling hair dresses fighting for the attention of a wealthy socialite from a small town. By the time the film was done, and even sitting with my editor and sound mixer putting the film together, my stomach muscle had significantly increased from the amount of laughter we all experienced. Many of the cast and crew that helped with the film are good friends of mine, and we seriously had way too much fun. I can’t say it’s a work of art in any way; it was just the medicine we needed to get through a rough patch.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

A little over twenty years ago, I found an old book in a vintage store titled FOR THOSE I LOVED by Martin Gray. It looked interesting, so I bought it for $1.50 and finished reading it in about 24 hours. I was blown away by the author’s story of hope and perseverance; I just knew I had to do something with it. To make a long story short, I found who Martin was living in the south of France and connected about republishing his book. Along with an excellent American publisher on the East Coast, we republished the book as a Thirtieth Anniversary edition. I was also allowed to write the Foreword to tell the reader a bit of our journey getting this book republished, and it was an honor. Martin was eighty-four when I finally got to meet him face to face in New York, but if you closed your eyes and just talked to the man, it was like talking to a youthful version of himself. He passed away a few years back, but he is still my hero, and I will be grateful for his friendship for the rest of my life. He is seriously incredible.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I am currently working on a coming-of-age feature film called IT’S ALRIGHT NOW with Hero Entertainment. This is a period film loosely based on true events of my sister and cousin’s childhood. The project will be the first non-micro budget feature I have created. Things will definitely be quite different when it comes to focusing on just directing rather than wearing every hat on set. However, I can honestly tell you, that having to learn every crew position possible, I am a better filmmaker for it.

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

I became a public radio and television nerd back when it was really uncool to do so. I love to learn about folks that are not usually part of pop culture. During Black History Month, I watch an episode of a show featuring Thomas Sowell; he is an American economist, social theorist, and very talented photographer. It always blows me away when I discover interesting people that are 3000 times smarter than I am. However, I think I loved him most because even though this man is smarter than pretty much the entire population of the world, he has a very creative side and found an outlet that enhanced his work even more.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

With my debut feature film as a writer, director, and producer, ANGEL MOUNTAIN, I purposely created a community of characters from entirely different backgrounds. I wanted cultures to collide so that the audience could see how friendships and families can be so much richer if we just step outside our comfort bubble. The film also touches heavily on mental health issues that were highly taboo, especially during the film’s time. The same goes for the 45 minutes short BECOMING LOLA that I completed a few years back. The story deals with a fifty-something-out-work actor who is down on her luck. She doesn’t fit the mold of the “starlet,” but her heart is pure. She accidentally stumbles into a situation that will pull her into a world of very colorful and deeply passionate creatives.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?

I can honestly say that nothing has just fallen into my lap. Some people have just incredible dumb luck, but I have always found that I had to dig deep and keep my eyes on the prize, or I would have given up a long, long time ago. That doesn’t just go for my film career, and it seriously has to do with everything that I have experienced. I come from a very modest background without a ton of parental guidance. As the Steve Miller Band song states, “You have to go through hell before you get to heaven.” However, that being said, I think my “Aha Moment” was when I found a rag-tag film group that had the same passion that I have. They gave me the energy to step out and just get it done. With their support and love of the craft, we worked together on so many of my little films and projects, everyone volunteering their time and just happy to be a part of my so-called “film school.” I had to learn about the digital world and all the technology that has improved the process. I wouldn’t be here without them. They gave me my mojo to push forward.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

During Covid lockdown, an actor from my film BECOMING LOLA contacted me about airing the film on OUTAT.TV I was pretty much done submitting the film to festivals, so I permitted them to stream on a couple of different platforms. By doing this, I also gave a few out-of-work Drag Queens a bit of joy to see their beautiful faces in the film and to be able to use the project to keep their fan pages updated and interesting. So many of them have been out of work for a very long time, and they truly needed a pick me up. I was thanked profusely for donating the project to OUTAT.TV. Even though I am not part of the LGBTQ community, I can tell you I have never been more accepted than by this group of amazing people.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

As you can probably tell, I am no spring chicken from the years of experience I have. I am not a millennial, nor am I anywhere close to retirement age. However, it’s hard as a woman of a certain age to get your foot in the door with investors. I have often thought if there was a foundation set up for “Over Forty Female Filmmakers” that could select a few very talented women each year to support, it would seriously allow us to tell stories that are so incredibly meaningful. With age comes wisdom and experience, and being part of a generation where we were left on our own to figure stuff out, has given me a ton of fantastic content for scriptwriting.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

A. You can find pretty much anything about filmmaking on short content videos on the Internet; it is seriously impressive.

B. Be cautious when buying books from film schools; some are outdated and a waste of money. I have several great history books on filmmaking, but highly irrelevant for the fast paced world of digital. But good reads if you like to see how things were once done.

C. Every time you doubt yourself, just put that energy to fuel your next steps in making your first film. Doubt is good, and it will make you rethink things that can be improved or changed for the better.

D. If you write your own screenplays, give yourself a quiet place for at least six to eight hours a day to write. If you get interrupted, you will find yourself getting writers’ block. If you can stay focused on the task at hand without worrying about the dirty laundry or toilets, your mind will have the opportunity to flow and create a meaningful story. Treat it like you would a job.

E. You do not have to know everything in a day. Take the time to learn from others and stay quiet, listen. This includes not being too proud to work on student films, they make a ton of mistakes, and that is good, learn from them.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

As I always tell my kids, “it’s your responsibility to stick up for those that cannot help themselves.” Some have more privilege than others, be it looks, money, smarts, or just common sense. Use these gifts to help other humans or animals to survive this incredibly tough world.

We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)

The Social Impact Hero that I would choose is MacKenzie Scott. She does not, in any way, have to do the great things she does. She could have continued a quiet life outside of Amazon, but she continuously gives back to so many great causes that help thousands, if not millions, of people. It’s not just about the money she can give; her decisions seem to be made with compassion and the absolute intent to make the world a better place.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The worst thing they can say is, No.” I use to be so painfully afraid of speaking up for myself or asking a question. To the point where I would run from anything that seemed too hard to accomplish, but once I figured out that we are all extremely insecure about ourselves, even people with the power of decision making. If you don’t ask, you will never find out if that one person might open the door to a great opportunity. This has come in extremely helpful in filmmaking. I had to put myself out there repeatedly and ask, and I got one thousand “No’s” until I finally got a “Yes”.

How can our readers follow you online?

This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!

About The Interviewer: Growing up in Canada, Edward Sylvan was an unlikely candidate to make a mark on the high-powered film industry based in Hollywood. But as CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group Inc, (SEGI) Sylvan is among a select group of less than ten Black executives who have founded, own and control a publicly traded company. Now, deeply involved in the movie business, he is providing opportunities for people of color.

In 2020, he was appointed president of the Monaco International Film Festival, and was encouraged to take the festival in a new digital direction.

Raised in Toronto, he attended York University where he studied Economics and Political Science, then went to work in finance on Bay Street, (the city’s equivalent of Wall Street). After years of handling equities trading, film tax credits, options trading and mergers and acquisitions for the film, mining and technology industries, in 2008 he decided to reorient his career fully towards the entertainment business.

With the aim of helping Los Angeles filmmakers of color who were struggling to understand how to raise capital, Sylvan wanted to provide them with ways to finance their creative endeavors.

At Sycamore Entertainment he specializes in print and advertising financing, marketing, acquisition and worldwide distribution of quality feature-length motion pictures, and is concerned with acquiring, producing and promoting films about equality, diversity and other thought provoking subject matter which will also include nonviolent storytelling.

Also in 2020, Sylvan launched SEGI TV, a free OTT streaming network built on the pillars of equality, sustainability and community which is scheduled to reach 100 million U.S household televisions and 200 million mobile devices across Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Samsung Smart TV and others.

As Executive Producer he currently has several projects in production including The Trials of Eroy Brown, a story about the prison system and how it operated in Texas, based on the best-selling book, as well as a documentary called The Making of Roll Bounce, about the 2005 coming of age film which starred rapper Bow Wow and portrays roller skating culture in 1970’s Chicago.

He sits on the Board of Directors of Uplay Canada, (United Public Leadership Academy for Youth), which prepares youth to be citizen leaders and provides opportunities for Canadian high school basketball players to advance to Division 1 schools as well as the NBA.

A former competitive go kart racer with Checkered Flag Racing Ltd, he also enjoys traveling to exotic locales. Sylvan resides in Vancouver and has two adult daughters.

Sylvan has been featured in Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and has been seen on Fox Business News, CBS and NBC. Sycamore Entertainment Group Inc is headquartered in Seattle, with offices in Los Angeles and Vancouver.



Edward Sylvan CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group
Authority Magazine

Edward Sylvan is the Founder and CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group Inc. He is committed to telling stories that speak to equity, diversity, and inclusion.