Member Spotlight: Kat Ruston
Kat Ruston is an actor, member of 891’s Lighting Department, and advocate for more Asian representation in media. From being in the spotlight, to working behind-the-scenes, she shares her journey in motion picture production and the best parts of being a union member.
Kat Ruston shares a story that she can’t shake from her mind about working in film in BC.
It was nearing the wrap of a long season of shooting for Bates Motel. Conditions were dark, cold and wet on the rural outdoor set in Langley. The crew were tired, after working for more than twelve hours. Kat remembers her rain gear losing the battle against the onslaught of rain. She was cold to the bone.
Through the exhaustion she couldn’t help but start to question her life decisions. Being outside in unpleasant conditions for hours on end was starting to feel absurd. Amidst her misery, however, a glimmer of light shone through a beautiful moment.
“I have this scene in my head seeing all these unionized workers from IATSE 891, ICG 669, Teamsters 155, UBCP/ACTRA and thinking wow, here we all are together doing God knows what in the middle of winter, but like, we gotta make sure this moon looks like a real moon!” she says, laughing.
On that winter night, from where she stood holding a light fixture, she could see everyone on the outdoor set clearly, and what she saw kind of amazed her.
“Even though we are all miserable, there are people laughing and telling jokes. It was just a real show of camaraderie and of humans taking care of each other.”
Someone came over to offer Kat a bowl of warm soup. Another person asked her if she needed a break and to be swapped out from holding the light. Over and over, in ways big and small, people kept checking up on each other.
“It was just really humane and empowering, and what I would imagine a film set to always be — just other people taking care of each other.”
She can laugh about it all now, telling the story from her cozy couch in the middle of summer, but she admits the experience was tough. Working in motion picture production can be hard at times. What Kat loves most is the people she gets to meet, saying that being in this business makes you special, because it’s not for everyone.
“The relationships I build are what I love most about my work. You meet people from all walks of life and it's just so cool… and the fact that they're in this job already says a lot about them because it's not for the faint-hearted. It's a lifestyle of extremes, but the interaction with other people is my favorite thing.”
BEING A UNION MEMBER MEANS YOU GET TO BE INCLUDED
Kat first entered the industry through the performing arts. Her acting credits include The Good Doctor, Altered Carbon, and Elysium. People who stay in this industry for the long-haul, she says, fall in love with the creativity.
Wanting to broaden her skillset and expand her toolkit for creative expression, she decided to take on the challenge of trying out different departments. Lighting quickly became her new favourite tool for creative storytelling.
“I was quite impressed by how much mood changes with lighting and colour and shadows. You can tell a story without any words.”
As someone with an interest in hands-on-learning, Kat appreciated taking on a role that allowed her to be part of the whole process of motion picture production. Lighting department members play an intricate role on production from start to finish, laying down cables and getting the right equipment for needed power for just about everyone, including the prep crew, the locations crew, the shooting crew, work trucks, craft services, and the village.
“Lighting doesn't just light, but they provide an assist in the safety of the cast and crew, because we hold the power, in a sense. Literally.”
Kat’s lighting technician credits now include Riverdale, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Superman & Lois and many more.
Working both in front of and behind the camera makes her appreciate her coworkers and what everyone goes through to put together a film or TV series. The relationships she builds on and off screen give her a deeper sense of belonging.
It wasn’t exactly an easy start, though. As a young woman of colour, building a sense of belonging in a male-dominated trade came with challenges.
“Starting out in Lighting was very difficult for me,” she says.
“Being the smallest female on a crew in comparison to these big guys you get just a lot of hazing. Nothing terrible, but you have to keep up right? You’re learning on your own how to keep up."
“When I started, you didn’t get the training that you have now, and people weren't as forthcoming to train you…It was very much like you're going to either sink or swim. In the beginning I was crying a lot. It's just very hard.”
As someone who is always curious about people, she says she’s good at not taking things personally, and could identify that some people are just more tactful than others about how they express themselves. Growing up with a dad who had worked in construction also helped, she says, as she was familiar with the concept of growing a thick skin for certain work environments. Above all, she got through tough days by being her own advocate.
“I had a strong belief in my learning and in myself. I’d think, ‘I know I suck now, but I'm not gonna suck forever.’ Talking to myself like that was really what got me through.”
The Union has made a positive difference since then in improving workplace culture in the industry. Kat says women starting a career in motion picture production today have more access to training and support. As a unionized film worker, Kat has access to an Anonymous Hotline where workers can report safety concerns or harassment to the Union without fear of reprisal. She values these kind of union protections that help keep workers safe.
“Being a Union member means you get to be included, and that's an amazing feeling. There's this extended family that you feel can back you up.”
OUR STORIES WANT TO BE HEARD
Being a union member also gives Kat a strong sense of community and in turn a sense of responsibility to speak up and advocate for fellow workers. Her advocacy work includes speaking on panels about Asian representation in the media and acting in a political campaign ad for the United Nurses of Alberta. She says she feels a responsibility to use her voice.
“As a person of colour in a male-dominated industry, with a different cultural background, only a person like me has a power to talk about certain topics. So there is a sense of responsibility in that, especially if you want things to change.”
Representation, both in front of and behind the camera, is something she can speak to directly as someone with Chinese, Spanish and Filipino heritage. She says she’s thrilled to see the representation of Asian people in media growing, but she wants to see an expansion of training opportunities and funding to enable more diverse stories being told.
“Representation for me has never been about just the visual. I've never understood taking a well-loved story and making it ethnic. I get it because that’s where the money is – you take a popular story and you change it and it's kind of the safe way to start introducing people to different cultures. But now that that's happened, it's our job to start actually sharing our stories.”
Stories, she says, have the power to comfort people through hard times and make people feel seen. It’s this power that keeps her coming back to filmmaking and why she wants to see more diversity in storytelling and motion pictures made by Asian filmmakers.
“We need to empower ourselves to start making stories about us. That's scary though, right? Because not everyone, or not a lot of us are skilled in that way. So I think what happens is we point fingers at established filmmakers and demand they do it. I get that because it's very scary to learn something new and take on something big that could result in failure, but in the beginning, you got to fail to be good.”
“We need to be brave and trust and have faith that our stories want to be heard.”
Read more 891 Member Spotlights here! Email spotlight suggestions to email@example.com so we can feature more 891 members who inspire you and help make BC’s motion picture community shine.
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