After arriving in Los Angeles in 1999, the Montreal native’s impressive journey in Tinseltown involved dues-paying stints at several movie production companies. Her move up the ladder included vice president positions at Development Type A Films and Overture Films.
Kisilevsky joined Disney Channel in 2010 when she was named director of Original Movies. The 2014 family sci-fi film How to Build a Better Boy was “the first movie I oversaw from start to finish,” she says.
“The first day I was on set for the film was one of the last couple days of prep, one of those 20-hour workdays. We were shooting in Toronto, spending a lot of money, and there was a lot of pressure,” she recalls.
“I got off the plane and said, ‘Wow, there are challenges ahead of me today.’ There were wardrobe challenges — we were not where we needed to be — and I had meetings with the writer, director and line producer.”
Kisilevsky adds, “Fifteen hours later we had made some big strides. At the end of the day I was like, ‘Wow, all those years of training — particularly all the meticulous work done on the script — was what I needed and why I was there to make those decisions.’
“For all the insecurity I was feeling — asking myself, ‘Am I going to be able to do this?’ — all that time and all that preparation can equip you when you’ve never done it before.”
Kisilevsky cites her Concordia studies with helping her establish and grow her career. “I came up through the Liberal Arts College and it really taught me how to think critically and to read, two skills which I apply in my job on a day-to-day basis,” she says.
“I would also like to acknowledge my Concordia art history professor, Virginia Nixon, who very recently passed away from cancer. She taught me how to write, and I think about the lessons I took away from that experience almost every day.”
Kisilevsky recognizes that it can be tougher for a female executive to make it in the film business. “I’ve been doing this for 15 years now and I think I’ve seen all sides of the coin,” she says.
“Now, working for a company where we really have that connection to a young female audience — not exclusively, though females are a big part of our audience — I think the goal is to try to inspire them so that hopefully we no longer have to have these conversations, and it becomes less and less of an issue. For me, it’s about positive change moving forward.”
Kisilevsky emphasizes it is important to create positive television movies for kids and family audiences. “It’s something that I am very passionate about,” she says.
“Our mission first and foremost is to entertain, but one of the amazing opportunities about working at Disney Channel is we provide a daily touchpoint for seven out of 10 girls in the country, and that’s a great responsibility. To give them a filter to see the world and understand themselves is something that is really important to me, as a female executive and as a mother.”
Despite the California sunshine, Kisilevsky — currently working on such upcoming movies as the much-anticipated High School Musical 4 — loves her hometown of Montreal.
“I have a lot of family and friends still there,” says Kisilevsky. “And a year-and-a-half ago, I had an opportunity to shoot a movie there, Bad Hair Day — which was awesome!”