Finding Community – a Conservation Filmmakers Journey
Looking back and reflecting on how far you’ve come is one of the exercises every small business, no matter what your niche, should do.
The hardships, the triumphs, the lessons learned are always part of everyone’s journey.
When I first started dipping my toe into video work back in 2010, I did what many videographers do: I began by shooting mostly business videos at less than a couple hundred bucks per pop. The only caveat was it was hard to convince businesses that investing in storytelling would attract more customers. Sadly, if you were willing to film it and produce for free, the businesses would have been saying yes every time. Of course, from a videographer’s perspective of wanting to build a career, that business model was not sustainable. It’s no secret that towns are filled with failed tales of videographers who faded away after a year or two because businesses weren’t willing to pay fair value for work. When the videographer announces the end of ‘work-for-free’ and that videos now cost money, the writing is on the wall of videographers that failed.
I didn’t walk away. Instead, I took a long look at my passions. I tapped into my already extensive contact list.
When I finally made the decision to niche down my focus and do what I love, it was like a lightbulb went on. YES! Ten years and counting, that decision to focus exclusively on conservation filmmaking was one of the best decisions of my life. It was where I belonged all along in my life. I just didn’t realize it until I had already swerved and spent years in another media-related profession where the spark was long ago lost.
Today, I pinch myself about every work day. I get to work with people who share the same passion about the environment. It doesn’t matter if it’s wildlife biologists, field technicians, or executive directors. We’re all equals when it comes to loving nature and wanting to preserve, restore and protect it, and tell its stories.
This fascination with nature and the outdoors wasn’t something I found late in life. It was ingrained during my childhood by a mom who loved nature and raised me to have that same love.
I grew up in southern Ontario and Muskoka. In my teens years and into my twenties, my greatest joy growing up was looking at topographic maps and aerial photos, picking out an interesting location in the deep woods, and setting out on foot on an adventure to find it. It might’ve been an uninhabited lake to paddle and view wildlife, remnants of pioneer days long gone, old logging camps from decades ago, or simply hiking forests to discover whatever creatures I could find. It’s in these wild places where my love of storytelling first took root. Oh, the stories I could tell upon my return home for supper.
My original career goal was to become a wildlife technician
My career goal was to become a Wildlife Technician. It never even got started. My college application sat on a program wait list. Restless, I swerved to journalism where storytelling would become my first career. It was a fruitful career and lots of awards and accolades. But I always desired something more close to my heart. I wanted to tell stories of the natural world and inspire more people to make a difference for conservation.
In 2010 I left an award-winning career in journalism. I was finally free to pursue my real dream. Nature as a career.
Perhaps the word ‘authentic’ has been overused in recent years. But I can think of no other word to describe the conservation community that is now part of my career every day. It’s a community that embraces its own kind. It’s a community that sees value. It’s a community that has a deep desire to tell its stories.
To say I’m a thankful is not enough.
Before Covid arrived on Canadian shores, my conservation filmmaking business was beginning to hit new highs in terms of growth and travel. Then the thud happened. Covid shut everything down, including conservation field work by organizations. It felt like all the field stories were put on hold. That meant my filmmaking work plummeted overnight. I was seriously worried that this was the end. All the hard would be gone. Year One of Covid saw a 50% plunge in business revenue. Fortunately, there was still some work to be had. Organizations sent me smartphone video clips to piece together into videos. There were a a few podcasting production projects too.
I remember one wildlife biologist, knowing the strain that Covid was placing on my work, called me and said “We want to support you.” And some work projects began to come in. I’ll never forget that phone call for the rest of my life.
And then Year 2 of Covid arrived and something weirdly wonderful started to happen. The calls started right after new year. And they kept coming. They were from conservation organizations realizing that storytelling was their must-have communication tool to keep audiences engaged during the pandemic. The organizations all wanted videos. It actually reached a point where my work calender was completely jammed. Revenue that year climbed to a new record high.
And then Year 3 of Covid began. Ditto. The phone calls continued. A lot of calls and emails. It ended up being another new record high year for revenue.
“Year over year growth during Covid? Is this really happening?”
I wrapped 2022 by being the audio editor of Birds Canada’s national award-winning podcast The Warblers, as honoured by the Canadian Museum of Nature. And I completed the filming work of my first feature-length conservation documentary. I’m now finishing up post-production work on this 75-minute documentary that will debut at a gala event in 2023.
To see my filmmaking business climb a mountain at a time when so many people’s hopes and dreams were thrown into uncertainty by the pandemic, I have this heartfelt feeling of debt to so many who believed in me.
Finding your community, or tribe, of whatever we call it today is indeed life changing. It’s a solid bond. It’s supportive.
So glad I followed my passion 10 years ago and so thankful that a very special community followed me.