Bill, 23, is a slight man who wore his baseball hat on a tilt, artist-style – he’s a film-maker who is working in the industry while living in his mom’s home. I interviewed him in my home office. He arrived on time, driving a nice car. He describes balancing living and transportation costs with repaying student debt and working at entry-level pay as a step up from trying to find paying work in Toronto to allow him to work for free to get experience in his field. He didn’t engage with the screen and I often scrambled to keep up with his rapid flow of thought. He slowed down as we got to the more analytic parts of the interview, but still didn’t engage with the written word. He reflects thoughtfully about rural vs city life, practicing art vs making a living, the necessity for family support to follow your dream, the relative importance of formal vs informal education. Bill’s sister, Kelly, was also a participant, and his cousin, Optimus.
FM: Let’s start with you telling me a bit about your family – where you were raised, who was in your family, what they did for a living, etc..
I was raised in Riverville. I wasn’t born here but I was here since I was one, pretty much my whole life. My parents got divorced when I was young, probably around 5, but they both live in town and actually worked together for some time afterwards. I have one sister and two step-brothers who are from my mom’s second husband. My dad and mom worked together doing a chain convenience store in Minden and a couple of other places around here. My dad also had some storage units. My dad hasn’t remarried but he’s been with his partner for quite some time, since I was quite young. She’s a real estate agent. My step-dad works with Hydro. My mom and step-dad recently just got divorced, so he’s no longer my step-dad.
FM: Do you continue to have contact with your step-dad?
Not as much right now, there’s kinda some… it’s not a shut-out, I’m just – it’s kind of fresh so I’m just letting some time…
FM: Okay. Your brother, where’s he?
The one is still in Cottage County, he’s doing construction, building houses and stuff. And the other one is in Toronto. He’s doing some miscellaneous jobs, some sales jobs and stuff, just enjoying the city. And my sister is recently home. She just finished school. She’s doing her final co-op for college. She’s going through for electrical engineer. But she’s doing her co-op in town so she’s living at home for the moment.
FM: Okay. Cast of thousands… let’s start with when you first left your parental home. And I’m going to number each place you lived so that those numbers form a sort of backbone to the story, and at each place I’ll probe re anything that might have to do with any of the sectors that I identified as being responsible for the challenges that young people may face when migrating… So, first move?
First move was to Toronto when I was 18, just finished high school and went to Toronto to go to film school. And that’s where I lived for a couple of years. I had multiple houses in Toronto but they were all in Toronto.
FM: Did you live in res, ever?
Editor's Note: Bill's moves are numbered.
No, my school didn’t have residence. [#1] I lived in student housing for my first year. There was just a big Victorian house with 6 other people, so it was pretty fun. And then my program was only 15 months straight through, so I didn’t have the summer break or anything like that. None of the typical college or university experiences. Then I graduated from school in December of 2008 – I’d just turned 19. So that was interesting… I picked a very hard industry to get into. Even when I was in school I worked on some movies and stuff so I knew what I was getting in for. Like I’d worked on some films while I was in school. And then I worked on one even before I was in school. They were filming [a big commercial film] up here. We wrapped [that film] on Friday and I started school on Monday.
The school would let me work on sets – they’d have to be legitimate sets, no Oh my friend’s making a movie – they’d let you do that in lieu of class, you’d have to pre-arrange it and I’d still have to have my assignments in and exams and that. So I did that a lot, I did some music videos and a couple of films. So that gave me a lot of experience, real world, before I graduated college. Which I found handy, just not immediately.
So I finished school and [#2] I moved to a new place in the city with a couple friends from college. I occasionally worked – I worked a lot for free that year. Which is like the biggest thing in the film industry. Nobody wants to hire you if you don’t have experience, but you can’t get the experience without the job. And you don’t want to work on just student films all the time because they’re on one level and professional things are on another. So you can think you’re doing everything correctly but until you have a real pro showing you what’s the real life experience. It’s a completely different environment. Students are there to be students. In proper film sets, they’re paid to do good jobs and be focused. And students are a little more…
Also in that time I got the occasional paid gig which is great. A lot of them were movie videos so they’re one-offs. But not enough to really sustain myself. I had a lot of parental help during that first year just to keep me paying my rent so I could continue to try and do this. I was working a lot, but I wasn’t making a lot of money doing it, which kinda sucks.
I did a year of that, got a lot of experience, I worked in just about every single field you could on a film set, just trying to get as much experience as I could in everything. [#3] And then I moved to another place just for a couple of months, just sub-letted from a friend so I moved there for 4 months, maybe. I was no longer getting parental support, that was our agreement, so I had a part-time job at a grocery store in the city. Like very part-time. And then I’d come up to Riverville occasionally to work with my mom, because she has a store and needed delivery people, so I’d come up for a weekend and do a bunch of deliveries and make a bunch of money that way. And that would get me by, just paying my rent and eating, but not very much fun.
[#4] So I decided it was time to move back home and get a game plan, not just live month to month and not be doing what I want to do. So I came back here and I worked at a grocery store in Riverville, which I had worked at when I was in high school, so I could just approach the owner and see if they needed help, which they did so they hired me. I pretty much worked there for a year and a bit.
And that’s where I ran into my current employer. He was buying some food and I’d known him from – he was friends with my mom, so that’s how we originally met. And he knew I’d originally gone to school for film, so he says, What are you doing here?' [I say], 'I’m just trying to survive.' He said they’d just got back from filming a season of their television show and they needed assistant editors. It’s going to be pretty much the bottom guy in the post-production team, but it’s paid, so I said yes. And I gave the store about a month’s notice, just kinda slowed my shifts down because they were so good to me when I came back and needed a job so I didn’t want to just leave them strung out.
About January 2011 I started working full-time for these guys. I started at the bottom but part-way through editing our season we had some complications with our technical director/animator so they parted ways and we were without a technical director. And in the few months prior to that I was kinda learning that stuff more. I wasn’t necessarily editing-savvy before but just through that I was learning how to do stuff. They were in a pinch so they asked me to take over that position.
It was a very very steep learning curve because I’d never put anything on television before, and now I was responsible for everything going to air. So yeah, the show aired and I’ve just been working for the same guys since. And basically that’s where I am right now. Doing other video projects.
FM: Let me just ask how rosy the future looks. Does it seem likely that these guys will keep having gigs that have room for you to work in them?
Yes, I think as long as they have a company then I have a job. The more the company grows – now there’s just the three of us doing full-time. We have another guy doing jobs but basically anything that needs to be done is what I do. So I’ve made a point of making myself indispensible. Because that’s what you do. That’s where all that working for free came in handy because I had a lot of skills and experience from that.
FM: Okay, that was really fast forward. So let me go back and do the housing numbers and then I have some questions re: each of them, I think. So #1, the residence, was that shared accommodation, like everyone had to cook for themselves, keep the house clean, keep the parties under control? Or someone (adult) in charge?
It was just us. We had a lot of interchangeable people but for the first while it was mostly the same.
FM: Girls? Guys?
We had a split, it was about even. I had some roommates who were from Australia, an exchange. That was neat. Especially being from Riverville, not too many Australian people.
FM: So that was a good experience of living on your own but also with other people that you didn’t know?
I did know two people that were living there. A couple of my friends from high school went to school there as well. One lived there like half the time I was there. Other than that they were all new people. It was fun having friends there. Like our place was base, it was the control centre, pretty much, for all the shenanigans. A lot of life experiences.
FM: And your folks were bank-rolling this all, tuition plus living expenses?
No, I also had a bank line of credit which I am currently paying off. Which I began paying off as soon as I got back here and was making some money.
FM: Okay, so folks shared expenses with you?
They took the majority but I have some debt. I still have to pay the bank back some money and that sucks.
FM: Are you comfortable saying how much your student debt was?
Not like crazy but $16,000.
FM: Formidable, I’d say – they say the average is $20,000
I was only in school for a year. If I could do it again, I don’t know if I’d do the school, especially that school. It was kinda not great. But I just wanted to get there, put my time in to learn and then get out in the real world. I’m not a big fan of the school scene – not that I don’t like learning.
FM: Can we talk about that a bit more? Particularly in your field, how important – or how is it important, if it is, that you have school credentials?
I’ve never been asked for them once. A lot of people on sets basically tell you to forget what you’ve learned in school anyhow. Like That’s not how we do it here. School’s good for theory, not real life.
FM: Okay, very interesting. So the living experience was good, the school experience expensive and in retrospect, maybe not a good investment. What about when you moved in with your buddies. How was that?
It was cool. We were all really poor. Like my parents were helping me pay my rent but by no means – here’s a whack of money. They were basically just paying my rent so there wasn’t a lot of money to do other stuff. And the city really sucks when you don’t have any money. Working for free – again, a lot of good experience but it didn’t help financially.
FM: What did your folks think about you working for free and needing to be subsidized by them?
Well, they kinda understood the situation, that you don’t just walk out of school and get a job. Apparently that’s just not the way it is any more. They saw that I was working hard to pursue my passion, so they were very supportive of it. They gave me a year to get my ducks in a row, as it were. They were nothing but supportive. But still, thinking it would be nice to get paid. Can’t work for free forever.
FM: And then when the year was up and the subsidy ended, you have to ‘house down’ I gather. Like move to cheaper digs?
Yeah, it was actually pretty much the same price the next place. The biggest difference was that it was a house that a friend of mine had, it was just a sub-let so I didn’t have a contract. He had someone move out on him so I said I can move in but I can’t guarantee my permanency. I’ll let you know before-hand if I think I’ll have to move out because this is pretty much my last resort. Pretty much gotta make some money or gotta move back home.
FM: At this time you were working at a grocery store?
Making like, no money. It’s hard. I applied for a lot of jobs, just part-time. Like especially grocery stores because I had like 5 years, 4 ½ when I was in high school. And I only got a couple interviews. And the first job I got I took. I did not want to work in another grocery store. But I’d tried other stores, like Future Shop, stuff like that, like I know cameras, I’m pretty sure I could sell someone a camera or computer, but no dice. Even Burger King wouldn’t even see me. So that was very very discouraging. So the grocery job that I did get was part-time. It helped me pay my rent but again, having no cash afterwards. Like you’re eating pasta every day and just sitting at home waiting to go to a job you don’t like. So I said enough, I can’t do that any more.
FM: It sounds depressing.
It was. Very depressing. Especially being a recent graduate
FM: That nobody wants.
Can’t even get a grocery store job.
FM: Yeah, and not just a minimum wage job, but also not close to full-time.
No, maybe 20 hours a week if I was lucky. I don’t know if you’ve tried living off $10/hr for 20 hours a week, it’s not that fun.
Apparently anyone who cooks can get jobs – I have a friend who is a cook and the restaurant has such fast turnaround that you can always get a job somewhere. But I have absolutely no skill in that department. And I don’t think I’m charming enough to be a waiter. Applied for a couple of those jobs and they didn’t call me back.
FM: Okay, so then back home. How was it to go back to your high school boss, cap in hand, saying I’ve got a college degree but can I have my old job back?
It sucked. Luckily, he’s a really nice guy. Literally said you can start tomorrow if you want. I told him I don’t plan to stay here permanently. It was the beginning of the summer (so beginning of busy season) so I thought I’d get my ducks in a row over the summer. But it turned out to be a year and a bit.
It wasn’t as depressing as being poor in the city. Because at least I had some money and I could go and visit my friends in the city, like go see them for a weekend. And I [was free from] worry about what was going on.
So I bought myself a camera as well so I could start to do my own stuff. That was my goal, I said if I’m moving back I’m going to buy me a camera and work on my own stuff. Just practice.
FM: So you live at home; do you pay room and board?
Sometimes. I don’t make very much money right now and I just had to buy a car. I did when I moved back, religiously. But my current job isn’t wonderfully paid. They’re a start up company; none of us are very much paid. But I’m by no means in the same position I was. I’m still comfortable, just not making it rain (throwing cash).
FM: But the car beggared you?
Cars are expensive. Insurance is expensive.
FM: But you couldn’t work without it.
I was just borrowing my mom’s car because her and her now ex-husband had a couple of vehicles and let me borrow one of them because I work in Lakeville. And they didn’t feel like driving me every day. But then they split up. So that was my catalyst to go and say I don’t want to inconvenience you, you just have one car so I’m going to go and buy a car.
FM: But in a sense you traded in paying room and board for keeping your car?
FM: That is a reality in a rural area, no car, no life, no job.
I really could not work if I didn’t have a car. It’s not like we have public transportation. And I’m not paying $40 one way for a cab.
FM: Did you ever think about car-sharing or hitching or that kind of stuff?
I did. I don’t have too many friends up here who go that way. And I usually work odd hours. Could be if I’m shooting, I have to be somewhere at 6 a.m. but some nights I work at the office editing until past midnight. Depends if I’m on a roll. Sometimes it takes a bit to get the creative juices flowing and you want to strike while the iron is hot. And some days I just have to pick up and drive to the city, pick something up or drop something off. Because being a film company, there’s not too many (local) stores to pick something up if something goes awry. So basically having your own independence to do that is very key. Even when I was borrowing my mom’s vehicle, I was trying to fit my schedule around hers a little bit, but I much prefer having the independence and less money.
FM: Okay, if your dreams came true, would they have you living here and doing film or living in Toronto and doing film?
Both. I would like to have the freedom to go between each as necessary. Because it is really nice up here. But there’s such a thing as too much Lakeville, too much Riverville. Same thing with the city. I want the best of both. Maybe I can’t have them. We do have a lot of clients in the Toronto region. And myself, I do stuff on the side and I’m developing quite a client base in Hamilton. So I’ve been going there for the last few weekends to do shoots and whatnot. So if I could have a dual residence, it would make things a lot easier. One day.
FM: Well, if one residence is home with room and board, that makes it a bit easier.
Yeah, I don’t want to live with my parents forever, I want to get the hell out of there. That’s what I’m currently doing. I’m waiting for my girlfriend to finish school so we can get a place together. Because rent up here is gruesomely expensive too. It’s really expensive. Almost on par to Toronto. Because you have all the rich people from Toronto coming up here and wanting all the land.
FM: And there’s not much rental property available – year-round [rental], [there are] lots of cottages – so the landlords
Take advantage of that.
FM: Yeah, but it’s also expensive to run a house here.
FM: Is waiting for your girlfriend to come up here because you don’t want to live alone or you couldn’t afford to live alone?
FM: Is she going to be able to get a decent-paying job?
I friggin’ hope so.
FM: What’s she taking?
Teaching, so it’s not necessarily super-likely. Kindergarten to grade four.
FM: Yup, and declining student population, so not many openings.
So we’ll see about that.
FM: Not easy.
No. I don’t want her to go real far. She’s in [a northern college town] right now and that’s not real fun. But her parents live here so she comes home for the summer and lives with her parents.
FM: How long have you guys been an item? Since high school?
Like 5 ½ years or so. Makes me feel old saying I finished high school 5 ½ years ago.
FM: How do you find social life in Riverville?
Non-existent. I hang out with my bosses and then I go home and occasionally friends of mine come back for a weekend to visit family and I see them. But I spend a lot of my free time if I can in the city or in [my girlfriend’s city]. I try to get out when I’m not working.
FM: Are any of your friends from high school still around here or did they all go?
The majority left. A couple people, but they don’t work here. They work in the city and come back on the weekends. But they make good money, window glazing.
FM: Do you ever wish that you’d taken a different career route, like something as mundane (I think) as window glazing, but big money, easy jobs
No. I am firm on this. I’d rather be doing this and be poor than have a bunch of money and do something I don’t like. Sure, you have more money but what’s the point if you hate going to work Monday to Friday. I always enjoy the work I do: if I could, I’d do what I do for free. If I won the lottery, I’d still be doing what I do. And in the long run I hope it will pay off.
FM: Does your girlfriend feel the same way about living in Riverville – I mean, does she have friends here, or do you two think that you’d be able to find a social group that suits you, here?
Hmm good question. She doesn’t have too many friends here, I think she has one that still lives here part-time. I don’t know. She wants to move back here, at least for the first bit if she can get a teaching job. Because she thinks it would be a good place to learn, to get a start, because it’s a lot more friendly, a lot more – that’s the thing that Lakeville/Riverville has, there’s still that connection between people. Because even, like, strangers, you’re probably going to see them again.
FM: Yeah, and that reminds of a question I wanted to ask, about how you met your current boss. He walks into the store but he knows you and knows about you because he knows your mom. Without that prior connection, do you think it would have worked, the connection between you and boss?
I think something still could have come. I don’t think it would have been as easy. They made room in their budget to have me working for them. They did need another person but they figured if they can hire locally and get someone to learn. But I think something may have still come if I hadn’t known them. It just would have taken a lot longer.
FM: Because what they were doing was in the paper, so you would have known. Would you have initiated the contact, d’ya think?
Yeah, for sure. I’d already done some work with a local person, not a film maker but more like a film ambassador, so I already did stuff with her when I was in high school, more stuff when I came back. So I was still basically trying to exercise every avenue so I think I would have initiated something. I’m not super shy.
FM: Yeah, she leveraged the [big commercial film] thing. Was she helpful to you when you got back? Did she operate like a mentor? Find you connections? Or just cheerlead?
Yeah, I think she was more helpful before I went to school. That’s more her avenue, for people wanting to get their start. She sorta shows them avenues they can pursue. When I got back, I did some stuff with them but it wasn’t anything astronomical. I was just doing some stuff to help them, just volunteering to go shoot some stuff so I could go shoot some stuff. But I think if I didn’t know the current boss beforehand, she would definitely be the person who would have made the connection.
FM: That’s also interesting, because I’m hearing you say that there’s help for you as a high school student to choose a career route, but not really any resources, any public resources for sure, to help you as a young adult to get a job in your field.
Especially up here. People don’t really film in Country County, that’s more a city thing. Because it is kinda a pain to be so far away from the city. I know my boss goes down to the city for meetings all the time because that’s where the people are.
FM: Yeah, but Cottage County is the seat of art. Why not filming?
That’s a good question. It’s more painting and photography and stuff. But I don’t know, it’s not new but I dunno.
FM: They’re not there yet.
FM: Okay, let me just check out here – we’ve done education, employment, housing – anything under health, including mental health and substance use, or involvement with the law that touches on your story?
Not really. No.
FM: Okay I have some finish-up questions. Are we there?
FM: Okay. The first question is to give some shape and focus to your story for those who will read it: Will you say what you think is the Most Important Event in the story. Could be something that happens, or something that doesn’t happen.
Important like how?
FM: Like whatever is the fulcrum, the focus of the story you’ve told. You’re a film-maker – the centre, the thing that it hinges on.
I would say probably the most important thing I had, which I was very lucky to have, was parental support. Without that I wouldn’t have been able to go to school and especially do that year after school which is where I did get a lot of my key experience. If I had to just get a job, just a straight 9 to 5 job – if I could find one – who knows where I’d be. Because I’ve always just wanted to stay focused on the prize and not having distractions, like a well-paying other job, and you can’t do that on your own, so I know how lucky I am to be in the position I am. But without that it wouldn’t have happened.
FM: Great! Second question: Judgments. The readers of this story will be wondering how does it turn out, good or not so good. So what’s your judgment about how this story will roll out?
I hope good.
FM: But how optimistic are you? What are the chances, d’you think?
100%. I don’t have other options. I refuse to see failure as an option so however it has to work, it will.
FM: Okay. Two more advice questions. First one: What advice would you give to your younger self, whether or not your younger self would take that advice, that you think would influence the outcome, either make it better or easier or whatever?
My advice, hmmm. Maybe to not go to school and just get experience because the positions I started in, you could have not gone to school to get the experience to do that, just work your way. The internet is a wonderful tool. Like there’s websites I’ve found recently, the last year or so, that I’ve used to teach myself some of the skills that I use on a daily basis. And they’re significantly cheaper, like $25 a month versus like, thousands. And so if I could just sit at home, even work for free, and learn these things, that would have been a hell of a lot cheaper than going to school. Like I’d be working for free but not paying for it.
But I don’t think my younger self would listen to that because first off I just wanted to get out of here and I saw the school as the quickest and most direct route to do that. And I didn’t know much about the film industry at the time. I thought I could go to school and get a job. Every film student thinks that, get out of school and make their own movies, but that’s not the case.
FM: Okay, so wanted to shake the dust and get outa here, but was there also a sense that going to school was the ‘right’ route, the approved thing, the way everybody goes?
Yeah, that was part of it I think
FM: Would your parents, for example, have approved of you deciding not to go to school – not knowing then what they know now?
No, they wouldn’t have been super happy about it. Even when I was in school I wanted to drop out because I wasn’t really happy about the school, I was seeing it more as a waste of time, especially near the end. But they wanted me to just finish it just so I could say I did. Apparently people like to see that you can finish something, see it through. So I just stuck it out. They were paying for most of it anyhow, so I figured I’d just see it through, not waste the money that was already spent, just get a piece of paper out of it.
FM: Okay. Last advice question: What advice would you give to those of us who would like to be helpful to young people like yourself, what advice would you give us?
That’s a good question… especially in this area, is have more resources for people before they leave, so they can make the informed decision. Like when I was in high school, they dropped the Communication Technology class which was basically videos and stuff like that. So if you had an interest you had to pursue it on your own, just use your own means and learn your own stuff and just figure it out. Then [the mentoring woman], she had a lot of resource to at least educate people on things, just to get a start, point people in the right direction. I’m very glad I met her. She helped me a lot in those years.
FM: Would you go so far as to say that without her, it’s unlikely you would have chosen this career?
No, I still would have. From the first time I grabbed a camera, I decided I wanted to do that. She just made it a bit easier, like holding workshops occasionally and what not. I think just education is a big thing. I don’t see a lot of jobs created in this field here, just because there’s only so many corporate videos you can do up here. And people up here don’t necessarily want to pay a lot of money for that kind of stuff either, at least up here they don’t.
FM: Lots of businesses are just hanging on by the skin of their teeth so they can’t afford what more prosperous businesses can afford.
Yeah, and there’s not too many places to showcase. Say you make a commercial, you can play it on [the local TV station], but there’s not many other places, [that station] is Middletown so okay you’re hitting those people too, but they’re not
FM: They’re not apt to come north for your product, necessarily.
FM: That’s it for me. Anything more?
No I don’t think so. If you got what you needed, I’m happy.
… during conversation while the narrative was printing, this was added:
FM: What about the [big commercial film] experience? Could it have gotten you into the business?
It could have if I’d taken a different route. Like, I was a Production Assistant, like my job was to make sure the cast were where they needed to be at the right time, so walking around with my walkie-talkie, grabbing people and taking them over to the set. So you didn’t need to be experienced, you just needed to be attentive. And especially in my position, just wanted to learn all you could.
So after, the production manager and the assistant directors, who were the people I was working mostly with in my department, they asked me what I was doing. Told them I was going to school. They told me not to. A lot of people there told me not to. But I was that naïve kid. And basically to send in an application to join the DGC, the Directors’ Guild of Canada, and that they would sign off on me, basically because you need to have people vouch for you who’ve worked with you, and the production manager was on the board of directors for the DGC so she said I’d be a shoo-in and that would mean immediate work. And actually I would have been the youngest member ever at the time, because I’d just turned 18.
FM: But you didn’t.
No. I went to school. Which, y’know, double-edged sword. If I had gone that route, I probably would have been doing production assistance work for a long time. Which isn’t what I want to be doing, but better than not working in the film business. And they pay, their minimum wage is awesome. Scale, they call it. Starting wage like $225/day which is not even close to what I would have made. There is money in the film business. A lot of it is in the union, though. But the union keeps you in one field, whereas I want to branch. I want to do everything. Which is also a bit of a downfall. But my ultimate goal is to direct and I think to do that I needed to understand every aspect of production.
FM: So more attracted to the art of film-making than the business?
Yeah, I hate business.