Cam Bennett likes to joke that he’s a veteran of the silent film era, but while he hasn’t been around quite that long he still has a ton of experience.
As a freelance writer, director, and producer his work has appeared on CBC, CTV, APTN, SciFi, Global, and Discovery. He also worked for Bell MTS for over a decade under the banner Stories From Home, supporting and licensing intensely local documentary, lifestyle, and arts programming.
He shared his story with us, including some tips on how to stay in the TV and film industry for the long haul.
When and how did you start in the media production industry?
My first job was as a copywriter in the Creative Services Department at CKY-TV (now CTV Winnipeg) back when the station was near Polo Park. I wrote, produced and directed a shocking number of really bad commercials. I started there in 1986, fresh out of the Creative Communications program at Red River College.
That seems like a long time ago but I was just four years old when I started, so…I’m not really that old. I’m seasoned.
What area of the film industry do you work in now and why?
I ran the Stories From Home program for MTS for 11 years and that was a wonderful thing. I left in September of 2019 and re-entered the world of independent TV production. Covid messed up a few projects last year while the industry found its footing, but I was lucky to land a few writing gigs for shows already in production.
This past winter I’ve been working on Ice Vikings Season 2 for Farpoint Films as story editor. I’m also writing a couple of episodes. It’s a great show, very dynamic and full of wonderful, local characters. Both the crew and post-production team are excellent, whip-smart, and talented. It’s really great to see.
In a post-pandemic world, I hope to start directing some TV and documentaries again. It’s been far too long since I’ve been on the road, seeing new places and meeting new people. There’s a camaraderie on set with a small crew that can’t be replaced and I miss it.
What’s a substantial change you’ve seen in the industry since you started?
Well, moving from silent film to ‘talkies’ was exciting. So too was the transition from black and white to colour. Again, I’m not old. BUT ANYWAY, the biggest change is surely the price of admission.
Amazing production gear is highly available and affordable to more people. The whole process of content creation has been democratized. Millions of people are now self broadcasting or publishing, creating and sharing their art in countless forms. Producers still look to traditional networks and studios to pitch ideas but thousands of creative people don’t look anywhere but within.
People are taking risks, producing content they’re passionate about, and finding their audience with or without a license fee. It’s inspiring but it was also necessary. Traditional jobs are disappearing and colleges keep churning out scads of grads.
If you could give your past self advice, what would it be?
Seek out more formal training. Be accommodating with others but don’t be taken advantage of. Stop telling yourself stories about what might go wrong. Start imagining what good things can happen if it goes well. Don’t quit that gig in a huff, it will cost you dearly down the road. Oh, and don’t eat that room temperature calamari before getting on the plane.
What advice would you give someone starting off in the media production industry?
This is a collaborative art form and a decent way to make a living, so enjoy it. Be open to new challenges and experiences. You might see yourself in a specific department or position, but it might not be a straight line to that goal.
Learn what other people do, understand how production works through the eyes of your colleagues and develop a strong sense of empathy. Show up on time (which is 10 minutes early, by the way). Choose your friends wisely so you can avoid the negative sh*t.
Why is learning and training important?
It’s hard not to sound like a cliche here, but I can’t think of a better way to stay engaged in your profession than by embracing learning opportunities.
If someone takes the time to help you learn a new skill, accept that gift enthusiastically. Keep your eyes and ears open for formal and informal learning and think about where you want to go with your career.
What are some of the films, TV series or even books that have inspired you? How about anything new you’ve been into?
I love a good music documentary and I’m a sucker for dissections of pop culture. Recently, I enjoyed The Defiant Ones about Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre; also Miles Davis: Birth of The Cool was pretty good. Older titles like The Kid Stays in The Picture, End of The Century: The Story of The Ramones, When We Were Kings, they’ve stuck with me.
The only TV series I ever bought to hold forever were SCTV and Deadwood; I’m not sure what that says about me, but I could pass time watching those performances over and over and over again. Don’t get me started on Phantom Of The Paradise — heaven!
Is there someone in the industry you would like to work with and why?
I want to follow Tom Waits around for a couple of years with a camera crew. I’d like to watch him eat lunch, take a nap, write half a song, or carve a tree with a chainsaw and a rusty fork while conjuring drunken unicorns out of his fedora. It should end badly, perhaps with a street brawl.
Only then would I realize that he never signed the personal release form. I’d keep all the footage and ask Daniel Cross from Eye Steel Film to produce but I’d make whatever I wanted. Then I’d call Dave Barber and ask him for a six month residency at Cinematheque to show the film which, by the way, has a run time of 37 hours.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
At the lake, taking naps and pretending to write.
FTM is a member of the Province of Manitoba’s sector council program through the Department of Economic Development and Training. FTM builds a highly skilled and adaptable film industry workforce to support the activities of Manitoba production companies. FTM collaborates with members of the film and television industry to identify the training needs within the community.