Reel Career Profile: Zachary Girard

Zach has spent the last seven years in the Manitoba film industry working within the Accounting department. He is a strong advocate for industry recruitment and education for new and veteran crew alike. Over the past two years, he has worked jointly with Red River Polytechnical College to develop several Film Accounting micro-credential courses, which will be open for enrolment later this year. This year he began full-time employment with the Director’s Guild of Canada Manitoba District Council as their Assistant Business Agent.

When and how did you start in the media production industry? 

For as long as I can remember, I have always been interested in storytelling, and once I narrowed that interest down to filmmaking specifically, I pursued it throughout high school and into university, not knowing exactly where it would land me but knowing I wanted to be part of that world.

During university, I worked as a bank teller to help pay for my expenses, and during one of my classes, I was introduced to the Film Training Manitoba team. The following year, when my Bachelor’s degree in film was complete, I worked my way to being a Senior Accountant downtown. At this point, I got a call from FTM basically saying, “You have an accounting background, you have a film degree, do you want to be a Film Accountant?” I had no real idea what that would entail, but that fall, I began working on my first production.

What area of the film industry do you work in now and why? 

I have spent nearly all of my film career time in film accounting. It was a really fascinating thing to me. When you think of filmmaking and the spectacle of cinema, there’s that sense that life on set is a peek behind the curtain, and you get to see all the moving parts that go into production – Set is where you see “how the sausage gets made” so to speak, well if that’s the case, Accounting is where you get to have a peek at the grocery list.

There’s a lot I learned from working in that department that I didn’t learn from school and probably wouldn’t have picked up as quickly if I was working on set.

More recently, however, I have joined an industry position outside of Accounting as the DGC’s local Assistant Business Agent. This opportunity has allowed me to use my existing film accounting knowledge but cast a wider net and do more good collectively for the local crew while still feeling connected to the productions and crew.

What has been a substantial change in the industry since you started?

Over the past two or three years specifically, I have seen a lot more proactive work by the crew to shut down toxic behaviour on set and promote healthier environments and work relationships. This industry is often driven by big personalities and I feel like that often means crew, especially green crew, can get pushed around disproportionately. With the nature of the industry growing so quickly here in Manitoba, I’m glad to see people speak up and call out the bad behaviour and mistreatment of these newer crew members and allow them to flourish.

If you could give yourself advice today to yourself in the past, what would it be?

Be open and receptive to new information, but assess when to stand your ground.

I couldn’t tell you exactly when it happened, but after several years in the industry, there were many points where I had opted to take someone else’s advice because they had many more years of industry experience than myself – at some point, I slowly began to realize that I now also had a knowledge pool which I could draw upon from myself. Now don’t get me wrong, there are still many industry veterans whose opinions and input I seek out, but it is equally important to learn to trust your own gut and speak your mind if you feel like there is a way to meaningfully contribute.

What advice would you give to someone starting off in the media production industry?

Aim to be helpful, receptive and kind – It doesn’t matter what department you are in or where on the food chain you are; these three traits will never serve you wrong. And to that end, no one is above giving, and no one below receiving basic respect.

Why is learning and training important?

Teaching and learning are two things I advocate should be continued throughout a person’s entire life – By training or teaching someone about the content you are already well-versed in, it forces you to look at the content in a new light – as someone who is approaching it for the first time, and in doing so, can strengthen your own understanding of the material.

As far as learning is concerned, there is so much knowledge out there to absorb that there is always something new you can learn. In our local industry especially, I feel like the people who do the best jobs and rise through the ranks quickly are those who are most receptive to new information, but one of the concerns I have heard had a lot lately is that due to the growth in Manitoba within the film world, these same people are advancing into roles much quicker than their predecessors and while many of their skills match their positions, they simply do not have the same amount of experience as their predecessors before being given that role.

For this reason, I think training is essential for the stability of our workforce going forward as the younger generation of workers is stepping into these roles, and we need to do our best to support them and fill in any gaps so that their skill sets are on par with other is the same position throughout the industry.

What are some of the films, TV series or even books that have inspired you? How about anything new you’ve been into?

I grew up predominantly on the original Star Wars trilogy, which was a huge influence when it came to my understanding of the potential of what could be accomplished through filmmaking. I’m a bit of an escapist when it comes to both my taste in film and literature, so the things like Sandman, Marvel movies and Lord of the Rings are certainly favourites. Recently, it has been a lot of rewatching Dennis Villeneuve’s Dune and Guardian of the Galaxy Vol. 3; these both climbed onto my list of personal favourites quite quickly.

Is there something about you or an interesting past experience that you’d like to share with your colleagues?

So, I’d like to think I’m not one to often be star-struck, but there are a few people within the industry that I think this would happen with, one of whom would be Henry Cavill, who is someone not only I enjoy watching on screen, but also shares a lot of hobbies with me off-screen and just has a lot of overlaps in terms of shared geekdom.

So, on my second-ever show, Henry is cast, and I am working my butt off because of how cool I think this opportunity is. I hadn’t had many chances to visit the set, and I came down one day with payroll, and I ended up sitting on this bench waiting for the PM to have some downtime to review the paperwork. About 5 minutes later, this shaggy-haired man with a beard sits next to me, I don’t get a clear view of his face, and I assume he is maybe just part of the crew. After all, why would any of the stars be sitting on a bench in the hall next to the kid from accounting? An older, wiser Zach learnt that “because it was an easy place to park your butt” is a valid reason.

Now, I think you can already tell where this is going, but for the next 15-20 minutes, I sit there watching the camera department prepping shots and kind of sneaking a peek into the room being prepped for shooting and scoping out all the neat stuff that the Sets department was doing, which was by all means completely interesting in its own right, but in doing so, never once bugged or said hi to the man sitting next to me who has just chilling on the bench for close to half an hour. Next thing I know, the call “Henry, you’re up!” goes out, and Henry, sitting next to me this whole time, gets up and goes on to continue doing what he does best—biggest “d’oh!” moment of my life.

Is there someone within the film industry you would like to work with and why?

Now currently, I’ll admit my career trajectory isn’t likely to see me spearheading any of my own projects in the near future or see me in a role where I would have the opportunity for such collaboration. However, I would like to think there is some chance I could return to that part of the industry and in doing so, there is certainly a pool of people I would like to tap into who have historically brought a lot of their personal fandoms and enthusiasm into their work – Henry Cavill, of course, comes to mind, but directors like Jon Favreau & Dennis Villeneuve or actors like Joe Manganiello and Rosario Dawson would be really fun to collaborate with based on shared love of a given fandom.

Where do you see yourself in ten years from now?

Honestly, working as an Assistant Business Agent has been very interesting work, and one of the reasons I took this role was that a large component of it would focus on helping train and support our Members. While I can’t say that I would be in exactly this role in a decade, I would like to stay in the industry, perhaps in this role or another more tied to training opportunities and continuing work within the DGC seems very likely, as the experiences and connections I have made have been very rewarding.

FTM is a non-for-profit charity and member of the Province of Manitoba’s sector council program (through the Department of Economic Development and Jobs). FTM conducts workforce development and training to build a highly skilled and adaptable film industry 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.