Almost exactly a year ago, I walked out of the bar at the Hotel MacDonald in downtown Edmonton with a handshake deal to produce an hour of television for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. I have since been sarcastically referring to this moment as “the most-showbizzy thing that’s ever happened to me,” but it meant I was set to produce a 45 minute documentary with some of my best friends about a subject I cared passionately about: the effect of gruelling work and high expectations on people’s well-being, explored and examined through the stark example provided by the oil and gas industry in Alberta.
Today, the film is live on CBC’s streaming service, CBC GEM, and will broadcast on the main CBC network in Alberta at 7 PM. I want to write more about what this doc has meant to me, not just as a filmmaker, but as a person. For now, for posterity, here is the thank-you I posted on FB for the crew:
You may now watch DIGGING IN THE DIRT whenever you want on CBC GEM. I’m going to watch it on TV tonight with my parents in a moment that I’m sure will feel equal parts surreal, vulnerable, and cathartic. 7 PM on CBC. Thanks to everyone who’s encouraged me to keep doing this over the years. I’m really glad it all brought me here.
In addition to the people who gave us their time and opened up their hearts as featured subjects in the documentary, I’d like to thank some of the talented and beautiful people who lent their skill and effort to this film:
Omar Mouallem, co-producer and co-director, whose compassionate eye towards oil and gas workers in his journalism work inspired this project. Our skillsets dovetailed better than I could have hoped as we put this documentary together.
Blake McWilliam, executive producer, who has taught me so much about business and life, and who has, in more ways than I seem to be able to remind him, given me chance after chance to prove that I can, in fact, make movies for a living.
aAron munson, cinematographer, who interprets an oil refinery like an abstract painting.
Tom Gunia, additional cinematography, continually gracious in the face of the absurdly un-cinematic situations I put him in, his work opens the film and sets the tone.
Krystal Moss, editor, who uncovered moments, glances, and gestures that I’d overlooked and imbued them with meaning. She took a series of interviews and a very slim catalogue of b-roll and turned it all into a film.
Matthew Cardinal, musician, whose ambient work intrinsically informs the way this movie feels. I told him to be inspired by construction sites and rail yards; he delivered this incredible score.
Johnny Blerot, sound designer, who truly, truly gets it. Every project. He knows what it needs and what it doesn’t. Reviewing a mix with Johnny is one of my favourite parts of making a film. It’s where the thing comes to life, where it ceases to be a series of images and becomes a movie.
Jim Cuming for ALWAYS letting me put at least one Jom Jam in everything I make.
And of course my incredible partner, Lizzie Derksen, who wrote the voiceover for this film. We push ourselves to collaborate, though truthfully it can be difficult to do so. We have our own ideas about how something should sound and feel, what it should say. I’m constantly challenged by her, and hopefully I challenge back. You need that challenge to sustain a dynamic relationship with someone you love. And often, like with this film, you end up with something you know you couldn’t have done on your own. I’m grateful that her words flow throughout the piece and hold the whole thing together, like the guardian angel of the story. I’m grateful for her every day.
Special shout-out to Bryce Zimmerman, who put me in touch with Sheila and created the opportunity for DIGGING IN THE DIRT to have this platform! I am continually amazed and impressed by the capacity for Edmontonian filmmakers to look out for one another. In an industry marked by needlessly bloodthirsty competition and ego, we seem to have created a pocket of like-minded artists who truly just want good work to get out into the world. Thank you, buddy, and let me know what I can do for YOU on YOUR next one.
I hope this movie speaks to you, guys. It’s the most important thing I’ve ever made. I love you. Let’s keep making movies.