With an impressive filmography dating back to 2013, Craig Norris, an award-winning documentary filmmaker and owner of VideoBand Productions, is now known as the documentary film guy.
His film work primarily focuses on issues that relate to the environment, conservation and climate change and has been featured at international film festivals, exhibited at the Royal Ontario Museum and has toured nationally with Dr. David Suzuki.
His latest release is a 30-minute documentary commissioned by the European Union that explores climate change adaptation projects taking place on a tiny chain of islands off the east coast of Africa. Kokota: The Islet of Hope, is inspiring people around the world to adapt to climate change.
His next release, Surviving the Fundy Footpath, follows a city slicker from Toronto, with zero camping experience, as he attempts to complete one of Canada’s most difficult multi-day hikes. Not surprisingly there are more documentaries coming in 2017/2018.
I began my conversation with Craig by asking him if he’s always had an entrepreneurial streak…
A: I think so. I was nine when I first got interested in advertising, actually, because I was always just blown away how a 30-second commercial could actually change the way people act and feel. I learned a lot from my business degree but a fair bit of my knowledge was innate, I’m a business person by nature.
[Tweet “I’m a business person by nature – Craig Norris”]
Q: How did you get your start?
A: I went to UNB, studied business, and then right out of university I got what was the “dream job” as a brand manager in the gambling industry. I took the job right out of university, not really thinking much about the ethics of gambling.
A couple years in I came to the realization,“Wow, my job is to convince more people to spend more money gambling.”It was a bit of an existential crisis. I didn’t feel very good about it and it really made me question what I was doing. Everyone around me was telling me what a great job it was and that it was the golden ticket and this big accomplishment, but every morning I just got up and said,“This is it? This is the dream?”
When I quit, I knew I wanted to pursue photography and filmmaking so I spent the next two years driving around North America, independently studying photography, working along the way. When we got back, we opened up our businesses.
Q: What do feel gave you the courage to leave what most people would describe as a secure, stable job and jump into this seemingly unpredictable world?
A: It was a combination of trying to stop being miserable and wanting an adventure.
Q: Who are VideoBand’s clients?
A: Internationally, it would be the European Union and locally we work with the Fundy Biosphere Reserve, who get funding from the Environmental Trust Fund and Mountain Equipment Co-op and the Wildlife Trust Fund. We also do work with Mount Allison University. So we work with a lot of NGOs.
Q: Do you feel you’re unique to your industry within New Brunswick?
A: I think what’s unique about VideoBand is that we don’t do any commercial work. We’re very focused on documentaries and on telling stories that we think are important.
[Tweet “We’re very focused on telling stories that we think are important – Craig Norris”]
Q: I am guessing you had to make tough decisions along the way so you could to stay focused on meaningful work?
A: I knew I wanted to do something that’s worst-case scenario, ethically neutral. So if I could find a way to get paid to be a photographer, a filmmaker and work on ethically neutral projects, then that would be okay. The valuable lessons I learned from photography was that I realized how quickly you can get pigeonholed.
Q: So you learned the same lessons in your film business?
A: When I start doing film, I didn’t do any corporate work for that reason. I decided to bite the bullet and start filming documentaries right from the beginning. Now, locally, I’m the environmental doc guy.
[Tweet “Locally, I’m the environmental doc guy – Craig Norris”]
Q: Are you’re okay being pigeonholed into that category?
A: Oh yeah. I’m happy to build a career of making adventure documentaries – I think we could easily branch out into social issue docs. There are some barriers to entry that in the beginning were a hurdle and in the end are insulation.
Q: So this focus was intentional and strategic?
A: Yes. We have to be strategic within our work too. Our newest project, called “The Enlightened Redneck’s Guide to Moose Sex”, got started when Ben Phillips, who’s now my senior producer of environmental shorts, had been working on this project called “The Staying Connected Initiative”. They were looking at wildlife connectivity on the Chignecto Isthmus – making sure there are big swaths of forest so that animals can easily migrate between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick – trying to raise awareness with landowners so they would avoid clear cutting, leave patches for animals to go through, make sure there are overpasses and underpasses for the animals. We knew this was very dry information that we needed to make entertaining.
So he came up with the idea to get a standup comedian involved – one who happens to live on the Chignecto Isthmus. It’s definitely going to be entertaining. We didn’t pick just any standup comedian. We picked Nikki Payne, who’s a bit rough around the edges and will resonate really well with our rural target audience.
Q: What advice do you have for someone with an idea and/or a passion that is ready to leap into the entrepreneurial world?
A: If you’re a hard worker and a strategic thinker, then you probably have two of the most important components you’ll need to be an entrepreneur.
Successful business owners are going to need a higher level of tenacity than your average person. They’re going to find themselves up against impossible odds, types of situations where they could lose their house, they could lose their car, financially they could be strapped to the max and they’re not going to blink. They’re going to be able to weather that storm.
Q: What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?
A: That’s a big question. I think being okay with bending the rules. If you want to be a by-the-book person who’s going to do everything exactly the way that the book says, you’re probably going to have a hard time as an entrepreneur because it doesn’t work that way.
Q: I would even say in many cases there’s not even a book to read to begin with, correct?
A: In my experience, if I had played by the rules, then our businesses wouldn’t be open today. We’re fine now, we have insurance, we pay our bills, all that stuff is taken care of now. But we didn’t start out that way.
Q: If you were to finish the following sentence, how would you finish it? “A leader’s job is to . . .”
A: A leader’s job is to . . .embrace risk.
[Tweet “A leader’s job is to . . .embrace risk – Craig Norris”]
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This article published in the Telegraph-Journal on Saturday, June 10, 2017.