The meaning of life, the universe and everything.

I turned 43 recently. On my 42nd birthday, I quipped on Facebook that this was my Douglas Adams year. The exact age when I would discover the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything.

William and Pizza

Photo of me eating pizza (back when I could still eat pizza) at a Vancity branch by Terry Davis

Little did I know how right I was – that this was the year when I was to go through the most profound career shift I’d made in a dozen years (and perhaps ever).

My first career was in filmmaking. I got into filmmaking to make films that were personal, hopefully important. Films that I wanted to provoke thought and conversation and make a statement. But after a dozen years of slogging through projects, I found that life as a filmmaker just wasn’t fulfilling for me anymore, and I was hungry to do something that I felt could replace film as my life’s calling, and enable me to do more than just make “product”.

At exactly that time, filmmaking was going through a major disruption. Digital technology was, for the first time, giving the ability to make films to people without extraordinary means. The technology and tools – which hadn’t had a major innovation in the hundred years since Edison invented them – were being democratized. It started in the editing room with Avid editing systems, and continued to DV cameras and editing films on a home computer. I embraced this new technology, and became an early adopter of digital filmmaking.

In Nashville last year at the Credit Union Water Cooler Symposium, I gave a talk called Everything I Learned About Leadership, I Learned From Filmmaking. In it I talked about the tension between persistence and delusion. To be a struggling filmmaker is to know that tension well. I got into a great chat with the audience about this tension in my Q&A, and it was Ron Shevlin who pointed out that, simply, it had to do with maintaining a passion for, and love of what you’re doing. As long as that spark is alive, it’s persistence; when it’s gone, it’s delusion (did I get that right, Ron?). I always promised myself that I’d only make films if I couldn’t not make films. After a dozen years struggling as a filmmaker, I hit a point where I could absolutely and happily not make films. It was on to the next challenge for me.

My second career was in digital. When I made films, I used to read about the early pioneers of filmmaking, breaking into a nascent industry and jumping in where no one else had. I envied them. I saw the web and digital as an opportunity to do that for myself. I followed the path from digital filmmaking tools to producing web and digital projects. It’s rare in life that we get to experience something new, something untried. The migration from film to digital was a natural one, and one I enjoyed tremendously. I got to be there for the birth of a new era, and was lucky enough to be in Seattle, an epicenter of the new medium, to experience it.

One day while walking on the beach with my wife in LA, where I worked as a digital producer, we chatted about what we wanted from life. Walking in the sunshine, we decided that what we wanted was a reality in which our life choices and core values were inseparable – that when we described our lives (everything from where we lived and where we worked, to what we drove) we would really be elaborating on our values. That, we felt, would not be possible for us while living in LA.

The next several years were a circuitous adventure, leading me and my wife back to my hometown of Vancouver, having our son, and, for me, eventually aiming for and landing employment at Vancity. I am immensely thankful to work for a generous and special kind of organization that took chances with me and allowed me to jump into new areas and new roles, embracing new opportunities without having to leave the organization.

It was the jump into social media in 2006 that provided me with a new purpose, the biggest opportunity I had since filmmaking to embark on something career-defining and bold. It was the leaping off point to new destinations, new relationships and a powerful sense of fulfillment. Unexpectedly, it was social media that led me to community engagement, which led me right out of digital and into my current role in community investment, where I am further discovering the meaning and fulfillment I have always been looking for.

The one defining theme in my life has truly been: Do what you love, and the money will follow. I loved filmmaking, but when it was no longer my singular passion, I moved on. I loved social media and tinkering with it to fulfill an organization’s mission a little before others did, but when it starting getting stale for me, I was happy to try new things. Following my bliss led me into film, and past it into a world of working with a virtual community, and finally to working with community partners to hopefully help make my hometown a better place.

So we know that the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is 42. The unknown part remains: what is the right question? In my case, I think that the right question is simply: At what age will I make a huge pivot toward doing my life’s work?

CheckMating – 15 years later.

For some reason, a lot of people have been asking me lately about my former life as a filmmaker, so I thought I’d post one of my most successful films, CheckMating on YouTube for all to see.

About 15 years ago, I was riding a bus to work in Seattle, where I was living, and a little nugget of an idea came to me:

A woman who tests her dates by playing chess with them. CheckMating.

So simple. At the time, I was a filmmaker working at a motion picture laboratory. I had recently completed a half-hour 16mm nugget called Greenwich Meridian, which was a pretty standard first film: artsy, opaque and pretty much unwatchable. I was ready for a new challenge – to make a film people actually wanted to see.

CheckMating had a number of things going for it. It was short –  half-hour films were hard to program at film festivals because they were too long to open for a feature film and too short to stand on their own. I pictured CheckMating with no words, just images and music, which would make it perfect for the international film festival circuit. And I was pretty sure that I could shoot it on 35mm film, and have it look amazing on the big screen.


So I budgeted the film out at $12,000 and started looking for deals. Although I wrote, produced, directed and edited CheckMating, my biggest skill as a filmmaker was always as a producer. I found a free camera, free short ends of 35mm stock, a free editing location. My peers at the motion picture lab where I worked were willing to slide my footage through as “test” footage and not charge me. I ended up bringing in the film for 15% of my budget, a mere $1,800 all in.

It was a one day shoot at a friend’s house. The actors were awesome, especially Amy DeBourget who carried the film. The crew was a dream. The musicians on the soundtrack were brilliant.

It was a charmed little production. I was super-pleased with the final product and I started entering it into film festivals. I had entered my previous film into 18 film festivals and gotten rejections from all of them. With CheckMating, I was accepted into the 19th festival I applied to. Perseverance paid off. I found out after coming back to work from my honeymoon in July of 1996 that I got into the Boston Film Festival. More acceptances poured in, and by the time the film was done on the circuit, it had played something like 60 festivals, events and showcases, and picked up a few awards along the way.

And this little film inadvertently led me to where I am today. As a filmmaker I was an early adopter of screening my films online. I just wanted people to see the film, and wasn’t snobbish about how that happened. While many filmmakers were pontificating about the beauty of film (and not video or digital), I wanted to open source the damn thing (although I’m not sure I knew what open source was at the time).

I got a distribution deal with a little start-up in Seattle called AtomFilms. They were a great group and I was their seventh acquisition. They did extremely well as a company, defining what online film distribution could look like, and sold my film to airlines to show in-flight, to websites seeking quality content and to TV stations around the world (international sales validated my choice to make the film silent). I was written up in the NY Times and the San Francisco Chronicle as a filmmaker willing to try new things. The film was a success. CheckMating even made money, given the minuscule budget I was working with.

That early embracing of the web, as well as an eventual job at AtomFilms as a web producer in charge of their online community of 1.8 million fans steered me onto a new path of doing web stuff instead of film stuff.

And then more recently AtomFilms was bought out by MTV and the rights to CheckMating reverted back to me. And so I have put it up on YouTube where it can be seen once again.

One of the biggest lessons of filmmaking that I draw on everyday is the ability to work with people as they are. Directing actors was perhaps my favourite part of making films. The collaboration, the creativity, the connections. Every actor is different and the key to being a successful director is knowing how to connect and communicate with each actor individually to elicit their best performance. Some actors like line-readings, some like deep philosophical discussions about the character’s motivations, some meditate, some pick fights to work themselves up. Working with each actor in the way most suitable for them is a skill I still draw on daily as a team-member, as a manager and as a contributor to an organization I believe in.

I hope you enjoy this glimpse of my filmmaking side. It’s good to have this film out there again…

Wells Fargo… Center Stage

Tomorrow, Wells Fargo will launch its newest social media venture, Center Stage in the Rose Parade. It’s a super funny idea: They have different musical genre takes on the “The Wells Fargo Wagon” song from “The Music Man.” Anyone can create their own music video to any of the five versions, and submit it to the site.

Registration is quick and easy. And the prizes are amazing:

The Grand Prize winner could have his or her video highlighted in our Wells Fargo national TV advertisement during the Tournament of Roses Parade and on That’s a lot of eyeballs. We’re also awarding two (2) 8GB Apple iPhones, as well as ten (10) 1GB Flip Video Ultra Cameras to other lucky winners.


I also noticed that the platform they’re using is a viral video platform by local Vancouver digital agency, Invoke Media whom I’ve worked with a couple of times over the last few years.

In the end, this gives Wells great content, helps them identify some brand enthusiasts, lets people play with the brand and humanizes the company. Plus free content. Nicely done, which is hardly a surprise considering how amazing their VP of Social Network Marketing is, Ed Terpening.

They just keep rolling out interesting projects, and no one else seems able to keep up in the banking industry.