By Karlie Mickanuik

When I was in kindergarten I wanted to be a racecar driver when I grew up. My dreams were crushed when I was told “girls can’t be racecar drivers”.

When I was eight I wanted to be an astronaut. I watched one movie with a black hole in it and decided space was a little too scary for me.

When I was 12 I wanted to be a teacher and I don’t know what happened but that came to define me as a person. Even long after my career goals changed people still knew me as the girl who wanted to be a teacher. Every once and a while a family member still makes a comment about how I will probably still go back to school to become a teacher one day.

Then one day I realized I wanted to be a film director. I’m going to be honest, I used to think I would never “make it” in the industry. I thought I would only hold onto a dream of making it to Hollywood and creating Oscar worthy films in my highschool years then I’d inevitably be forced to find a “real job”.

When I realized my true passion was film; I was met with a lot more concern from friends and family than I had anticipated. Looking back I know the concern was from a place of love but as a growing adolescent – it hurt. I was met with comments telling me I couldn’t make a living making movies, that this industry is dying. I was told I couldn’t do it.

I just wanted someone to look me in the eyes and say “why not you”. I just wanted someone to tell me it is possible to do what you love and still make money. I just wanted someone to believe in me fully. That person for me ended up being the mirror, but I wouldn’t trade my experiences. At the risk of sounding “cliche”; it did make me a stronger person. Taking criticism and feedback is something that happens all the time in my chosen industry. You have to get good at not letting your feelings get hurt when someone disagrees with you.

Naturally I wanted to head straight for the New York Film Academy and live my art school dream. Of course I looked at the tuition prices and decided Vancouver might be a little more my speed. After some deliberating and compromising with my parents I ended up choosing the Radio and Television program at NAIT. It was definitely the 95 per cent hire rate after graduation and the low tuition cost that persuaded my parents to accept that this really is what I want to do, but I didn’t care.

During my last year of high school I was struggling with my decision of choosing NAIT. All of my friends at school were talking about being accepted into prestigious universities and programs that only accepted 40 people a year. The lunch tables were filled with talks of future salaries and who in our graduating class would end up the richest. Not once was there ever a comment of who was going to love their career the most.

woman holding film slate

Photo by Karlie Mickanuik

The peer pressure was really starting to get to me and I was almost ashamed to tell people I had been accepted into my program of choice. I kept thinking, “what if everyone was right?”

For my 18th birthday I attended a five-day film workshop where we were taught how to shoot a short film in five days and then tasked to do so. The instructors were people actually working and making a living in the industry as actors, directors, editors and producers. They were there to guide us but ultimately we planned everything, shot everything and edited everything. At some point during the pre-production the instructors asked if we talked about our roles on set. Immediately, the instructors made a comment saying they had noticed I had already taken up a natural director role during the planning. My peers agreed and I got to be the director for this short film. This was the confidence boost I needed. Just that one sentence validated my career choice.

As my schooling at NAIT began slowly more and more of my worries about working in a so-called “dead end” industry melted away. I started writing for The Nugget and making money doing so. I was given a chance to work on a film set in Edmonton as a production assistant and I made money. From there I got calls almost every weekend to spend it on a new set and yes, I did indeed make money doing that.

As my second semester rolled over I became an editor at The Nugget. I got more calls to be on set and I recently signed a contract to be a videographer for the Centre of Culinary Innovation here at NAIT. I just recently quit my retail job to spend more time working jobs in my industry.

There are jobs in the film industry. There is money in this industry, and I can work in this industry. It doesn’t have to be a dream. You can actually do what you love and make money. I have yet to make it to Hollywood and win an Oscar – but I have plenty of time for that.