Documentaries vs. Hands-On Workshops

By Cam Mather

Recently I was invited to become involved with a documentary that is being made for the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, for my American readers.) I turned them down.  It must seem weird for me to turn down a chance for shameless self-promotion but my dealings with the producer left a bad taste in my mouth and I have learned, with Michelle’s encouragement, to pay attention to my instincts.

The documentary is actually going to be produced by an independent film company that has contracted to provide it for the CBC. They are looking for “preppers” to interview. For anyone who is new to the term, “preppers” are people who are preparing for TEOTWAWKI (The End of the World As We Know It.) It’s not necessarily the 2012 end of the Mayan calendar scenario when we all get swallowed by volcanoes or hit by asteroids end-of-the-world sort of preparation, since there’s not really much you can do about an asteroid impact. You can dig a really deep bunker, but if the asteroid raises a cloud of dust that blocks the sun, well really, who wants to be around after that? I’d rather just be standing in the yard as it hit.

Preppers are generally more concerned about a disintegration of civil society that could come from rapid economic collapse, a world war or a rapid collapse of the energy system that keeps our world together, etc. After seeing how quickly chaos developed after Hurricane Katrina, or how close the world came to economic collapse in 2008, I certainly understand why a lot of people are concerned. I wrote my book, “Thriving During Challenging Times,” as a sort of a “TEOTWAKWI Light Version”. I think the fact that we’re past peak oil and that we used up any buffer of fiat currency hope in 2008 means that the system is very tightly wound and a soft landing sort of scenario is plausible. I believe that the 25% of the U.S. population that is un- or under-employed would agree with me because they’re already living it.

The documentary producer wanted two things from me. They asked me to go into a home and help a typical suburban family prepare for a soft landing. From a writer’s/publisher’s point of view this sounded like a great opportunity. Free publicity for my books and my consulting work. The problem was that the family they were going to use is in Montreal (about a 4 hour drive away.) I quoted what I thought was a reasonable fee for my time that day and was quickly informed that the CBC does NOT pay people to be in documentaries. I said “So let me get this straight, you get paid, the camera people get paid, the sound people get paid, the film editors get paid, the owners of your company get paid, but the person who is actually going to provide the information, the person who has researched the topic and really has all the knowledge, gets nothing.” Hmmm… what’s wrong with this picture?

It gave me a new perspective on the mainstream media. I am already highly skeptical about much of what I see and read. Everyone has a bias, I understand this. Now that our Prime Minister Steven Harper is appointing most of the private broadcasters to the Senate, we know that they have a conservative bias in Canada. In terms of documentaries, you realize that right off the bat anyone involved is there with an agenda. They aren’t getting paid so they are there to sell something, or influence a decision process. From this point of view it was a great learning experience for me.

My other main hesitation was the fact that this is a documentary about how to survive collapse. So what I’d basically be doing is painting a huge bulls-eye on my house and letting everyone know where to head when the “fit hits the shan.” So that didn’t work for me either. I’m not exactly hiding out, like many survivalist types, since my books and my blog put me out there. But my goal has always been to help others to make themselves ready for what may come. In my workshops I suggest that people should have a rural place to get to in times of disruption. I make it abundantly clear that my house doesn’t count!

Instead of devoting any time to this documentary, I decided I that I will continue to promote our own smaller scale workshops that we hold here at the house. I like them a lot. They are much more intimate and the people who come are enthusiastic and open to new ideas. We meet a lot of like-minded people at our workshops, and that is always a treat.

In our fall workshop I had a lot I wanted to pack into the day, but I had to back off a bit and give the participants some time to mingle. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group of 12 strangers become so completely comfortable with each other so quickly. During the outside tours of the solar panels and the wind turbine and the gardens, there were times when several people ventured off on their own to talk. It was great to see people making new connections.

I think sharing lunch and coffee breaks helped too. People quickly lost their inhibitions with strangers and wanted to share what they were up to. It was an awesome day and so I’ve decided to put my efforts into more of these rather than the documentary. It’s easy for people who think things will continue on the way they always have to dismiss the concept of prepping. I’m happy to spend the day sharing what I’ve learned in our search for self-sufficiency.

Details of the workshop can be found here; http://cammather.com/off-grid-retreat/upcoming-workshops-at-sunflower-farm. If you or anyone you know might be interested please forward this link to them. Our April 21st workshop is quickly filling up. Here are some of the comments we received about our fall workshop:

“I was really impressed that the whole day lived up to the title! Cam has woven together a giant tapestry of knowledge and how-to; hearing and seeing his work in action was really inspiring.”

* * * * * * *

“Cam & Michelle shared their experience of their journey to sustainable living with us – through science, humour and the wisdom that comes from just doing it!”

* * * * * * *

“Coming today was a dream come true – I’ve only every read about ‘this stuff.’ It was encouraging & enlightening. Thanks so much. Love, love, love it!”

The participants seemed pretty pumped about it and I’m pretty pumped about doing it all again!

15 Responses to “Documentaries vs. Hands-On Workshops”

  • Thanks for the suggestion Caroline! I’m not making any promises but it may happen down the road…. ~Michelle~

  • Thanks and best of luck on the move!

  • Hi Jeff! I think that an answer to this question could be an entire blog post! I’ve made the suggestion to Cam and I am sure he is thinking about his response. Keep your eye on future blogs for the answer… ~Michelle~

  • Jeff:

    In terms of ‘Prepping’ I think you guys are doing pretty well. You grow your own food and produce your own electricity. The world could go to heck and you probably would be just fine. But no plan is perfect so I am curious what is the most likely scenario that you think you are the least prepared for?

  • Cathy:

    If you can write and publish your books you can do your own documentary. Every class you put on, every speaking engagement every opportunity to share your info, should be video taped, edited, then sold or at the least, posted on Utube as a test market. It is just another medium to market your knowledge and skills. You don’t have to be on national TV to get your message out and reach your audiance. Every college has classes and students to help you. Especially the ones you teach at.

    I am not a late blooming “prepper”, I have had the same outdoorsy, low maintenance-low energy, pro-whole food-grow my own, make/build my own lifestyle all of my adult life. When I was 13 I started reading the Bible and began to understand and pay attention to the world and my community. Only a fool can read the Bible and miss the message. And there are those ’tis written”, that won’t get it. They will perish.

    Only those with ears willing to hear, will hear. You can’t save the world from their folly and neither will God, because he gave us free will to screw it all up. Reach one, teach one, one at a time….

  • Marlene P.K.:

    Cam, I’ve always been to timid to actually participate to your blog, but with this story…Well done!I’m really happy you turned them down…You and your wife are keeping it real/understandable/loving, and obtainable! you’ve been an inspiration to my husband and me who’ve been researching and learning about living off grid for the last 2 yrs… and now we’re moving back to my hometown in N.B.,from his hometown in Fl in May…and he’s never lived through our kind of winters! LOL But we both want to live out our lives on our 10acres. It’ll be the hardest and most fulfilling careers we’ve ever had!Thanks again for turning it down:)

  • Caroline:

    Cam, it’s too bad you couldn’t make a DVD of one of your workshops. I live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and with a disabled husband and son, find it nearly impossible to go any where let alone a workshop in Canada. Need a passport for that now, which we don’t have. I would pay for a DVD that showed one of your workshops. That way you could make your own ‘documentary’, produced the way you want, directed and edited to your satisfaction and get paid for it too. It’s worth it to me.

  • Andy:

    Never ceases to amaze me how many people are expect to, and prepared to give away the farm in exchange for either their 15 minutes of fame or the promise of something bigger. Good call on turning it down.

  • Good call Cam. Sounds to me like they were really looking for another reality show. I’m sure the people that go on those things do it for the 15 minutes of fame. Who knows how you would have actually been presented. Maybe as some weirdo which you aren’t.

  • Baloghsma:

    Cam, I couldn’t agree with you more.TEOTWAKWI is coming, but most people are so distracted by the trees they can’t see the woods!

    Concerning CBC… I sold a program “treatment” to Fifth Estate in 1989–cold contact, out of the blue,
    as a freelancer. Same issue came up about paying for a story. They put me on the project as a “story consultant” and allowed me to write my own contract! I put a kill fee clause in place with a somewhat hefty up-front retainer. When the producer jumped ship in the middle of the project, I didn’t have to give back the retainer.

    Moral of the story: TEOTWAKWI comes in many scenarios. Plan for the best, prepare for the worst.
    And forget about the Yuppies who are just looking for someone to put labels on (Preppers). They’ll figure it out on the other side.

  • Paul:

    In my limited experience anything that the media puts out is biased to the bottom line, in this case whoever pays for all your above mentioned salarnies (advertisers?). And also as noted you will never know how it will be actually presented until you see it on TV and most likely you won’t even recognize your material. Good call, keep doing what you are doing and control the message your way!

  • Good call. You won’t know how they slant it until you see it on TV. If they’ve misrepresented you, that’s too late. Plus, you don’t even get paid. Your workshops are great because you have complete control over content. And you get paid. That’s much better.

  • Susan:

    If your aim is to help people prepare, I suspect you are better off doing hands-on workshops with a few rather than simply exposing many in a format that makes them passive observers for an hour. I sometimes think the latter “innoculates” people AGAINST doing anything real. They FEEL like they have done something, by watching the documentary, but then they go on to watch the next show and actual preparation is soon pushed further back into their minds. Devoting a day to a subject, having to invest time, effort, etc., into going someplace to see, think, and interact with others, probably takes a person further into real awareness that leads to more action.

  • Connie Murray:

    In the US, on NatGeo, they have been running a show called “Doomsday Preppers” which most of the preppers describe themselves as “crazy”. One fairly normal looking suburban dad was teaching his sons to use automatic weapons and then promptly blew his thumb off. Most of the preppers seem pretty far out and not in touch with reality. Although I will be disappointed not to see you and your wonderful family on TV, I think you made a good call.

  • You did the right thing by turning it down Cam. I bet Chris Martenson wishes he’d turned down this one in 2010:

    http://www.chrismartenson.com/blog/bunkers-r-not-us-correcting-boston-magazines-take-movement/41295

    I have an article about peak oil and family medicine scheduled to appear sometime this year in “Canadian Family Physician”, one of the docs’ trade journals. As a result, it’s quite likely that I will be contacted by mainstream media like the Globe and Mail or CBC, wanting to write a freak show story about “How Dr Doom is preparing for the apocalypse”. I’m going to decline any MSM interviews about it, althouh podcasts are a different matter, I might accept invitations for those.

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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