When Ben Wilson was encouraged to apply for the Cattlemen’s Young Leaders program in 2017, he remembers laughing aloud.
Wilson, who is one half of Story Brokers Media House, didn’t think the program would accept a filmmaker who wasn’t a beef producer, but being chosen to participate in the mentorship program ended up making a difference in his career. Wilson was paired with Phil Braig of the Douglas Lake Cattle Company in B.C.
“I’m so glad that I did apply, though, and so grateful that I was accepted into that amazing program,” said Wilson, who lives with his family at Bashaw, Alta. “I learned a lot and made some amazing connections that helped me take my career even further in the beef industry.”
Although Wilon wasn’t raised by a farming family, he was introduced to the storytelling mediums he now uses to promote agriculture early in life. His grandfather, a pilot and eye doctor, helped to kindle his passion for photography, which he developed further in university and eventually lead him to videography.
“I do remember when my grandpa gave me his old Minolta film camera. We were looking at pictures, and he was big on having slide shows in the living room and getting out the slide projector and looking at pictures from vacations,” he recalled.
“He said to me once, ‘any good picture is even better if you put people in it.’ That’s always stuck with me, and it’s true. I’ll go back and look at travel photos from when I was in southeast Asia, and if it’s just a picture of a hillside and a bunch of palm trees, it’s pretty, but when you put a person in that picture, then it triggers the memory of being there and it’s always more impactful, I think…So I try to remember that in filmmaking, too.”
Wilson and his business partner, Sarah Wray, have recently found great success with a short documentary that has resonated within the Canadian beef industry and beyond. Guardians of the Grasslands, a film collaboration with Ducks Unlimited Canada, Nature Conservancy of Canada and the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, tells the story of the North American Grasslands, the world’s most endangered ecosystem and the vital role that Canadian beef producers play in protecting this landscape. The film has been screened around the world and to date has received six awards at film festivals across the continent.
Sharing the story of beef production’s value to Canada’s native grasslands is something Wilson feels strongly about, and he believes the industry has a huge opportunity to leverage positive land stewardship practices into ecological goods and services to benefit producers financially.
“The Canadian context of beef production is so unique and distinct from other beef industries in other parts of the world, and we really have an incredible story to tell. But we also have this incredible treasure or gift or resource or whatever you want to call it in the fact that the way beef is produced in Canada is so sustainable and so good for the earth,” he explained.
“We’re not just feeding Canadians and people in other markets in the world this amazing-quality beef, we’re also sequestering carbon, we’re also protecting water quality and protecting watersheds. We’re also helping mitigate against floods. We’re also creating habitat that is drought resistant, which is protecting all these other endangered species. We’re protecting migration corridors for wildlife by keeping cattle on the landscape. There’s all these ecological goods and services, and I think that producers deserve to benefit from that financially and economically.”
Wilson’s workdays vary greatly, from being on the road for filming and meeting with clients to storyboarding and editing footage. Wilson and Wray have now produced a few documentaries, but the majority of their business is producing social media content. One of his favourite parts of the work is seeing people’s reactions and comments after releasing a video.
“That’s probably one of the most fun parts of the job.”
Currently, Wilson is pleased with where his business is going. “I love the projects that I get to work with. I have a great business partner, I have a super supportive, understanding wife, and we’re really busy right now,” he said. In addition to continuing to learn about different film and editing techniques and upgrading his equipment, he would like to be involved in making a feature film in the near future.
Learn more about Wilson, Story Brokers Media House and Guardians of the Grasslands in the December 2020 issue of Canadian Cattlemen.