Canadian TV icon stops by Cultural Symposium
Canadian director and musician David Storey entertains the packed audience at Friday night’s Halton Hills Cultural Symposium at the Helson Gallery.
Persistence and adaptability are key if you want to make a living in the Canadian arts industry.
This message was driven home by director and musician David Storey during his talk at the Halton Hills Cultural Symposium Friday evening.
The annual event, which featured a ‘Made in Canada’ theme and included spoken word and musical performances by local youth, drew a full crowd of arts enthusiasts to the Helson Gallery.
Storey, who’s best known for directing Tom Cochrane’s Life is a Highway music video and the hit TV show Corner Gas, imparted his words of wisdom that he’s gathered over several decades in the Canadian arts scene.
The Woodbridge native got his start in the field as a teen hosting a CBC show called Drop In, where he acted, sang, played guitar and interviewed guests. By the time he reached his early twenties he realized that he wanted a change.
“I much preferred the stuff behind the camera,” he said.
After attending Ryerson University for radio and TV arts, he became a production assistant, working his way up to a spot as assistant director— a process that took 12 years.
“If you’re going to get into this industry, you have to start young and do an apprenticeship and work your way to the top.” he said, noting those who experience “quick luck” in the arts field, such as Justin Bieber, are few and far between. “The rest of us have to work our asses off to get there and it’s going to take time.”
With the introduction of Much Music in Canada, Storey then began directing low-budget music videos, followed by a couple of videos for Canadian sensation Stompin’ Tom Connors and then his big break— Life is a Highway for Tom Cochrane, which garnered international attention, a Juno nomination and several Canadian Music Video Awards.
He went on to direct music specials for artists like Corey Hart and Anne Murray, along with TV commercials for clients that ranged from McDonald’s to the Ontario Lottery Corporation.
Storey’s decision to switch gears after this and return to the television show scene ended up leading to the biggest success of his career. He was directing a CBC show called Comics when he met Canadian comedian Brent Butt.
“We later hooked up in Vancouver and Corner Gas was born,” he told the crowd.
But the show would’ve never come to be if Storey hadn’t made a good impression on a young man named Brent Haynes, who offered him a coffee in the CBC control room way back when.
“He started asking me questions and apparently I was very nice to him. Fast-forward 10 years and he is now the head of the Comedy Network,” said Storey. “I’m working on one of his shows and he flew out (to Vancouver) to see me and said, ‘You don’t remember me, but you were really nice to me on set. Why don’t you fly out to me in Toronto and pitch five ideas for a comedy show?’”
Haynes was intrigued by Storey’s Corner Gas pitch and ultimately brought it to life.
“My lesson there is, always be nice to the people you’re meeting on the way up,” he said. “That may not have happened if I hadn’t talked to him in the control room that day and been nice to him.”
With hopes that the show would be well-received and garner at least 500,000 views, Corner Gas hit the air.
“And we got 1.5 million views,” said Storey. “We jumped in with both feet, did what we wanted to do, and it was successful.”
The award-winning comedy series about life in small-town Saskatchewan went on to air around the world for six seasons.
The veteran director said one of the biggest things he’s learned in 40+ years in the arts business is the importance of finding your artistic voice.
“It’s a difficult thing to do,” he said. “But when you find it you’re going to know it, and that’s when people start to pay attention. That’s the magic moment.”
And despite popular belief, he said it’s also possible to make a decent living in the Canadian arts industry.
“I was persistent. I think persistence is huge,” he said. “You have to be persistent and you can’t give up. You also really have to be adaptable in Canada because you never know what’s going to happen and you need to work. I did fashion commercials; somebody had to do it, so I did it.”
Throughout his career as a director Storey has also pursued his love of music, writing songs and playing the guitar.
“I’m just having fun with it,” he said. “I encourage anybody interested in playing the guitar to get out and do it. There’s lots of open mics around the area here in Georgetown, so take the plunge, go out and do it.”
The evening also included a Halton Hills Cultural Year in Review video, presentation of the United Way of Halton Hills’ Eudaimonia youth music video contest award to Shaela McCracken and Jon O’Neill, and the annual general meeting of the Halton Hills Cultural Roundtable, which hosted the symposium.