Long distances between communities, increased overhead costs associated with bringing equipment and handling the overall logistics of operating a Northern operation are all challenges of running a business in the territory.
One business persevering and even utilizing this environment to its fullest extent is Umingmak Productions, based just outside of Kugluktuk.
“I was interested in photography and cinematography so I wanted to find a way to do it full-time. I did a lot of reading on the topic, mainly to get better at the craft,” said Mathieu Dumond, owner, director of photography and cinematographer for Umingmak Productions. As Dumond got around to establishing his business in late 2012 he applied to a few government programs as a way to obtain startup funding.
“Professional photography, filming and computer equipment is not cheap,” he said, adding he often doesn’t get to look at his equipment before buying it as he often has to order it online.
Umingmak Productions was created as a way for Dumond to jump from being an amateur photographer into the professional side of the industry – he offered his services as a filmmaker based in the North for outside and Nunavut-based companies to hire, from nature and wildlife photography to video editing services. Before turning to photography Dumond spent 17 years as a wildlife biologist, previously working for the Government of Nunavut.
Soon after he started his first project with some outside help.
“With a little work at the beginning, I started a short film project, funded in part by Nunavut Films. These guys have been very supportive and provided me with great advice to further myself in the field.”
One turning point for Dumond was meeting Jeff Turner, one of Canada’s top wildlife filmmakers, while he was on a wildlife filming project in Cambridge Bay.
“He agreed to give me a chance to film a little for the nature series he was working on, Wild Canadian Year, for the Nature of Things on CBC. I managed to get some shots and time-lapses in the show which gave me some credentials and more confidence to contact similar high-end production companies,” said Dumond.
He also spoke about some of the advantages and disadvantages in operating a Northern videography/photography business in Nunavut.
“(There are) some pros and cons. The main cons are, very poor internet and the cost of travel when I need to go to another community or to southern Canada. For the first, the only thing I can do is mail my footage or high resolution photos on hard drives. I usually upload low resolution copies for the client right away. For the second, I try to work essentially around Kugluktuk,” Dumond said, adding his fellow Northerners he works with understand what it’s like to live and work in the North.
“Most of the projects in other communities are for Nunavut organizations and they understand the cost of travel.”
The advantages in being based where he is, is the ease of access he has to the wide range of wildlife and landscapes that can immediately be found in the Kitikmeot region where he lives.
“The main pro is that for wildlife and nature projects, the filming areas are right in my backyard year-round. (The) Kugluktuk area has a large diversity of Arctic species and landscapes, so I can provide photos or footage of many wildlife species by taking off on my snowmobile, quad or boat.”
Dumond explained he also works from home which allows him to be flexible in his work. “The other pro is that I don’t need to do much scouting because I usually know where to find what I need to photograph or film. Working from home also allows me to be more flexible with my time.”
He added it’s often a great advantage for outside production companies to hire locally, as there are lower costs associated with it, as opposed to sending a crew up North to film.
“It is often cheaper and, especially when I work alone, I am self-sufficient to go on the land to film,” he said.
Right now Dumond is content with how things are panning out for him, working from home with the lower costs correlated with having a home office, though he might like an assistant at some point in the future.
“I am hoping to eventually hire an assistant for some of the office work and to help on some filming projects. Having my office at home makes it easy to manage alone. To expand would likely require setting up a work space in town which would make monthly costs jump up.”
In passing on advice to aspiring filmmakers elsewhere Dumond said to not let challenges cast down your dreams in starting a business and to listen to other professionals in the field as well as fellow amateurs.
“My main advice is to target something you enjoy, because it is likely to be tough before it gets fully enjoyable … understand what works and what doesn’t business-wise. Always be nice to clients, go the extra mile without selling yourself cheap.”
You can find Umingmak Productions on various social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Vimeo and LinkedIn). Dumond also has a website for his business at www.umingmakproductions.ca.