Ken Stewart is President and co-founder of the General Assembly Production Centre (GAPC), one of Canada’s most comprehensive audio, video and multimedia production centres. Formed in 1983, the company focuses on producing dynamic video, audio and interactive assets for corporate video communications, websites and live events. It also produces television and radio commercials as well as public service announcements. In addition, it provides services to other independent production companies and broadcasters.
Prior to the company’s rebranding as GAPC Entertainment (www.gapcentertainment.com) in 1998, it was known simply as GAPC and specialized exclusively in post-production services. The decision to expand was in part borne out of the necessity to adapt to technological changes, in particular the advent of desktop video editing and its consequent “democratization” of post-production. As producers started doing their own post-production work, Stewart followed the trend towards consolidation by venturing into production. In so doing, the company was not only able to survive, but also to gain both creative and financial control of its projects from start to finish. Focussing on quality television programming intended for national and international distribution, the company’s successful transition into production is evidenced by an extensive list of credits in documentary specials, children’s series and short dramatic films.
Stewart now boasts over 25 years of experience in broadcast and non-broadcast production, with a background encompassing almost every facet of the industry: starting as a cameraman, he worked his way up the ladder as video editor, technical producer, technical director, director and executive producer.
His expertise in the technical side of production has influenced his approach as an executive producer. “It’s always helped me to achieve things in a relatively cost-effective manner, to put the dollars on the screen.” For Stewart, what defines a good producer is a combination of business acumen and creative judgement: “A good producer can look at a clip, and intuitively know whether it’s good or bad at the same time factoring constraints of budget, potential location and other technical issues.” Ultimately, it is about understanding how “to create an emotional response from the audience” using the tools of the craft.
Throughout his career, Stewart has been conscious of his audience and its needs. While still in college, he began work in community programming and has moved onto numerous other socially-conscious projects. With regard to Canada’s recent decline in independent documentary production, Stewart is adamant that audience disinterest is not the problem. Instead, he points to the broadcaster’s bottom line: “The larger documentaries are costly produce and because they’re one-offs, they're very hard for the broadcasters to promote.” When compared to a series, a documentary that is only aired once cannot generate the same long-term returns on promotional costs. Stewart’s suggested solution is to use a series format in the model of CBC’s “Life and Times,” a show that developed a running theme for a sequence of independently produced documentaries. He also believes that Programs of National Interest (PNI) benefits should have set allotments for each of the categories now covered – drama, documentaries and awards shows.
For Stewart, the documentary genre is one very much worth preserving. The survival of Canadian documentaries is important not just to producers, but also to both domestic and international audiences:“I think documentaries about Canada are of interest not just to Canadians, but to people around the world, just as documentaries I have seen stemming from the US—or the UK or France or wherever—are of interest to us in terms of expanding our global knowledge and everybody’s individual quest for the truth... Just as valid are Canadian documentaries on world or global issues that affect us all. I think we have a unique perspective, and I think it’s a perspective that deserves to be heard both in Canada and around the world.”
As to advice for today’s students of film, television and new media, Stewart states, “Follow your passion and don’t quit.” He adds, “Get in any way can to get your foot in the door. Get into a production company as an intern... There are lots of people willing to share their time.”
Stewart himself has worked as a teacher, advisor and consultant, and has written numerous articles on production. His clients include Algonquin College, DND, HRDC, the Senate of Canada and various other groups and organizations. Further, Ken was the project leader for a CANARIE applied research program. The program created an application to link college media students over a broadband network, in this way facilitating virtual collaborative production using a variety of media.
Always the entrepreneur, he has also been involved in a number of start-up businesses such as Blue Turtle Sound, an audio post-production facility; digg design, a new media content development firm; Cheeky Monkey Entertainment, a traditional animation production company; Global Greatway Communications Corp., a concept to link studios around the world through an ATM broadband network; and Cyclop Vision Inc., a database software solutions company for managing audio-visual elements.
It is in part this versatility that has allowed Stewart to flourish outside Canada’s entertainment hubs, and regional diversity is one of his key values. “It’s my belief, and this stems from sitting here in Ottawa, that it’s important that there is a diversity of production throughout the country...that we don’t just see pure pockets of concentration in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, that we are diverse through Regina, Calgary, Ottawa, and Halifax.” And it is to the Canadian Media Production Association (CMPA) that Stewart looks to maintain and foster just such regional diversity.
Elaborating on the benefits of having an organization like the CMPA, Stewart says:
“I think the independent production community would not exist in any way close to where it is now, without an association like the CMPA. It is so critical to have a focal point. There are huge important issues like Terms of Trade. The CMPA is always lobbying on behalf of independent producers to promote independent production and to push broadcasters to make concessions. And to push the federal authorities to ensure that those concessions are made. Without it, there just wouldn’t be any industry.”
Sustaining Canada’s independent production industry is valuable not only to the producers themselves, but the public at large. “All the things people say about Canadian culture and identity are all true, and we would really lose any kind of identity if broadcasters were only purchasing US productions.” He adds: “If you’ve already got one show on an American channel, and the same show at the same time is on a Canadian channel, there’s not much choice to the viewers, to the audience.”