Born and raised in Brandon, Kim Bell attended Earl Haig Junior High school, Neelin High school, and thanks to his older brother, ‘developed’ an interest in photography at an early age. He took yearbook photos at Neelin, played with movie cameras as a kid, and ended up dedicating his professional life to the pursuit of images, both still and moving. He’s now frequently in Brandon to work with independent producers who’ve been commissioned to create programming for MTS-TV. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
You always had an interest in photography?
I did. But I waited a little too long to get into a school of choice and I ended up landing a job in a local camera store — Photography Unlimited on 10th Street — pretty much right out of high school. I was taking a camera repair course by correspondence, and I got in the door by being able to fix cameras. And slowly but surely I started to take passport pictures and wedding pictures and portraits and work in their darkroom and the retail part of the store.
So after Photography Unlimited, you became interested in videography?
As it turned out, the camera guys who shot commercials at CKX used to come down to the store to buy some of their supplies and hang out. So that’s how I met Drew Craig and Murray Nye. One thing led to another and there was a part-time news-camera job opening and I started doing a bit of that on the side. And I eventually ended up, about 1978, going to work at CKX.
What did you do at CKX?
I started as a news camera guy, and moved into shooting commercials. I was never a newshound, really. It was just a way to get started in the business. But in commercials, there was more time to do things, more time to concentrate on lighting and all the technical aspects of shooting.
But I wanted to make more money, so I tried TV (ad) sales, at which I failed miserably. I took over the area in the south just at the time that the huge ice storm brought down the tower.
So I was selling TV to people when all of a sudden there was no TV to be seen. So a combination of me hating that part of the business and the tower episode kind of brought my sales career to an end.
So you went back to videography?
Stu Craig, at the time, took over the North Hill Motel and the Royal Oak Inn. He had another store going called Video Connection, and had a bunch of business interests he owned that were still advertising. So with my combined sales and production knowledge, I wrote and produced the commercials for all of his business.
Post-that, you went to Portage when the Craigs opened up the operation there, right?
Yes. When the Craigs decided to build MTN in Portage — 1986 or ’87 — we were shooting pilots and one-off programs that would go to air once it opened. I got hired at MTN as the production manager, so I had a camera that was basically at my disposal. We were collaborating with independent producers to do everything from water-ski events to rodeos to truck-pulls — you name it.
And you just wanted to take that further?
I was living in Portage, and I did a little bit of editing when I was there — MTN was sort of state-of-the-art in its day, so I kind of wrapped my head around the computerized editing system there. Fast-forward, just to connect the dots, my wife, Carmen Lethbridge, worked for a production company, and they brought a commercial or something to MTN to edit, and that’s how I met her.
So then I moved into Winnipeg to be with her, so for the next three years, I was living in Winnipeg and driving to Portage every day. And that really wasn’t working out, so I was looking to do something different.
I worked at Videon for awhile, but I was mostly interested in shooting, so I wanted to see what kind of career I could make as a freelancer. It was around that time I hooked up with Wayne Sheldon at Mid-Canada Production Services. That business was starting to explode, and he needed a camera guy who was on call, and there were a few of us who would go out on a moment’s notice to go shoot something, whether it was news for CBC or for a producer who was in from out of town to do something. That was early 1991.
You’ve been doing this for quite awhile.
Yes. Between 1991 and just last year, I had a real close relationship with Wayne, and as that place grew to the size it is now — Mid-Can’s the biggest production company, I think, between Winnipeg and Calgary — there was an opportunity to become a minority share-holder, so I got involved that way. But I’d always been kind of stubborn about wanting to stay a freelancer and have my own company. My wife was a location manager in the film industry for 20 years and I was a camera guy for hire, so the two of us had a small company providing services to film and television.
So then ...?
About a year ago, there was an opportunity for this job at MTS-TV, and the job description was like a chronological look at my resume. And I thought, ‘I could do this! And I’d be crazy not to apply.’ But even then, I waited until absolutely the last hour of the last day to apply, and then waited to see what would happen.
Would I welcome the opportunity to work with independent producers, in my home town, in Winnipeg, in cities and towns all around the province — places that I’ve been shooting commercials in my whole life, where I know people? Yeah! And my colleague, Cam Bennett, is great — I’ve worked with him on a number of documentaries over the years. He worked at Videon when I was there.
And the guy who’s our boss now, Greg McLaren, was the boss at Videon back in the day. He’s a wonderful guy.
You’ve come almost full circle, then?
Kind of, in a weird way. When I looked at who was involved and who I’d be working with and what I’d be doing, I thought, ‘Man — I’ve got to at least go down this path to see what’s going to happen.’ Because I’ve been grinding it out in the TV trenches and made a fairly decent name for myself over the years, shooting anything and everything you can imagine.
I shot for probably 10 of the 16 years that Sharing Circle was on the air. For four of those years I was supervising producer. I’ve shot large-scale national commercials, all kinds of local, low-budget stuff — I’ve worked for just about every major broadcaster in North America over the years. Everything from A&E Biography to commercials for Hans Wieland Chev Olds in Neepawa. World’s Greatest Spas, a show that took me halfway around the world. Ducks Unlimited — I did tons of work for them.
How has it been, this year with MTS?
Absolutely fantastic! The people I work with are wonderful folks. And the nature of the job, and our format for what we call ‘local expression’ or ‘community programming,’ I really, really like. I used to do a lot of shooting for producers who were producing shows for MTS-TV before I started there. So I understood the model and how it worked and I thought it was a great avenue for independent producers to get projects produced that might not have been otherwise.
What is it about TV that turns you on?
TV just kind of gets in your blood — it’s a bit of a disease. In television, there’s so many more moving parts to the process, so that’s always a challenge. I love the opportunities for collaboration with other people, where everybody can bring their own particular skills to the table. You’re making a big jigsaw puzzle all the time, and that’s what I find so intriguing.
And it’s always changing — the subject matter is fascinating, the technology’s fascinating — every element of it really floats my boat, I guess.
Everybody’s talking about the death of radio and the death of TV. Do you think that’s going to happen?
I don’t think so. More and more, TV as we know it is going to evolve and change. But there’s always going to be an appetite for visual media in whatever form it takes. TVs are becoming more converged with computers and with all the cross-platform stuff that emerging — you’re watching TV on your phone and on your tablet, and your TV is a portal to the Internet now with Smart TV. I don’t think it’s going away — I think it’s actually growing and getting different and better in lots of ways.
The traditional model of what I grew up with as TV maybe doesn’t exist anymore, or exists in a different form. But where we’re going, I think, is even more exciting than where we’ve been.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 19, 2012