Former sailor plotting new career as independent filmmaker

LS (Ret’d) Mike Stevens

LS (Ret’d) Mike Stevens

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

A 13-year veteran of the Royal Canadian Navy has made an unconventional transition to the civilian work force, trading in the screens of a Naval Electronics Sensor Operator for a film director’s chair.

With his first film selected for screening in the upcoming New West Film Festival in Vancouver, it seems Leading Seaman (Ret’d) Mike Stevens’ new career is a bright one.

When it became clear in 2016 that his career in the navy was coming to an end for medical reasons, he had the option of returning to work in security or pursuing his decade-long desire to become a filmmaker. His wife Shannon encouraged him to follow his passion.

So Stevens began attending the film program at Victoria’s Pacific Design Academy in September 2016 under the Department of National Defence Vocational Rehabilitation Program.

Less than a year later, as part of his course requirements, he had produced the film Dee, an eight-minute suspense/thriller. To have it included in a festival is an affirming experience, he says.

“For me to be part of the film festival is a huge shot in the arm just when I needed it the most,” says Stevens. “What it means to me is vindication and validation for the film, but also for the decision that I made to set out onto the new and unfamiliar path of filmmaking.”

Stevens’ military career included working aboard warships as an Electronic Warfare and Above-Water Warfare specialist for six years before spending the last six at Regional Joint Operations Centre as a Watch Supervisor. He says the 12-hour shifts sitting in dark rooms in front of computer screens coupled with health problems eventually spelled an end to his days in the navy.

Choosing the uncertainty of a completely new career over the guarantee of a regular paycheque in familiar work was a risk, but it’s one he’s glad he took.

“When I left the navy, I really didn’t know if I was going to make it as a filmmaker,” says Stevens. “The movie had a shoestring budget, so being selected for the film festival has helped me conquer my fears of the unknown and just validated everything for me.”

After getting an A on the project, Stevens searched online for film festival opportunities. He spent hundreds of dollars applying to have his film screened at nine different independent film festivals across North America.

In mid-September, he learned that his film had been chosen for the New West Film Festival.

“When I received the e-mail informing me Dee had been selected, it took me about five seconds to realize what was happening,” he said. “I just started shouting excitement before my wife came running into the room and then we both started jumping up and down and celebrating.”

Inspiration for the film came largely from Stevens’ life-long interest in paranormal activity investigation and his love for classic science fiction.

He has always been a story teller and loves writing, he says. About 10 years ago he published his first short story on Amazon to favourable reviews. In 2014, he began to self-publish a series of books titled, Case Files of the New York Paranormal Investigation, which now has four volumes.

Stevens says Dee incorporates much of his writing and investigation work. It’s the story of vengeance against a serial killer, played by local actor Alex Judd. The lead character believes he is too smart to be caught, but that changes when Dee, a mysterious young apparition from the spirit world, played by 11-year-old actress Vanessa Przada, knocks on his door in the middle of the night.

Dee is literally the daughter of death, the angel of vengeance, and comes around to pay the murderer a sobering visit,” says Stevens.

The film was shot in two locations: a residential home in Victoria and the bathroom of the design academy during two separate six-hour filming sessions in May.

The film cost approximately $1,400 to make. Stevens kept the expenses low by borrowing equipment and asking fellow students to serve as the film crew. A local sound expert agreed to work on the film free of charge.

Stevens attributes his experiences in the military with helping him succeed while learning the ins and outs of directing.

“The military teaches you a lot of discipline and skills like organization, which all come into play when making a film,” he says. “In the military you need to be elastic and react to situations and problems effectively and efficiently and this also applies to when situations go wrong on a movie set. It [the set] operates much like a warship in that you need to learn to work together to get the job done no matter what obstacles are in your way.”

Stevens hopes the early positive results in his journey will serve as inspiration to others moving on from military life.

“It is a well-documented fact that military people always have a hard time with adjusting to life in the civilian world,” he says. “I would suggest the key to beating this is to find something you love doing. You have a chance to change your life; you have served queen and country, but now it’s time to serve yourself.”

The New West Film Festival will be showcasing Dee alongside a collection of other short films on Oct. 20 at Landmark Cinemas 10 in New Westminster from 9:30 to 11 p.m.

Stevens says after this year’s film festivals wrap up he is planning to make Dee available on YouTube and other online sources.

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