With a life-long passion for storytelling and filmmaking, Thamesville native Wes McDonald is making a name for himself with his company Torch Media and his news documentaries.
A product of his first company Candlebox Productions, Torch Media is McDonald’s current focus and his dream to make film that matters to people and has an impact on the community.
Growing up on a farm outside of Thamesville, McDonald went to the same elementary school his mom and dad attended and then went to high school in Dresden with a focus on the sciences.
“I focused on science and English, but I always loved wildlife documentaries. I thought that was fascinating when I was a kid; just movies in general,” McDonald said of his influences when he was a teen. “I thought how cool to be in charge of that and tell a story. I like to think I’m a natural storyteller. It just seems to come to me.”
The film maker said when he was younger, he always wanted to be a writer, but with his love of biology he decided to “aim high” and go to medical school. A disconnect between him and math, however, made that path difficult.
After a year at Laurentian University taking biomedical science, he decided to pursue what he loved to do and ended up taking a course, Rhetoric in Media Studies, which had a film component to it.
“You learn about advertising but also critical theory and the philosophy of language. Visual language is what my education is made up of,” McDonald said.
Using visual language to tell stories is where McDonald shines, and his philosophy about his films is that any documentary with a voice over maybe isn’t worth watching, because a documentary well done uses cinematography to tell the story.
“I try to bring a cinematic sensibility to short-form documentary and that’s what makes Torch Media unique,” he noted. “We shoot these short news-style pieces but always with a cinematic bent to it. In the cinematography, the editing and the storytelling.”
After school, the filmmaker said he thought long and hard about what path he wanted to take, and decided being his own boss in his hometown was where he wanted to go.
“I worked as a cook and saved up enough money to buy my first camera on my own and made my first documentary about the clear-cutting issue that was a big issue around here a few years ago,” McDonald explained. “I rented the Kiwanis theatre and paid for the film with my own money and organized a screening that had about 300 people show up. It was my first foray into that world.”
He said the response was good and it gave him the confidence to take the next steps in his career as a film-maker. With a “ride or die” philosophy, McDonald kept working as a cook and working on different small projects.
“I had the idea for Torch Media for a long time because I was inspired by Vice Media in the late 2000s. They were very web-oriented and very popular and I thought, ‘why can’t I do that same thing?’”
He wanted to bring that same idea to the Chatham-Kent/Southwestern Ontario region and capitalize on the popularity of web-based media over print media.
“Video on the web was exploding and I always liked short-form documentary the most. I really enjoy working in that medium so I wrote a business plan, applied for a loan and really started working on it hard,” he noted.
From that, Candlebox Productions was born in February, 2016 as a commercial video production company to do wedding videos, and he branched into commercial/industrial video production. Torch Media, he said, is property of Candlebox Productions and is McDonald’s video journalism brand.
While he still does the commercial videos, the video journalism work is where his focus is more and more, he noted.
“It’s been my dream since I was a little kid. I can remember watching the credits of E.T., and seeing Director, Steven Spielberg, and wondering if I could do that,” McDonald said.
With several short-form documentaries on local issues on his website, 2017 was a year of building his portfolio and branding.
Now, McDonald’s hope is to have several steady sponsors who understand the goals of Torch Media and what he is trying to build, and who support his vision of having a branch of Torch Media in Chatham-Kent, Sarnia, London and Windsor.
He also wants to work with existing media as a publishing partner.
“I’m not interested in taking over the market. I think there is still a lot of value in newspaper, truly, and I want to partner with local publishers and community publications,” the filmmaker said.
McDonald has worked on local projects in Chatham-Kent such as the Positivity Day videos, which he wrote, filmed and edited.
“That was a big deal for me; it got my name out there and it was a challenging project. They gave me a lot of trust and leeway to do what I thought was best and I can’t say how much I appreciate that,” McDonald noted.
Torch Media also has several video journalism pieces on his website, including topics like the homeless issue, the South Buxton church closure issue and the protest by Water Wells First at a turbine construction site.
“With Torch, I have built my house on the idea that art isn’t just a mirror to reflect society: it’s not just passive. It’s a tool to shape it,” McDonald mused. “I’m not so naïve as to think that I’m going to single-handedly shape the ideology of my community, but I do think that it’s important to participate in that conversation. I’m lucky I’ve had the opportunity to learn the skills to do it.”
That’s what he said Torch is meant to do – participate in civic discourse, but not just participate. Shore it up, make it better, make it more effective and more visible and transparent.
“I believe in making authentic choices and this just feels right,” he explained. “When I’m behind the camera and I see things unfolding and think, yes, this working and we’re going to get a story to tell, I’m like, yep, this what I should be doing.”
Check out Torch Media videos and new documentaries at https://www.torch.buzz/ or go to McDonald’s Facebook page at Torch Media (@torch.buzz).