We can all learn something from James Waite’s optimism for life. His position as film coordinator at Western Film fell into his path 19 years ago and he has never looked back.
The Western University alumnus, who graduated with a degree in film studies, has seen Western’s community steadily evolve over the past 30 years. In that time, Western Film has grown from a small student club in the basement of Middlesex College to a fully operational theatre in the University Community Centre, and James has accompanied it the entire way. He feels a strong sense of pride for the movie theatre because it has helped him find his way in life. The theatre provides the perfect livelihood for his passion for movies.
For James, his Western career immediately led him to become a member of Western Film, which at the time was a University Students’ Council club. He became fascinated with movie theatre operations at their weekly meetings which attracted crowds of students eager to watch second-run films.
“Over in Middlesex College we charged a couple bucks to play movies,” he explains. “I really loved it. I’m a big movie guy."
James’ most treasured childhood memories revolve around films dating back to days in middle school when he saw his favourite movie, the original Star Wars. From there, a passion grew that could never be extinguished.
Only a few years out of school, James was once again lured back to work at his alma mater when Western Film became a full-service on-campus theatre. He was drawn not only for his love for films but for the setting that theatre provides. He prefers to watch films in theatres for the big screen and the atmosphere provided by the audience around him.
“My main social activity is going to movies,” he states. “It’s really the only social activity I do."
James not only pursued his hobby in-depth, but also made it a full-time career.
James' life appears to have followed a very deliberate timeline, however, his life today actually arose from very uncommon circumstances. These pathways were not always clear, but he has always retained a positive outlook on life.
He began at Western in engineering but did not maintain the required grades. After transferring to computer science, he discovered that was not for him either. Ultimately, he pursued a degree in film studies where he finally found classes that pleased him.
After leaving Western, he worked as a projectionist. That was when Western Film converted to a fully operational theatre and began searching for paid staff including a film coordinator. At the time, the film coordination position required a license to operate the 35mm film projector. Due to safety regulations, the training for this license was extensive, but James was given a stroke of luck. A fluke encounter with a local projectionist gave him a connection to pursue his apprenticeship.
“It was an 800-hour apprenticeship and then a written and practical test,” he remembers. “He taught me enough to do the test, and then fibbed that I had done 800 hours."
With this qualification under his belt, he became a prime candidate for the film coordinator position.
So began his time at Western as a staff member instead of a student. Today, he lives out his childhood dreams of watching the newest releases and being surrounded by the smell of hot movie theatre popcorn.
As for the future of Western Film, James sees a promising future for the establishment. In the past, there have been worries that the theatre would have to shut down due to the expensive switch from film to digital. It took deliberations, but eventually, the USC invested in the new digital projectors and Western Film survived.
The only other time that James’ optimism fizzles is when students are away. Western Film is a central part of his life and he only wants to share it with others.
“During the quiet part of the year, I tend to take it personally,” he explains. “I feel like I should be doing something better even when I know it’s not me”.
James has a profound love for movie theatres and their ability to excite and connect the audience. His work allows him to pass on his passion for others and it shows in the way he serves every customer with care. To him, Western Film is more than a workplace: it's a home that he has been a part of since his first year at university. He started with a passion and grew it into a career, and that's something we all can admire.