Member Spotlight: Blais Michell

iatse891 | Jun 20, 2023 |

Blais Michell, a member of 891’s Construction and Paint departments, shares his journey into motion picture production and how union members can recognize National Indigenous Peoples Day.

Blais Michell has been putting his carpentry skills to work building sets for major productions filming in BC since 2017. As a member of 891’s Construction and Paint departments, he’s worked on Bates Motel, X Files, and The Spiderwick Chronicles, to name a few.

Growing up on the Musqueam Indian reserve, he didn’t envision he’d end up with a career in motion picture production. His family struggled to cope with the intergenerational trauma caused by Canada’s residential school system. Blais dropped out of high school in Grade 11, and eventually found work in the world of construction. Working in film wasn’t on his radar growing up, but looking back, he recalls how important storytelling always was.

“I've always had a love for stories,” says Blais.

“My family, they're residential school survivors, so growing up, I witnessed a lot of not so nice stuff. A lot of the generation before me, the way they dealt with their pain, and anger, and suffering, and misery was with alcohol. My upbringing wasn't very pleasant. Stories for me were a way to be somewhere else for a short time.”

Today, it’s the thrill of helping to bring stories to life by building sets that keeps him excited about his work.

“I've always had this fascination with how a storyteller puts their ideas out there, and how I can then help take it to another level,” he says, adding that it’s rewarding to rally together with a team and, step by step, turn ideas into reality.


For National Indigenous Peoples Day (celebrated annually on June 21st), Blais wants Union members to acknowledge and have a deeper understanding of Canada’s history and treatment of Indigenous Peoples.

“This great country of ours isn't all tickles and giggles,” he says. “There are some horrors out there for sure.”

Blais says he’s not one to stand on a soapbox to try and get people to listen to him, but he’s always been open to having conversations, and he appreciates that there is growing awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and the traumatic legacy of Canada’s residential school system. 

Acknowledgement and empathy, he says, are an important part of reconciliation. 

After the discovery of 215 unmarked graves of children at a residential school in Kamloops, Blais had coworkers starting conversations with him about it and expressing shock.

“There is a fellow that used to work on the same crew as me and when they first found the 215 unmarked graves of children in Kamloops he was like, ‘Oh wow man. I didn't even know that happened to you guys.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, it did.’ I grew up hearing all kinds of bad stories about it. So I said to him, ‘Whenever you meet an Indigenous person and you perceive them to have a bit of an attitude, now you might have a little understanding as to why.’”

Roughly 6,500 residential school survivors shared testimony of horrific experiences and abuse in hearings held across the country between 2010 and 2014. Their stories are detailed in a final report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.*

Blais suggests members consider wearing orange on National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21 in a show of solidarity and remembrance.

“Wearing an orange shirt has become a really big thing to remember the children and to acknowledge our past. Once people can say ‘Yeah, we empathize. We're here to support you,’ then we'll start to heal.”

Orange shirts became a symbol of solidarity after Phyllis (Jack) Webstad shared her story of her brand-new orange shirt being taken away on her first day at the St. Joseph Mission Residential School when she was six-years-old.

“The truth needs to be understood and needs to be told. A lot of our older generation have been completely wronged and cast aside like we didn't matter. No one should get to say you're any less just because of the colour of your skin or your background.”

“At the end of the day, we're all human beings.”


Building for the motion picture industry started unexpectedly for Blais.

“I'd been banging nails doing real world carpentry since about ’93,” he says. “Then around 2000, I blew out my knee so that made it very hard to do any of that type of work for a while.”

A second knee injury forced him to consider a new profession. He took training in welding and did some work on pipelines in Alberta, but the boomtown cost of living and wear and tear on the body led him to once again consider other options.

When a friend needed some extra painters for a production, Blais mentioned his experience painting buildings on the reserve when he was younger. After getting enough experience on set with the same crew, he eventually joined the Union’s Paint and Construction departments.

Blais appreciates the pay and benefits of being a unionized film worker but, known for his sense of humour, he laughs when describing one of the drawbacks of working in motion picture production.

“Working in film has kind of killed the movie experience for me,” he says with a chuckle.

Crafting believable worlds for the movies means adhering to high standards. He’s now got a sharp eye for noticing inconsistencies in the background and when something doesn’t look authentic on screen – like when a story is set in an old town, but wooden crates look like they were cut yesterday and aren’t cracking and weathered.

His favourite build for a production so far involved a spaceship with a door that swung up like a pendulum when it opened. He often works closely with the Special Effects department, building raised platforms that allow crew to crawl under to set up equipment. On one production, a platform he built had a hole in it and was covered in grass to create a realistic burial plot for a casket to be lowered into.

Above all, he enjoys the sense of teamwork that comes from working with a good crew.

“I played a lot of team sports for a lot of years and it's pretty much the same thing. Everyone has a strong point and some people are weaker in other aspects. You figure out who fits where.”

Relationships are a key component of working well in the fast-paced world of motion picture production. After working closely with the same crew for several productions he’s formed some tight connections.

“Working with a lot of the same people over time, a few of them I will call friends, and really, with all the people you work with, how many do you really get to call a friend, right?

“That's the gift of being with a core crew for so long.”


*The Indian Residential School Survivors Society provides 24/7 support for survivors and their families at 1-800-721-0066.

Read more 891 Member Spotlights here! Help shine a light on other 891 members making BC’s motion picture community a great place to work. Email spotlight suggestions to and visit for more on the benefits of joining the Union.