Full-time YouTuber from Protection Island, Forrest Stevens, decided to make a documentary about alternative dwellings and is hoping to sell it to Netflix. (Lindsey Horsting/News Gazette staff)

Local filmmaker examines alternative living situations

Forrest Stevens found out about the van life community three years ago

Forrest Stevens was 11 years old when Internet videos and YouTube started to become popular.

An artist at heart, he was intrigued and loved to shoot footage and edit it. He would borrow his mom’s point-and-shoot camera and film stunts and pranks with his friends, inspired by the MTV series Jacka**.

He received a cheque from YouTube for $136 when he was 12 and thought he might be able to parlay this into a career one day.

Fast forward to today, he is creating a documentary that will be about 50 minutes long and is working with a third party in hopes of selling it to Netflix.

Stevens got into more complex filmmaking at 17, when he started making hip hop music and creating music videos to accompany it.

High school was coming to an end and he reached a pivotal point in his life when he was falling away from music and trying to decide what he really wanted to do. He ultimately decided that whatever it was, it was going to be easier to do it if he had an audience, he said.

The idea for the documentary was something he happened upon, but had the creative skill set to put his idea in motion.

Three years ago, Stevens and his girlfriend decided to take a road trip to visit her family in Ontario. They thought they would make a trip out of it and bought a van. They camped for three weeks in B.C. and then across the country. In doing so, he found that van living is a community and that people do it in a fantastic way, he said.

When he returned home to Protection Island, he checked the Vanlife hashtag on Instagram and found more than one million posts. He decided to make an Instagram account and start creating videos of van living.

He and his girlfriend bought a bigger van, converted it, and drove down to California. Stevens made travel vlogs he uploaded to YouTube that got around 100 views, but then he did a tour of the inside of his van and received 10,000 views in a short amount of time.

That’s when he figured he had a good thing going and wanted to make more van tour videos, but needed more vans.

He sourced out people who live in alternate dwellings, including but not limited to vans, motor homes, sailboats, tree houses, and energy producing homes, by placing an ad on UsedVictoria.com.

He used to get roughly 80 per cent of his subjects for his YouTube videos from his UsedVictoria ads, but that has decreased to about 20 per cent from the site, as UsedVictoria has moved his ad to the community section.

But with his growing social media following, he has been able to find alternative living enthusiasts on Instagram. His subjects hail from all over the world, but he finds them all on the West Shore, the rest of Vancouver Island and Vancouver.

He traveled to Vancouver to interview two very prominent people in the van life community – Dylan Magaster, from Kansas, who travels in his van and Jax Austin from California, traveling in a school bus.

His weekly videos of van tours took off. To date, he has created YouTube videos of 45 people.

Last summer he noticed that the van dwelling lifestyle is “romanticized” on social media, but there are also people living this way out of necessity and felt the need to tell both sides of the story – The Reality of #Vanlife was born.

Stevens is a full-time YouTuber, so he makes his personal videos during the day and works on the film in his down time.

His friend, Gabriel Swift, a freelance videographer, has been filming the documentary with him.

The documentary introduces Stevens and his love of road trips and traveling in vans as a child.

He addresses the over-romanticized van living on social media, and asks if van life could replace the American dream of a white picket fence in the suburbs.

The film includes interviews with subjects that live in a van both by choice and out of necessity, and follows up with a ‘where are they now?’

He injects some comedy in the documentary by using other people’s vans in an attempt to become ‘van famous.’

Stevens sold his van one year ago and lives in Greater Victoria, he hopes the documentary will allow people to experience all sides of living in alternative dwellings.


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lindsey.horsting@goldstreamgazette.com

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