(This is another part in an ongoing occasional Where Are They Now? series on Chemainus Secondary School graduates).
Accentuating the senses – specifically, sight and sound – has always given Simon de Laat a sense of pride.
The 2004 Chemainus Secondary School graduate has become an audio-visual master throughout his various impressive career opportunities working on video games, live concert and sporting event venues and TV broadcasts, helping to provide the magic touches that create a wonderful experience for the audience.
It’s hard to summarize all the significant things de Laat has done and he’s still only 35. But a sidekick of his for the last decade, Doug Dulmage, has seen his development first hand in a hockey setting and is most impressed with his work and expertise.
“We were hired to build the entire video system at the Save-On Arena for the Victoria Royals, and Simon has been their game day producer since day one and some 350+ games later,” he explained. “Plus, he’s also worked as video engineer on most of the Rock the Shores concerts, concerts on the mainland, and he’s now working as a media/audio engineer at the legislature. And in between all that he’s also traveled all over the world.
“Simon is a really great guy, I was newly semi-retired when I met him and we went to work building the broadcast control room at the arena and he’s done a brilliant job herding our 20+ video crew on Royals game days, plus any other events – World Juniors, WHL Playoffs, concerts, etc. Plus, he’s also a self-published musician, and I understand from his school days, he and some fellow grads made comedy videos that won them a trip to LA to be on America’s Funniest Videos.”
The feeling for Dulmage is mutual. “I’ve worked with him the entire time with the Victoria Royals,” de Laat said. “I’ve learned a lot from him. The first three years, it was like on-the-job training.”
Born in Vancouver, de Laat and his family – single mom and two sisters – moved around a lot during his early years before settling in Chemainus. He attended Chemainus Secondary in Grades 8 through 12.
“One thing I really admired about our high school and grad class, everyone got along,” de Laat recalled. “It wasn’t cliquey.”
Teachers who left an impression on him included Irene King. “I was in acting and drama as well,” de Laat explained. “She was a great mentor.”
Janet Ruest fell into that category for him as well. “She was also a very positive influence for me,” he said. “She was always very supportive of me, pushing me to do my best. I didn’t realize it at the time, I don’t think I ever thanked her for it.”
An introduction to a multi-media course in de Laat’s senior years caught his attention.
“That really spoke to me,” he indicated. “I took that course and it’s fairly close to what I ended up doing work-wise.”
An anti-smoking video entered by de Laat and a classmate in an Island-wide high school contest made the top 10, culminating in a screening of all the finalists in Courtenay.
The high school years for de Laat were also marked by music. In fact, he was part of three garage style bands called Road Kill, Frostbite and Shifty.
Shifty was the most prominent with de Laat as the drummer and on back-up vocals (he played guitar in Frostbite) alongside Scott Nicol on guitar and vocals, Trevor Kornet and Tanner Goulet from Ladysmith.
“We had some gigs here and there we played like Crofton Days, Duncan Days,” noted de Laat.
They also became part of an emerging music scene at the former Chemainus Fire Hall. “We were basically pushing capacity for the venue the last couple of shows,” he remembered.
To this day, de Laat is still writing and playing music. He goes by Pon the Rebel and has music on Bandcamp and Spotify, with some new tunes due for release by early summer.
De Laat was also a keen hockey player during his youth. Darcy Stanton was very prominent in his life as a close friend, teammate and a member of Frostbite. Stanton’s dad Phil eased the burden for de Laat’s mom by helping to get him to hockey games and practices.
After high school graduation, de Laat enrolled in the Vancouver Film School. He enjoyed music scoring for film while he was there and started getting into the technical side.
During his time at film school, de Laat got a job at Next Level Games, located on Homer Street in Vancouver, on a six-month contract. The company’s main claim to fame then was working on Nintendo’s Super Mario Strikers.
“I was creating sound effects for the game,” de Laat pointed out. “I was one of only two sound designers for the game.”
As someone who wasn’t a big video game fan, it really intrigued him how to make sounds for things like shells popping out of the ground. It went way beyond basic sound effects.
As much as he enjoyed the job, “I was kind of realizing it wasn’t the long-term career for me,” de Laat said.
He was offered a position as an audio-visual technician on a 34-day, 38-stop tour across the country with the David Suzuki Foundation and jumped at the chance.
“At each stop, I would set up a video booth and we would set up all the interviews with people,” de Laat explained. “I’d been a big fan of David Suzuki when I was growing up.”
The trip, he added, “only re-instilled he was an idol of mine.”
One of his favourite memories occurred while traveling between Thunder Bay, Ont. and Winnipeg and watching the Super Bowl on satellite TV.
“David Suzuki and I both had these oversized cans of beer watching the Super Bowl,” he laughed.
The tour included the memorable experience of working at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto during a Barenaked Ladies concert with 15,000 people in attendance.
De Laat then went to work for S.W. Audio Visual full-time at the company’s Kelowna branch. He was the lead audio and video technician working concerts and sports events.
David Wohland and Jared Smith of Chemainus were roommates of his in Kelowna. They collaborated on a waxing video – yes, a waxing video of hairy Smith in four different ways – that brought them their 15 minutes of fame.
The hilarious video was sent to America’s Funniest Home Videos and caught the attention of the show’s producers, earning de Laat and friends an all-expenses paid trip to Los Angeles. They appeared at the season premiere, chatted with host Tom Bergeron on stage and “they played our whole video,” de Laat noted.
After three years in Kelowna, de Laat moved over to S.W.’s Victoria office and had eight solid years with the company overall. He starting doing freelance work as well in Victoria after relocating that has included the affiliation with the Royals hockey team.
“I had the role and still do to this day to oversee the audio-visual production at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre,” de Laat explained. “Being someone who was into hockey growing up, it was the perfect gig.”
Working with Dulmage there and for other events just catapulted him further into renown in the industry.
Experience with press conferences and government type work led de Laat to apply for a job at the legislature that was successful. Only a year after completely freelancing, he started part time as a console operator in the audio department and is still doing a lot of contract work.
Since February, he’s been working full time on the TV broadcast side of the legislature as a broadcast operations technician. He technically works for the Legislative Assembly, not the government.
“I’m incredibly lucky, the event industry has been one of the hardest hit industries by COVID,” summed up de Laat.
“I like to think I have a pretty well-rounded skill set at this point. I’m very happy where I’m at these days.”