WORCESTER — Worcester-based Votary Films has mostly turned the lens on the city and Central Massachusetts for filmmaking opportunities since 2007.
The small group of filmmakers got, perhaps, its most high-profile gig this summer.
Known for his controversial views on politics, science and gender identity, Jordan Peterson – a psychology professor, author and media personality – worked with the group to develop a “brand story” for his new writing app, Essay.
Peterson, a native of Canada, rose to prominence in 2016 when he came out against a bill that added gender identity and gender orientation to the Canadian Human Rights Act.
The bill, which was passed in 2017, made it illegal to deny a person a job or to discriminate against them in the workplace due to their gender identity or expression.
Since then, he has amassed a major following. He has published several books, including bestselling “12 Rules for Life,” and has over 6 million YouTube subscribers, 3.6 million Twitter followers, 5.6 million followers on Instagram and nearly one million on TikTok.
His views on different social, cultural and political topics — which shares on his YouTube channel, in media appearances and on his own podcast — have made headlines.
In 2018, Peterson’s interview on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom drew controversy after he discussed topics such as the gender pay gap and the patriarchy. The journalist who interviewed him was the target of online harassment afterward, prompting Peterson to step in and tell the harassers to stop.
More recently, he was banned from Twitter for misidentifying the transgender actor Elliot Page by his previous name; he was reinstated after Elon Musk took control.
Peterson says he is now facing the possibility of having his psychologist license suspended by the College of Psychologists of Ontario.
On Twitter, Peterson shared a letter in which the group listed “re-education” demands, while saying that Peterson “lacked professionalism in public statements made on social media, and during a January 25, 2022, podcast appearance,” when Peterson shared his views on transgender people with Joe Rogan.
The letter said he has six months to work with a coach and “reflect on, and ameliorate my professionalism in public statements,” but he said he has “formally indicated” his refusal to comply.
The video Peterson worked on with Votary this summer focused on none of those topics.
The nearly five-and-a-half minute video covers Peterson’s time as an educator, writing and the writing process, as well as the development of his app, which was done in coordination with his son, Julian, who also appears in the video.
On Wednesday, when Ben White, executive producer of the Talk of the Commonwealth on the Radio Worcester Network, tweeted about Peterson’s work in Worcester, it was met with largely negative reactions.
One user, with the handle @AncientFaerie, wrote “Thanks, I hate it.”
Peterson did not respond to multiple email requests for comment.
Votary, which is located at 25 Union St. in Worcester, declined to comment for this story.
On its website, Votary says it chooses to work with partners who “align” with their three values: Truth, freedom and human flourishing.
“As filmmaker artists, we are not simply providing a service void of moral impact, we are crafting the best way to convey a message,” the website says. “For this reason we must align with the partners and clients we serve. We believe that we have an obligation to shine a light on objective truth in the stories we tell, even when it is uncomfortable or inconvenient.”
Past clients have included Worcester Polytechnic Institute, which says it has not worked with Votary since 2018 and is "not a client,” and UMass Memorial Health, which declined to comment.
Votary's productions have often focused on the Worcester community, such as a mini-documentary called “Vessel Skatepark” about a group of skaters trying to create an indoor space for the community due to a lack of public space and as a haven from cold New England weather.
For UMass Memorial Health, the company produced a testimonial from a patient who discussed her experience receiving treatments at the hospital.
But its project with Peterson, which is featured on the company website and social media, is perhaps its most high profile.
Director of marketing Mike Palumbo published a blog post on the company’s website, describing the experience of working with Peterson.
Palumbo, a listener of Peterson, said, "Our first interview with him was more like a free lecture or master class.”
The interview, Palumbo said, was impactful to him, making him think about things like his writing, relationships and “life direction.”
He wrote about Peterson playing table tennis in the Votary Film offices and handing out steaks that his associate had made in an air fryer at the end of the shoot. (In 2018, Peterson’s all-meat diet became the focus of the media after he was asked about it on The Joe Rogan Podcast.)
Since it was published to his YouTube channel, the video has racked up over 230,000 views and resulted in about 1,500 Essay subscriptions, which is valued at over $150,000, the company said on its site.
The collaboration has resulted in a “successful partnership and friendship.”
Although he is a fan of Peterson, Palumbo said in his blog post that the two may not always see eye to eye.
“I don’t think he’s always right, and I don’t think he always says things in a way that invites people to hear it,” he said. “But I think he’s always trying to find what’s right, trying to find the truth, and inviting others to do the same.”
This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Worcester-based filmmaker takes on controversial media personality