What I Learned Directing My Latest Documentary (Part I: Getting the Job)

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What I Learned Directing My Latest Documentary (Part I: Getting the Job)

The rough cut of Hoaxed, my documentary on Fake News, is finished.

It's been a wild ride. Here's what I learned:

Take Risks to Earn the Job

My producer, author and filmmaker Mike Cernovich, put on a contest to determine who would direct the film.

The rules were simple: make a spec trailer for the film that showed off your skills and got people excited about the project.

Now, Mike and I knew each other. I edited his short documentary Un/Convention: Exposing Fake News at the RNC and DNC.

I could have been a typical millennial, banked on our pre-existing relationship and done a half-assed job in the contest.

Instead I relished the challenge, gunned for the gig, and took a financial risk by spending over a thousand dollars on my own entry to make it the best it could be:

The media can run on for a long time, but sooner or later God’ll cut ‘em down.

You don't deserve the opportunity; you must become worthy of the opportunity.

And guess what? I did and it worked out. I was in the airport when I got the call from Mike: "I'd like you to direct Hoaxed."

"Great!" I replied. "I'm really excited to --"

"-- with another filmmaker. This guy Jon du Toit. You cool with that?"

I hesitated.



Two directors? Nobody in Hollywood makes movies with two directors unless they're brothers (let alone two people who don't know each other!)

But this wasn't Hollywood and while we didn't know each other personally, we knew of each other. We had both submitted to the Infowars.com Paul Revere Contest in 2013 where I placed third and Jon placed second.

This was my entry Political Earth:

Ah 2013. Simpler times.

This was his entry American Drone:

He should have won.

Jon's film was by far the best and I had the faulty memory that he had won the entire contest. So when I saw his entry to the Hoaxed spec trailer contest, I thought: Not this guy again.

But I trusted Mike -- he is the greatest strategic thinker I know. And I respected Jon -- who is one of the best indie filmmakers I had seen. So I agreed.

"Yes. Let's do it."

Taking that risk turned out to be the best decision any of us made in the entire process. 

The key to collaboration isn't creativity; it's mutual respect and complementary skills.

The basis of our working relationship is that we respect each other's talent and we have the good sense to stay in our lanes.

We have had our tiffs, sure. We're arrogant directors after all.  But that's when our excellent cinematographer Justin Gum would step in and play peacemaker.

Raw Audio: “A Typical On-Set Tiff”

Even though Jon and I aren't brothers by blood, we are brothers in Christ and have become true 'bros'.

Pictured: Brothas from anotha motha. And Justin.

Pictured: Brothas from anotha motha. And Justin.

Our friendship and collaboration would never have come about without taking a risk.

God rewards those who have faith, and what is faith without risk?

In Part II, we'll look at what I learned during the production and how I almost got my ass beat in Harlem. Until then, you can check out the music video we made for the film with Red Yellow Sparks

What else do you want to know about directing documentaries? Or the making of Hoaxed? Comment below and subscribe to my mailing list for further updates on the film. You can also find me on Twitter

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3 Big Mistakes Scooter Made On His First Feature Film

Hey, I'm Scooter. I make movies and videos.

This is my face.

This is my face.

I'm the co-director of the upcoming documentary Hoaxed: The Media's War On Truth with Jon Du Toit and produced by Mike Cernovich. You can watch the trailer below:

I'm very excited for the film and blessed to have this opportunity to work with such creative people like Jon and Mike. As we've been gearing up for production, I've been reflecting on some of my biggest mistakes I made on my first feature film "It's In The Blood", starring horror icon Lance Henriksen.

Dont get me wrong, I'm proud of the film. It was the adventure of a lifetime. Those that liked it really liked it. Dread Central called it "one of the finest and most unique independent horror films in recent memory."

But...there's a reason it currently ranks as only a 3.2/5 on Amazon.

My mistakes are your birds.

My mistakes are your birds.

If you're about to embark on the grand adventure that is your first feature film, here's some things I did that you should avoid.

3. Scooter didn't fail fast enough.

From start to finish, it took me about four years to ship It's In The Blood.

Unless you're Stanley Kubrick or making Lord of the Rings, that's way too long to spend making a movie.

Kubrick took more than 60 takes of the scene in the Shining where the camera simply slowly zooms in on  Scatman Crothers  in his bedroom.

Kubrick took more than 60 takes of the scene in the Shining where the camera simply slowly zooms in on Scatman Crothers in his bedroom.

Being a perfectionist will kill your career. You have a 0.74% of getting into the Sundance Film Festival. Your chances of scoring a distribution deal are even lower.

Let me blackpill you further. Despite It's In The Blood

  • winning several grand prizes 
  • being an official selection in dozens of mid-tier festivals
  • and scoring distribution

after all was said and done, it was a challenge for me to even get an internship in Hollywood.

It wasn't until I was at my lowest point -- broke and reeling from a failed relationship -- that I prayed to God that He would open doors in my life.

Lo and behold, I soon got a call from Open Doors ministries and got the opportunity to make my next project, a documentary on a bible smuggler in the Middle East.

All in all, my struggles also inspired me to start my own production company. And I found a wife too!

At the same time, I was inspired by a podcast from Mike Cernovich to change my mindset. So on a whim I drove to San Francisco to meet him and support his film Silenced: Our War On Free Speech. That relationship has now led to my next feature film project and several new clients.

Maybe it'll be easier for you. I hope so.

But odds are, no one is going to notice your first film. That's ok! This is your opportunity to improve as a filmmaker and develop the foundation you'll need to make your later films pop. The struggle will make you a better director and person.

To succeed, you need to fail faster.

2. Scooter didn't keep it lean enough.

The production budget for my feature film was $400,000.

With that amount of money, I could have made four feature films or dozens of short films.

A great filmmaker and friend Stu Pollard told me to do just that. But out of an overabundance of self confidence (e.g. pride) I ignored his sage advice and put all of my eggs in one basket.

You're probably not going to have that much cash on hand for your first project. Don't be upset. Be grateful! Limitations are fuel for creativity.

Anyway, production value is overrated. Unlike when I started out, today you can make a movie with your iPhone. And if it's your first project, you should!

I highly recommend you follow No-Budget Film Guru Mark Stolaroff. He's made several amazing short films for next-to-nothing.

1. Scooter didn't connect with his audience.

If you're like me, you generally are more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it. You get turned off by social media, self promotion, and "the business" side of the arts.

My advice? Grow up!

This is the greatest time alive to be an independent filmmaker. Why? Because you can directly connect with your audience. There is no middle man anymore. With the crowdfunding sources available, you can get financed directly by your fans.

And no, your work will not "stand up on its own". If you don't believe me, take it from a marketing genius who built one of the most influential brands from nothing:

People buy from people, and they fund from people. Your work will never stand on its own. People want to connect with the artist or creator. This is especially true in the current year.
— Mike Cernovich

The truth is the documentary I could have made about the making It's In The Blood would have been more successful than the actual film.

More than that, it would have led to higher engagement and a better chance at getting my next project off the ground.

My favorite part of the entire filmmaking process was talking with fans after a screening of the film. Seeing how my work affected them made me realize why I got into the moviemaking business in the first place. One man had lost his wife to suicide the previous year and thanked me for making the movie.

I will do whatever it takes to make sure I can connect my work to the people that need it most.

My mistakes are now happy accidents that I will use for your benefit on Hoaxed: The Media's War On Truth.

Leave a comment below and let's meet! You can also find me on Twitter.  Join my email list and get daily filmmaking tips, updates on Hoaxed, and more.