In this episode, I talk with writer/director Nathan VonMiden about his feature film The Challenger Disaster (2019) and how he was able to raise 500k for his next project.
Show Notes & Resources
You know, the fact that we were converting one in 10 clicks per challenger the trailer on Facebook ads, which roughly cost us about 70 cents to make a $6 sale or a $12 $6 rental or a $12 sale? All of a sudden, these investors are going, Yeah, sign me up.
Welcome to another episode of the next level filmmakers show where we interview filmmakers from around the world to explore their pathway to success. What worked, what’s working now, so you can take your Korean business to the next level. I’m your host, Clarke, Scott. And I believe that having the right systems in place is the difference between taking your career and business to the next level, or just being another dude or dudette with a camera. So if you’re tired of hustling for one off projects, being undervalued and underpaid, I’d like to invite you to an exclusive free training I’ve put together for filmmakers, just like you where I share the exact strategies I’ve used to grow my own video production agency. Just go to Clarke, Scott education.com. That’s Clarke with an E. Clarke Scott education.com. forward slash free training. That’s Clarke, Scott education.com. forward slash free training, and start your journey to becoming a next level filmmaker today. Welcome to the show, Nathan. Hey, Clarke. How are you? Yeah, good, good. Good. All right. So let’s kick straight into this. I’ll start with the first question, which is, how did you get your start?
You know, I started in the church, I was I got my degree in aerospace engineering, and I was doing some engineering work. And about 15 years ago, we were just playing around with video, you know, and we started you, when you’re first starting out, you shoot something in it 90% of its 97% of its crap. And then you get that one or two shots or like, that almost looks like a movie. You know, you shoot somebody the backgrounds out of focus or something. Remember, that happened in in like, I had this like natural feeling to just chase that. And so I’ve kind of been chasing it ever since. And so I started off working in big churches that could afford to have like a video editor on staff. And I started producing stuff for them on the weekends, and then obviously doing, you know, freelance on the side. And, you know, 15 years later, we own our agency, we’ve done two films, and you know, just that you get that one shot, I know exactly the shot. I’m thinking of like we did this really terrible video, not going to share it with you. But it was kind of a good, the bad, the ugly moment where they’re like, staring each other down. And like, one of their eyes, like a tight shot of their eyes look like 5% like it should. And I was like, oh, man, there’s something here like, and so I’ve been chasing it ever since.
Okay, and the that one shot it was it was something in you like a feeling that the kind of generated something did you have? Like I? Did you have a love of movies? Or like, what was it that that made you porch from that point? You know, I
grew up loving comic books, and not just loving comic books, like I would try to copy them, like, I’d see a frame of a comic book, and I try to draw it myself. And so I always kind of grew up, like just, you’re copying the Masters, you know, like, especially like x men and Batman, like, those are my comic books in Spider Man. And so you’re copying the framing. And so you’re sort of absorbing that, or at least I was, and then every weekend, I would go to movies with my friends by myself. Even my wife now gives me a hard time. She’s like, you’re gonna go to a movie by yourself. And I’m like, Yeah, like, that’s my quiet place where I can go and you know, like, I almost wish like a lot of movies come out on Netflix today. I’m like, Man, I wish this was in a movie theater. So I could get outta here and go to a movie theater. You know, we used to even have this method with my dad or my grandma. I’d call them up collab and go, Hey, it’s, it’s a, please state your name after the beep beep I go instantly go pick me up for the movie theater. And, and so they would know like, okay, that’s so you don’t waste a quarter on a clip. Okay, gotcha. Cool. So I loved movies. And I one of the things I think that kind of set me apart from my friends is I loved talking about them, like discussing them not just absorbing and going, Oh, that was cool. That was, you know, but really, like trying to understand and, and so that just sort of took off. And then I’d always loved math and science and you know, my engineering degree. And then one day it clicked like, Oh, you could put those together. And, and that’s where, you know, we just started, started experimenting with, you know, mini DV cams and, you know, we’re sitting around with friends and it just kind of took off.
You know, you said before that He didn’t realize it wasn’t just about talking them like Oh, that’s cool but but actually starting to deconstruct them it. talk more about that.
Yeah, I think where it started for me was a. Forrest Gump Forrest Gump was the first movie I ever cried at. And it’s that scene where Forrest Gump is standing over the grave of Ginny talking to her about how he’s doing so well and, and I remember like thinking, why, why is this making me cry, you know, in, in trying to analyze that and trying to figure it out. And I think that’s the same year the Terminator two kingmax number was like a double feature. Like I went and saw Terminator two, Forrest Gump at the sideshow. Double bill. It was fun, it was fun for me to sort of think about it. And then like, you know, I found a couple friends and I started asking them questions like, Did you like feel anything like this, I didn’t admit that I cried at anything. But I was just trying to analyze it. And so even with Terminator two, it was like, you know, and then I started to think about, not in any sort of sophisticated way, but like, structure of the movie, like, well, it came after this scene. And that came after this scene. And I started to see like, the, again, couldn’t articulate at the time, but the setup and payoff, you know, and I was specially with the genie thing, I’d realized it’s like, oh, cuz he had spent so much time trying to, you know, have a live with her. And finally, we get a chance it’s taken away. And that, you know, discovering, oh, they’re setting that up the whole movie, I started looking and looking at movies differently from that point on, and even commercials and all kinds of stuff. Now, it’s like, you can’t watch anything without understanding the structure, the setup and the payoff and all that stuff.
Okay, and your, your engineering background, or your, your love of kind of the mechanistic world, how things work, I’m guessing, is what was driving a part of that,
I think that was a part of initially was getting scratched. And a lot of areas, especially when I started making movies, I was able to take those skills that I’d learned, which is communication, collaboration, problem solving, which is all that filmmaking is, you know, whenever it’s coming to the technical side of actually getting something on its feet and film, when it comes to planning it out, you know, that the writing pre production stage, and then even on the business side, you know, it’s it’s, it’s just those skills played out in every arena of life, even to now we’re we’re trying to teach our kids like, hey, it’s not the the thing that you’re learning, it’s the mechanism you’re using to learn it. So like learning how to research learning how to communicate, collaborate, and problem solve. That’s really what we harp on in our house. You know, that’s, we don’t really care much for grades we care about accomplishment. You know, so, a question we hate. We have six kids, and we homeschool. And so we’ve taught our kids like you do not ask us, is it on the test? Because that’s not the right question.
Yeah, that’s just saying, Yeah, yeah. Forget it. Yeah, I’ve I almost a dislike of people that ask questions that are about the answer. So in a similar, similar kind of way, because a core skill of being able to be good at anything, is to work something out. Like if you can work out how something is working, then that skill in itself, can parlay into various things into being a director being like, basically life really, but very much the case with business. Let me kind of move the the conversation along. But I want to go back to when you were making videos at the church. What happened that when you went from from that kind of arena into the first your your did the features, the feature work come before the commercial work? Or did the commercial work come before the features? commercial work first, for sure. And what was the transition between church and commercial work? How did that look? church work is
commercial work, because I was getting paid to do it, you know, and I can really only work at churches, I can really only work at churches where they could pay a guy like me enough to work there. So like, I’ve really only ever worked at churches where they’ve got 1500 in attendance plus, like really big churches. And so even then, like I’m working for, I would go off and do one offs for other churches or a company or an artist. You know, like we worked with this country artists for years, and another guy who did, you know, all kinds of music. And so that kind of commercial work was just going and going and I’ve got my day job, which is filmmaking and, you know, producing testimonials, fundraising material stuff for the weekend, you know, cool motion. Graphics, a lot of visual effects type stuff. And then one day, a buddy of mine says, Hey, you want to go on this mission trip to Uganda? And I said, No, not really. Like, he started telling me about it and how it’s like, they go, and they dig well, holes, you know, for fresh water. And I said, Well, I’m interested in telling that story. And so we, we researched that story over about six months. And I was like, man, there’s really an interesting story here, not just about the white guys that go over there and dig these holes, and we go there, and we get our itch, scratch that way. But also the people over there who were really sticking their necks out to like, lift their communities up. And so we started communicating like this, you know, like across the world with this technology, with some of the people that were that were doing the work. And then that kind of brought us into our first feature film, which is Uganda man, about this little tiny pastor over there that’s doing this massive work, and trying to save people’s lives and lead them spiritually. So.
Okay, and that was happening. Yeah. Okay, that was happening when you were still working for the church. That’s right. Yeah. Okay. And so what happened next after, after that?
Well, you know, what was interesting is, I went over there and shot the thing, you know, one man band. And what we were trying to do was raise funds for this community. And we went up spending about five $6,000, not very much just for me to get over there and get back a little bit of gear. But the film wound up, well, let me back up a little bit, I watched this movie called the code that code where they sort of push them into and kill all these dolphins. And at the end of it, it said, if you want to give to this cause, go to this website or text this in. And I almost did it. And I thought it moved me enough to want to do this. And so we did the same thing with Uganda man, we said, we play the whole film for people 65 minutes you want to give today, here’s where you go. And that film ended up making over $250,000 to help eradicate the water crisis, in your share Uganda saving 1000s of people’s lives. And we’re just immensely proud of the work that that movie was able and still doing today. We’re even I talked with them a few months ago, a few weeks ago about maybe doing a part two, because the story has had enough time to move on and create a whole nother three act structure out of it. And so, on the business side of it, it did exactly what we wanted to do. And it sort of gave me some real life numbers to sort of roll into some of my next projects.
Okay, so a production What was it? 5k 5k? production? Yeah, 5k production? My 250? Of course, you know, you’ve got to factor in post and the time to produce it and what have you. But all of that was, was donation that went back into the community. Yeah. So it’s not like profit. But you then saw the saw the almost like the underlying business model that was there that could enable you to then make your next one, which was a feature film, right. That’s right. So tell us about what, like what what was it that that happened between Uganda man, at this stage is still working for the church? Is that right? That’s right. Yeah. Okay. So when you saw that there was this potential to then create another feature, which I know is a narrative. Talk more about? I’m actually I’m interested to see what was going on inside your like your thinking behind, almost like a revelation that you Wow, that we could do something more than this. But in narrative filmmaking, movies, movies, you know, documentaries are still movies, but you know what I mean, like narrative movie, movie filmmaking? What was going to how did that Do you remember how that all kind of played itself out?
Yeah, you know, I, whenever I first started out 15 years ago, I said, let me just do the work for 10 years, and get enough skill before I really start thinking about movies. Like I need to get good enough at telling the story. And that’s where like, when I’m working at a church, I’m building this muscle up. And so I make you gone to me, and I’m like, Okay, it’s time because I’ve sort of been holding back on a number of stories that I come across over the years. And I come across a story about Bible smuggling. And so we start trying to raise money for that and just fall on our faces. I mean, we did not have a good business plan kept the vision to investors. We didn’t have worked with investors like it was. It was really, really a tough spot that we put ourselves in and so we learned lot from failing on that project. And we were trying to shoot a little too high with the budget. And so I sort of backed up a little bit. Because I was at a, I’d flown out to LA to meet with some producer about this. They invited us out there they are really cool, nice looking office. And me and I convinced some of my other people to come out there. And they’re like real filmmakers, like they’ve made movies before. And so I’m like, Okay, this is it, Launchpad, you know, and we just, it was, I came back home, and I was totally in the air, the wind had been deflated, like, it was gone. And my wife was like, What’s wrong, I was like, it was a great meeting, and nothing’s gonna happen. And I not only wasted my time, but I’d wasted time of people that I really cared about getting them out there to talk about this project, with people that weren’t going to do anything, it was a big waste. And I said, I don’t know what I have to do, but I’ve got to do something different. And that’s where we had been wanting to do the Challenger disaster. And knowing that it was a small budget film, like much smaller. I just said, I don’t know how, here’s what we’re starting with, we’re starting with zero, I’m making this movie myself, five to play every part, I’ll do it on green screen, I’ll shoot it myself. I’ll play, you know, everything. And like, that’s where we’re starting. So let’s make it better than that. But I said, we’re making this movie come hell or high water. And that’s kind of what launched us into the next phase from there.
So the other movie that you tried to get up that you spent a lot of time working on and you know, getting others to work on it together for free and then spending the money to fly out to LA together to sit in an office with a with some people that were never going to do anything? You know, we’ve heard that story three times. The so why did you drop that and move on to? Because obviously, these are screenplays that you already had, and that you were shopping around trying to get trying to get made? And what was the what’s the question? I’m trying to ask them. What I’m trying to figure out is why did you drop that and just move on to this other thing? Was it that the story was going to be easy to produce or what was going on behind that?
So we moved off of Bible smugglers to challenge your because Bible smugglers was at a budget level we just couldn’t drop below. It’s a $2 million film, there’s boats. It’s just too good of a story. I didn’t want to drop that down. But for challenger, we thought okay, there is what would really happen is I’d watched the movie 12 and greement. It’s my favorite movie of all time. I love that movie. You know, it’s about a group of jurors deliberating in one room filmed by summit suddenly LeMay it’s his first film, by the way. And I think, yeah, I didn’t know that. Actually. That was his first film. Okay, yeah, he only spent $350,000 on it. But I mean, that’s like 50 is money. So it’s probably like 15 million now.
Yeah. So that that movie is also one of my favorite movies, one of the great things that I’m really, I didn’t realize it was his first movie. But if you go back and watch that, again, I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but over over the time, like it starts. And he’s actually using quite a wide angle lens. But over the next 90 minutes or so how long the movie goes for. And actually, he goes in tighter and tighter and tighter. You don’t actually so what’s what is from a film grammar point of view, it’s almost like someone’s, like strangling you. So by the by the go back and watch it again. He the I don’t know, the actual specific numbers, like he started at a 23. And by the end, it was at, you know, 103 but it gets tighter and tighter and tighter as the movie goes along. So very interesting that that he, like he really understood film grammar anyway, but that’s an aside. Sorry, keep going. Well, he
also did this thing to where he started the camera off of high. Yeah. And then by the end of the film, it’s it’s down low looking up. And yeah, especially when it starts to rain. And it’s those that you know, tight on those faces, and like, it’s rooms full of, you know, 12 people in a shot. You know, once I saw that, that’s where it clicked for me that Challenger disaster. The story about engineers trying to stop the launch the night before isn’t a space movie. It’s a legal drama. And so once we swung the movie over that way, we were like, holy cow. That’s the movie we’re making. And then, and then we sort of started this momentum of calling out we made this list of about 200 people that, you know, I, I knew, like $1,000 wouldn’t, you know, break them It wouldn’t put them out of their houses or anything. And so I made this list of 200 people and sort of developed a sales pitch, if you will, a script for myself and even for my wife to call up friends. And we started raising money that way. And we, the lessons we learned from falling flat on our face with Bible smugglers was you have to have a business plan. Like, where are you going to take this movie afterwards? And so I made a best case scenario. Worst case scenario, or worst case scenario was like, yeah, we’re gonna release it ourselves. We’re gonna put it on, you know, like, Vimeo for sale and market the movie ourselves. Like, that’s worst case scenario. Luckily, we got a distributor and all that out of it, but and so we just made that list and started calming down. That’s another conversation. We’ll get there in a minute. Yeah, we will. But, uh, so you know, that first $1,000 was the hardest money I’ve ever raised in my life.
Okay, so let me just get this straight. So you, and you’re still working at the church at this at this point, right?
No, actually, we decided we had saved up enough money in our life that we could live six months. And that’s when we got back from LA and we’re like, screw this. And so we had this like window to go. Do we go for it? And to my wife’s credit, she looked at me and said, Uh, yeah, I think now’s the time. Okay, you need to burn the ship and go for it. And we quit our job and said, This is what we do.
Okay. All right. So before that you were working for the church, you try to get this film up, went out to LA, obviously, you know, they saw that you were unprepared. And that was not really a story there. They weren’t going to make any money from a basically. So they just said bye, bye. They probably didn’t say bye bye. They probably said, you know, strongly wrong even more. But you realize that that was it was never going to happen. You come back to Texas, and you’re deflated. But determined, deflated but determined. And so you realize then that you’re not going to get this movie made? Because you need at least to me and to be able to do it. But you’ve got this other screenplay that you’ve already written? Had you already written the the screenplay for it? Or was it a process that you had to go through over
the next six months? No, we had written it by that time. So we decided to start raising the money. We had had it written for a year or two.
Yep. Okay. All right, then. So then what you did was you went, so if you think about what you’re doing, using, you’re being very strategic and tactical, because you’ve realized, okay, I can make this movie. Just like 12 Angry Men, where it’s more about the drama of the of the process, which means I could potentially do it in one room with some, you know, a bunch of actors. So again, it’s the story is what’s driving it, but you’re looking at it from a business perspective. As as you’re trying to find a way of being able to shoot it, not on the cheap. But in a way, that’s not super costly. Because you know, that you can’t raise 2 million bucks, or, you know, X number of dollars. I’m guessing that’s what’s happening. That’s what happened, then you have you had a revelation, there’s luck. If that’s the case, I can shoot it in one room. And it’s more of a psychological drama, then I could probably get away with a couple 100,000 so you make a list. 200 people 1000 bucks a pop. That’s $200,000. Is that what I’m hearing?
Yeah. It definitely was a business decision to do it that way. Because we thought with with the state of technology today, we’re gonna make it look good. You know, cameras, cameras and equipment never was my problem. Because I’ve got so many friends and church work, they’ve got reds and Ari’s in all kinds of stuff. They don’t know what to do with it like I can. I can make a movie right now for nothing. What cost is people in time and locations? And so that’s kind of where we set off to, like you said, like, it really did start off like, one location eight hour period. That’s it like it was we called it actually Angry Men before our distributor changed the name. To say like, yeah, we’re doing it like, Yeah, okay. And so we wound up raising about the first 1000 was the hardest. Getting to 5000 was really hard. Then once we got to 50,000 that’s when people started calling me to invest in the movie, which was bizarre. But it’s, it’s I think it’s the power of momentum is once people see like, Oh my gosh, this thing is really happening. You know, because we’re updating people on Facebook all the time. You know, and then they’re calling us and we are our budget. I think when it’s all said and done, we raised around 180,000
okay 190,000 from pretty much have friends and family and cold calling with a pitch that you, I’m guessing you started with. I’m guessing you started with some kind of template, and then you just it became better and better over the journey as you as you begin to refine it and realize, you know, when I say this, that doesn’t work when I say that this does work. So let’s put that into the script, and you and your wife are talking about what’s working and what’s not working, is that correct?
Yeah, and you can really tell like, whether you’re on the phone with somebody you’re Skyping or face to face, when you’re telling them the story, you can kind of see where they start to, you start to lose them. And then that even forms the script even more, you know, or, you know, when you start saying stuff out loud. So it’s so funny how all that stuff plays into each other, like, the marketing of it, the raising the money, the storytelling, you know, I so much was learned in that process, you know, once you got over this is incredibly painful and awkward. It was just, it was an education, like I’ve never gotten before,
okay. And you, you were obviously then able to parlay that back into all that, that kind of the notion of feedback, of putting something out there getting feedback from an audience, and then iterating on it in order to make it better in your commercial work as well. Because we if we move into, you know, the troll by Tiger Man, the Challenger disaster got made, and people can see it on iTunes, and Amazon, it’s, it’s available now. So if you want to go and watch that, but since then you’ve moved on to produce more commercial content. So the business has, and I know you’ve still got other future projects in the that you’re working on. However, you’ve also opened up your own agency? And so did how did that the work on challenger inform your strictly commercial work.
So we come off with that movie, and it was a very humbling experience to go like Ted, Ah, here we are, we made a movie, we’re in this club that only a few people get to be in. Because there’s no you don’t have anybody resume, you don’t get to, like you have to fight and kick your scream your way into being in that club. But, you know, still, then the needle didn’t move, I was waiting for people to call me. And so I, you know, we got paid on that project, we didn’t do it for free. So we were we’ve taken a lot of advice over the years, like pay yourself out of it, you know, make sure you own a piece of it. And then, you know, we were getting we got a distributor and money just was not coming back like we wanted it to. And so I always knew like, it wasn’t just gonna, like shoot off like a rocket. But when I went back to my commercial work, and started doing you know, like, what we call the dude with a camera where it’s like, Hey, I show up and shoot a video for you hand off the video to you. Good luck with that video. I was still doing that kind of work. And I got a hit with about four big clients in a row, which had never happened to me turning down, you know, projections for them, what do you call them, where you do a bunch of creative work for them and say, here’s the price, here’s the plan, proposal proposals, yeah, and you get undercut, they don’t call you back, the project falls through completely, or it’s like, let’s do it in six months. So you know, four or five of those start to stack up all at once, all of a sudden, I’m completely broke. And we just had to figure out a different way of doing things. And I’ve kind of had the suspicion that this is not a business model that’s going to work for us. Because I can’t just be a dude with a camera. I’ve got too many mouths to feed, to, to operate that way. And we’re also in the place to where we’re starting to think about becoming a marketing agency, because we’ve been doing so much marketing over the years, the churches we worked with, you know, Facebook marketing, and then even with the film like we’ve done, you know, 10s of 1000s of dollars worth of marketing, and we thought, okay, we need to put these things together. And so I started getting free advice from friends who were agency owners or marketers. And I just thought this isn’t good enough. Like, I need somebody that’s, we call it fire.
Don’t Don’t go I know where you go. And don’t go there. Because people will think this is a setup. It’s all about promoting clock. No, don’t do that. So well. I’m going to stop you there. Because this is this is. Yeah, that I know where you’re going. And I’m sure others can guess where you’re going as well. And so, yeah, let’s not go. Let me back up there. And how about that. All right, cool. And I look i know i know that i know the challenges. Hang on before we go. Before you go with that thought. I know the changes that I’ve made your life And you know that and we just need to keep that between ourselves for this for this context. So we just continue. Yeah, I’ll, I’ll make no, I’m not gonna edit this bit out so that people can see that this is about being transparent. So
cool, cool. Well, I mean, we needed something different. And that’s where we decided to create an agency. And we needed to, we need to pay to have a coach. And we needed to stretch ourselves to go and talk to somebody and get real advice on how to not reinvent the wheel. Like, I am not a fan of like, oh, I’ve got to do it myself. Like, I’m smart enough to know, I don’t know enough. But there’s someone who does. And I’ve always had mentors in my life. I just, I’ve read so many books lately, like Tim Ferriss, or, you know, be a badass, or, you know, books by these guys, you know, Jocko willing, Nick, you know what I mean, all these, you know, in the church world, self help is seen as like a dirty word. But I was trying at that time to get myself out of like, seeing it that way. Because like, even the bible tells you to meditate on things and to have a positive mindset. And for some reason, in our world, we just throw that all out. And so I’ve been operating with this mindset of years of like, very for driven person. But nothing ever addressed my, into my inner narrative with myself. And I was like, I can’t live like this anymore. Because I’ve been thinking of myself, you know, as a college student, and coming up in the world, if you think you’re behind, and you sort of operate with this underdog mentality, it helps you a little bit, but there comes a time, I’m 36. Now I can’t keep thinking about my business and operating that way, and always being the underdog. And so I needed to get that fixed. And that’s kind of the journey we got set on and, and how we got our business set up. And we got
it This was after the challenge of that. All right. So you’ve you’ve, you’ve gone and shot. So this is your second feature, you’ve gone and shot it. You you I know that you also called called distributors, you found a distributor, that kind of, you know, that didn’t work as well as you’d hoped. Broken model. That’s the old model. That’s that’s the it’s the model is it’s I mean, it’s always been broken, but there was no alternative. Now there is an alternative. And so but at the same time, you’ve done that you’ve you’ve you’ve finished it, you’ve released it, you’re helping promoted the you’ve been able to turn a profit on that. Thanks to your efforts. However, you still had basically there was a there’s no real kind of financial stability. And so you realized, well, we’ve got this, I’ve got all these skills in filmmaking, and I’ve got the skills of video production from the church, plus all the marketing that I did with the church. And you went, let’s try and bring these two worlds together in order to in order to find financial stability. Is that what I’m hearing? Yes, that’s exactly right. I mean, I asked the question, like, I don’t know the answer. But you say all the stuff that I said was true. It’s like, yeah, yeah. So what are you? So let’s, let’s say these, we’ll move on to the SEC, as we’re kind of still on the first question. I’m not real good at these interviews, clearly. Let’s move on to the second question, because that may actually, what I’m trying to ask is actually will be embedded in the question. Second question is,
what’s the one unique or even strange thing you did or have done that has been the biggest contributor to your success? so far? My I really do think hiring a coach to help us has been whenever somebody is trying to go to the next level, it’s that breakthrough moment. That’s what you’re looking for. And so we realized we had to pay for that. And we had to go to somebody who really knew how to get us out of that. And we’re, we’re being very intentional in our mindset, and in how we conduct our business about getting it out of the way we did challenger, we’re trying to get out of hustle mode, which is where I mean, that movie nearly killed us, you know, been working on it solely for about a year, year and a half and getting our paycheck just from that was really hard. We’re coming out of you know, making 70 $80,000 a year a church to all of a sudden we got to stretch 50 to try and make it work for us. And we’re, we’re the engine behind it, you know, our family. So, I mean, that was tough, and it’s like, I can make another movie for 100,000 $200,000. But I just don’t want to do it that way anymore. We paid people really well to come and be a part of that film. We took care of them really well. And so we want to continue that forward but also not kill ourselves. The process. And also with our agency, you know, we want to actually help our customers, our clients in a way that helps them get to the next level. And really do them solid and do right by them with the kind of work. So I think, and I was really reaffirmed by that by Tim Ferriss, his book, not tools for Titans, but the other one that just came out like, I forget what the name of it is. But I just he asked people that same kind of question like, What’s an investment you’ve made? So many people were saying, investing in a coach, we’re investing in somebody like this, like beyond free advice, and beyond a book. I mean, that’s something and then being a part of a group of people who are dealing with the same issues and struggles and getting advice from them. I really can’t tell you like, that’s an eye opening thing for us, we kind of see people doing it off in the distance. And you wonder if that’s real, and I’m sure there’s some charlatans out there. But we lucked out, we found some stuff that worked for us and some people that, you know, we’re paying for wisdom, and we’re paying for knowledge. And Bible says that stuff is worth more than silver and gold. It was right, because, you know, it’s helped our business and even our projects that we’re working on now get to the next level.
Okay. I think that mentors are extremely important. And I know I’ve had mentors in my life. And I think the, for me, it’s finding out the things that you don’t know that you don’t know. Yeah, that’s, that’s, you can only find that stuff out from someone who is who hasn’t has the experience to be able to point stuff out, and also the skill to be able to do that. But if you can couple that with a community who are all going through the same thing at the same time, then ended away with it. There’s there’s newbies in there. And there’s older people in there, that the combination of those two is is what can really it can be the catalyst for for major change. And in my own just talking from my own experience with my own mentors over the years. A lot of that is internal stuff. I’ve, I’ve said this to you before, no one has business problems, everyone has personal problems that manifests in their business, and try to work that stuff out is that’s the really hard part. And that’s the part that you need to you need to have someone that can analyze more deeply than just, you know, make better work or something silly like that. It’s never meant obviously, the work has to be better. And in my case, I’ve pointed it out to you when Look, this needs to be better. This is Oh, this is what I’m saying this needs to be better, but the issues that you’ve had in your agency, and now I am going to talk about our relationship. So hopefully this doesn’t sound too preachy or too salesy, but it’s it’s that it’s that aspect, it’s the things in your and you and I are a lot of like that’s part of the reason why I can be just really frank with you, I feel like I can be it’s the aspects of your personality that are so close to you, that you can’t see it. There’s there’s a there’s a saying it’s easy to see an elephant on another’s back. Tada, see, sorry, it’s an easy to see a flea on another’s back to say, the elephant on your arm. So a coach, a mentor is someone that can say, hey, by the way, this thing here is causing that problem over there. And for me in my life, I’ve had I had the first mentor I had I was first real mentor I had I was 2526 just turned 26 I’m no longer 26. And so that so he completely transformed my life in ways that that almost like the trajectory of my life changed as a result. So you have to be very careful about the person you pick. Would you agree with that?
Yeah, in fact, I’ve had a few people come to me since having a coach saying how do you pick out a coach and I’m like, Man, you got to find one that gets your personality. Change it like for me, you know, I grew up playing sports. I played soccer all the way through college. And I can tell you the type of person I hated working with, or the type of coaches that I hated. Were the kind that were like, like shouty football coaches like we have here in Texas. I like people that push you and expect a lot and shoot straight with you. But like, if I’m doing like weights or something, you’re like, screaming my face like I’m gonna stop like, this isn’t helping me. Yeah, like some people, they really get off on that and it helps them. And so I think it’s about every person like maybe you need a coach to shelter you. Maybe you need a coach, like my wife has a mentor who really deals with her a lot differently, like and so politically the new is that
So, for me, like, I need somebody who shoots straight, that’s kind that, you know, has a lot more experienced than me and so are the same type of people. Like there’s, they’re, they’re kind, and that’s what I respond to. Because if I don’t have that kind of person who can kind of see past my aggressive, you know, overbearing nature and really cut to it, if they’re afraid of me at all, like, I’m just gonna walk all over them. So I need somebody who just doesn’t have time for that crap. And, and so that’s what I look for in a coach, but it also can’t be like too far on one side. So for me personally, that’s what I that’s how I had to look for a coach.
Yeah, so yeah, so someone that’s kind on the inside, but kind of direct on the outside. It’s I mean, to me, that’s, that was you, mate. That’s that’s you? Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That’s right. All right. Cool. Let’s move on to the next question, which is, what do you do to sustain your career?
So you mean, like, professionally or like, personally like substance? sustain it, like keep money coming in? or What do you mean, however you want to answer it? You know, there’s a really great book that I’ve read, I might be getting ahead of myself here called grit. And kind of encouraged me with the way my dad raised me and the background I’ve had on Texas sports and filmmaking, which is he did this research about this group of Air Force, because that’s, that went to the Air Force Academy. And it’s like, they measured how smart they were, how wealthy they were. But really, the thing they measured that that correlated directly to their success of getting through was grit, which is perseverance through tough times. And, you know, I think that’s really the thing that I’ve been leaning on is trying to keep a positive mindset, working on that a great deal. It’s like you said, the personal problems have sustained me more than trying to be a good filmmaker. I mean, that’s the easy part. And like, when people ask me all the time about making a movie and stuff and I’m like, it’s, it’s so the easy part of all the process is being on set with a camera like that’s, that’s the goal, you know, it’s it’s raising money, it’s keeping going like, with challenger, there were times I just want there’s probably five or six times I walked in through the whole process and told my wife, I quit, I’m not doing this anymore, like this is it and then you lay around for a few minutes, you’re like, Alright, I gotta make some calls. So that and then you know, we’ve been worrying learning over the past few years about mindset and you know, it’s it’s that thing of like, when you get a new car and all of a sudden you see every that car everywhere it’s because now you’re aware of in your eyes are open to it. And I believe there’s something deeply spiritual about that. of being like going I am I’m a successful person. Universe is conspiring for my success. And it’s not like a schlocky, stupid, name it and claim it kind of garbage. It’s saying, I am opening my eyes to what is is for us in our family, we are not create created for failure. We were created by a loving kind God that wants to see the best for our lives and not. And it doesn’t mean what I think it means or all the baggage that comes along with that it. It’s just simply a truth. And so we’re following that. And I think it’s informing our filmmaking, our business, or our, you know, ministry, whatever you want to call it, all that stuff is being affected by those few simple things, grit, and mindset. The on that’s a great answer. I
really liked that. I’m glad that you include the mindset because I would have pushback if you had have just said grit because I think grit without strategy is stupidity. Actually, Einstein famously whether he said or not, I don’t know. But he’s certainly been, the quote has been attributed to him. the very definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result. Hope marketing is that screen grabs on to Facebook and Instagram, in the belief that your work will get you more work is ridiculous. A big and the reason why I can say that with such confidence is because there’s enough evidence that the No one can no one can debate me on that. There are lots and lots of great filmmakers out there doing amazing work, and yet they’re broke, or they’re struggling or they get a job here and there. There’s an a massive amount of inconsistency in being a freelance filmmaker. It doesn’t have to be that way. That’s the silly thing, right? And I can tell you
you know, when I was going to invest before running an agency, you know, I didn’t have the numbers, I didn’t have the business savvy. And since having an agency and running marketing for the challenger doing that, of course, making another movie helps. But, you know, we just talked to some investors recently who, they didn’t care that we made music videos, they didn’t, you know, we’ve made so many music videos over the years, they never asked to look at a single one of them. They didn’t look at my web page. What move the ball was, I’m talking to one of my good friends. And he’s like, you know, this movies thing sounds good. Like, what are you going to do for distribution? And I said, we’re gonna do it ourselves, man, like the distribution model is broken. And I said, What do you need a distributor for? placement? Well, we could do that ourselves marketing? Well, first off, they don’t market like you use the word marketing. They think placement is marketing. So we’re already doing that. We’re all we’ve already marketed to challenger. And I’ve marketed you know, for these businesses, my own business, here’s the numbers, you know, the fact that we were converting one in 10 clicks for challengers, the trailer on Facebook ads, which roughly cost us about 70 cents, to make a $6 sale or a $12 $6 rent for a $12 sale? All of a sudden, these investors are going yeah, sign me up. And I was like, Whoa,
normally, I know this story. This is for hundreds of 1000s of dollars to write.
Yeah, yeah, we, we have an investor who’s in for 300,000. And we’ve got another investor on the hook for 250. And, you know, and
that’s only because of the business strategies that you were able to show him this is, this is what we’re gonna do, here are the numbers, if we can get a CTR click through rate of heat of this, and then take them there and then convert at this at this percentage, then then what comes out the other end is, you know, for $1, we get two or three or four or five, that was the thing that they actually went, Oh, okay. So I yeah, I mean, is that correct.
And I’ve got real numbers and real spreadsheets to show them like, here’s what we got for this. And because we went with a distributor, now we’ve got this 25% ball and chain on us, on top of, you know, distributors going to take their expenses, whatever that is, first. You know, in even in that process, I told them, like, if for Challenger disaster, if we’d shut off rentals, and just did purchase only, we would have sold us units, but we’ve sold them for more money. And, you know, but with the return rate we were getting on our Facebook ads, we would have been profitable in a couple months, as opposed to a year and a half later, you know. So once they hear that and see that it puts the control back into the filmmakers hands. And I include the investors in the filmmaking process, you know, they are filmmakers they are choosing a horse to bet on. But they’re not trying to do it stupidly, these people are incredibly intelligent. And they want to do it based on numbers. Yeah. And I’m coming at them with a very simple, hey, here’s what we spent, here’s how much we made back, it moves the needle. And if you can, and I tell them all, like if we can make a movie half as good as it sounds like it could be, you know, there’s an audience out there, it’s just a matter of going out and finding them in the world. And there’s an I believe there’s an audience for every movie. You know,
I disagree. The love No. Well, let me rephrase that. I do disagree. But here’s the reason why I disagree. I think that and I think great filmmakers do this already, that through the process of of, of coming up with the story itself, they are thinking about how the theme of the of the film will impact a certain group of people. And you can say that what that is, is niching down and therefore what you could say is that’s all about finding an audience and being able to market to that audience. So what basically what this mean, you’ve heard me say this many times, you need to get someone to self select and see themselves in the transformation right now different with a trailer. And so when when people are watching the trailer even it’s like oh, there’s that actor from Superman that’s in this movie. The ones that I N people that are interested in space movies, engineering, psychological thriller, thriller, drama taught, that is that self selection, right, and then imagining themselves watching the movie and enjoying it that is seeing themselves in the transformation. So the commercial filmmaking world parlays very much into what what you’re doing as a feature film director, writer, director, producer, and marketer, the word marketer, I mean, when I hear it, it feels ugly, it feels it’s like you mentioned before that in the church world, so help is is seen as a dirty word like it’s just, it’s just Something that hippies do and people that don’t really understand. Right? That’s, that’s your world. Yeah. For me, strangely enough, I have this really visceral dislike, like, it is a real feeling that I can feel in my body. When, with the word marketing. My background is I was, I was an artist from my, from when I was a teenager. And for a long, long time, it was just about art, it was, you know, and nothing was going to corrupt me. So the word marketing has a has a terrible pedigree, I like to think it, I like to think of it this way. It’s business systems, and business strategies that we’re leveraging. And we live, we leverage tactics that can be found in this other world called marketing. But we’re not doing that we are artists. And we are also experts at being able to then pitch and sell the thing that we’re trying to pitch and sell, in this case, a feature film, but it’s the same with commercials. So at the end of the day, a business person needs once, the only reason why they’re coming to us is for a business result, that’s the reason why they’re coming to us for the videos. A an audience member that’s going to watch your film, wants to be entertained, wants to be moved, wants to be on something that’s thought provoking, however, they define their entertainment for me, it’s I want to be moved, I want to see the world in a different way. And I want to be kind of, I want to be nudged from the way that I view the world into, you know, a different way, a different perspective, so that I can grow as a as a man as a human being. So that’s the same thing, I want a result out of the experience that I’m going to have. And if I can see that I will get that result, then I will, I will exchange the value of that, of that experience for money. And then we just need to find a way of leveraging business strategy to facilitate that entire process. Yeah, we’re
value bringers. You know, when you, we do it through this method in this mode, but whether we are making ads, like I’m running for an organization that sells inventory optimization software, you know, it’s like, super sexy, right? But it’s about bringing value to their customers, you can’t you can’t find out that the video is great. Yeah, yeah, we’re really excited about it, it’s, we it’s a chance to exercise comedy. Once I’ve moved beyond trying to scratch my artistic itch, and started trying to bring value to other people, what is going to help them with their life, whether it’s an ad, or a movie or whatever, that’s, that’s where this stuff is that actually moves the needle, you know, it actually helps people’s lives because we’ve had a number of engineers come to us say, and say I’ve been in that exact same scenario where I was threatened my job, my livelihood, to risk other people’s lives with something that wasn’t shouldn’t have been out in the world. And I’ve been in that exact same scenario. Same thing with Uganda man, like, we allow people to find generosity within themselves by giving to this movement. And with our, our ad agency, we’re helping other people become heroes, that their job to find the customers, they need to take care of their family. And so if I can, once I you know, it’s that old thing of like, you get what you want by helping others get what they want. And so I’m trying to employ that in every area of my life.
Yeah. Cool. And that’s, that’s basically how you’re sustaining your career is by being of service to others. All right, let’s move on. What are you doing today for your tomorrow?
First off, we never stopped learning is kind of what we’re doing. Still working on my mindset, you know, kind of got a mantra right now that we’ve been when I say we like a lot of this stuff I do with my wife just to work through it is infinite. Patience, infinite optimism, which is difficult for me because I just want to plow ahead and, and expect the worst. Everything about that is not me. No, that’s the wrong mindset. Everything about that is something I’m working on getting better at. Yep. And so that’s, that’s what we’re doing. And how that’s helping us for our tomorrow is we’re going into a season of raising this money for our new films. We’re going into this season of trying to scale our business and get more clients and not operating from an inpatient panicky because even today, like I had some thoughts and doing this other movie, stop motion we already do and it’s it’s like that that’s coming on panicky mindset. You know, we’re, we’re thinking about this like this will satisfy my panicky nature. And we’re not doing that we said we’re closing the door on that. And so we’re walking down this hallway figuring out which doors to close and going down the hallway that’s driven by numbers driven by data driven by You know, what can we really throw ourselves into for a few years? So the agency and this fundraising campaign for our next film like that’s, that’s all we’re concentrating on. Everything else is getting a no like I’m getting speaking opportunities. People are asking me to come to film festivals and do work for them for free. That would really be cool and make me look like the big man on campus. But all that stuff is a no, it’s just a no doesn’t really
show anyway. All right, cool. And tell us something you’ve watched read or heard that inspired you recently?
I’ll give you two things. One is we recently re watched The Great Escape, and it’s just a great, man, Jim Sturges. You know, James, like all those guys like it’s just a great movie. Yeah, it really it. I don’t know why. But going back to old movies always kind of reignited thing. So we got a reignited passion for Bible smugglers and how we’re going to change the third act. And so that was really helpful. And then, for our agency, Seth Godin, his book, this is marketing, you know, and that’s such a good book. Probably that coupled with Donald Miller story, how to build a story brand. Those those things right now have just been eye opening to us, as far as how to communicate with people really how to see ourselves in this whole process so that we don’t have that marketer, shame on us. But really, like, how do we bring value to other people? So I’d say those things are what has been really inspiring us lately.
Great. Oh, thank you for for sharing your journey with us. Where can people hear more, we’ll see more or find out more about you.
You know, you can find us I’d say go to iTunes or Amazon watch our movie, The Challenger disaster. We’re really proud of that you can find us on demand for free on YouTube today. And, you know, hopefully, we’re going to be out there soon with some new movies, and you can find our agency decision makers agency.com. And then, you know, just search for Nathan on the internet. I’m sure you can find us on here somewhere. So it was a pleasure to hang out and talk some more Clark and yeah, man, future’s gonna be good.
So have you enjoyed today’s episode, and here’s what I want you to do. Next, I want you to take one thing that you got from today’s show, and to put it into practice in your career in business, because it’s only through having the right systems in place, that you’ll be able to take your career and business from where you are today to where you want to be. So again, I hope you enjoyed today’s episode. So until next time, I’m Clarke Scott from next level filmmaker. Have a great day.
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