I write this after wrapping my first project in 6 years. Now Salty Pirate is finished.

I invited the wonderful and former editor-in-chief of No Film School, Liz Nord, to speak to my students at Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema a few months ago, and she shared a terrifying statistic that something like 85% of people who make one feature don't make another. That's staggering.

While I made a 16mm 90-minute feature in college, my first feature afterward was Angel's Perch in 2012. It was an amazing experience, collaborating with truly talented and passionate people, including Joyce Van Patten, JT Arbogast, Kimberly Dilts, Ally Walker, Ellen Crawford, and Ashley Jones. In 2013, I directed 2 small projects, and in 2014, a 3-day shoot of a book trailer that was never released. Nothing since.


I kept fighting to get things going. I had a project I was passionate about, and before writing for NFS, I read about Thunder Funder and applied and won. That went nowhere, and in the end, went to labor court after Thunder failed to pay its commitments to the casting director, leaving me to pay their half and legal fees. It cost me thousands.

After 6 years away from the dedicated act of directing a movie, I'm back. Those years away were not terrible. I met my wife, got married, and I'm starting a family. I got a teaching job, wrote 2 books, Business & Entrepreneurship for Filmmakers and Color Grading 101and went to the beach. A lot. 


It feels good to be back. I was initially nervous. I didn't sleep much. But once we got rolling, it felt like the right place to be. I approached everything in a fresh new way with the added value of the life perspective I got from my time away.

The biggest change was the ability to not care. In my youth, I wanted too much from making movies. I'm proud of my thesis film at USC, Oblivion Nebraska, but even then I wanted it to "make my career." I desperately wanted it to be good, not just good in my eyes, but good in other people's eyes, good in a way others would notice.

The beauty of Salty Pirate was that it was the first time in my career that I just wanted to make something I dug. If I thought it was funny, it stayed. If it moved me, it worked. That doesn't mean I didn't collaborate. Everyone, the DP, producers, production designer, actors, and the crew, all contributed great ideas and worked together. But that part of me that doubted my own instincts or who constantly was hoping for someone else's approval wasn't there. 


I also made the decision to work with a DP with much more experience than my own. I taught cinematography for 8 years in Los Angeles, and I tended to hire DPs who were former students. The perk of this was I was able to train them with everything I knew and thought about cinematography. The drawback of doing so was they never pushed me in different directions. 

The ideal director and DP relationship needs to be almost sympatico. One where there's a mutual respect, but you're not afraid to push each other into new areas of collaboration. 

On this project, I finally experienced that, working with the talented Sarah Cawley, who shot Fay Grim, a story I watched and loved while in film school, among countless other outstanding projects. Cawley was born to be a DP and has a deep understanding of the art of cinematography. It allowed me to trust her in ways I haven't trusted others before, and I honestly learned a lot from her. You have to work with people who are better than you. It's the only way you'll grow as a storyteller. 


The biggest surprise returning to directing was the total lack of wrap sadness. After my previous projects in my life, wrap felt like complete devastation. But this time, it didn't. I think it had a lot to do with how I approached the film. When I was younger, filmmaking was everything. The only thing. Thus, when a project wrapped, it almost felt like my life was over. Now, I have more than one rock to build a life on. After the project wrapped, the world didn't end.  

Salty Pirate is out now on Ficto, Amazon Prime and Vimeo VOD, check outSaltyPirate.tvfor more.

Hopefully, there are bits you dig and for the bits you didn't, well, I dug them, so they stayed in.