This week we would like you to meet filmmaker Angela McCulley.
What was the inspiration behind becoming a filmmaker? What do you enjoy most about the creative process?
I’ve been active in the arts my entire life as I’ve always had an active imagination. From gathering the neighborhood children together and creating a theatrical production in my childhood backyard, to being the Adjective “Green Grass” in my first school play, to going to college to get a bachelor’s degree in Theater, to winning an Emmy award.
For me, being in theater gave me an escape from a rough childhood. It allowed me to see how other characters lived and allowed a safe place to run away to. I remember as a child often talking about how shy I was to speak in front of audiences; but if I had a script and was playing someone else how easy it was for me to get in front of thousands of people.
I make movies now and have produced several films that have been seen globally. Instead of actively seeking to be a character, I now give real people voices in the films I create. Mainly, I make documentaries — that is my passion.
The first documentary I made was called “Our Beautiful Secret,” which was about my brother Jonathan who was born with Cerebral Palsy and how he overcame his disability with faith, family, and road racing. I honestly thought the film would just be screened for friends and family who knew us; but little did I know it would go on to raise over one million dollars for charity, and I would go on to give speeches and write curriculum on the film’s topic. This undertaking, by far, was the catalyst for me to change careers from theater into filmmaking.
Can you take us through your creative process? How long does it take? Does everything you produce make money?
I find topics that I have an interest in like overcoming challenges in life, tackling human sex trafficking, or innocence and children. I have made documentaries or films about every one of those topics. I find that if I am passionate about the topic at hand, what I can do with a finished film is endless.
One of my latest films is called “Trafficked: A Parent’s Worst Nightmare.” The story follows Allyson, a 16-year-old girl who meets a man online who sells her into sex trafficking. This particular film has taken the team roughly four years to complete from start to finish. We immediately hired Dean Cain, who plays a private detective, but we had the hardest time finding a woman to play the role of Allyson’s mother. We asked easily a dozen actresses who all refused the role because of its content. This back and forth ended up delaying filming until we eventually asked Kristy Swanson, who took on the role without hesitation. She ended up being phenomenal in the role. And looking back, I wish we would have asked her to play the role much sooner. So, as you can imagine, we ran into many roadblocks throughout the production processes, but in the end the film can now be seen globally. Not every film takes that long, but this was just one example.
No, not everything that I create makes money. However, if I am going to create something of a large scale, it will. However, if I am just learning a new technique, I won’t sell it. For example, I wanted to learn about Claymation so I created a two-minute short. It was just me, the clay people I made, a small set, camera, and a computer. The film turned out horribly and did not result in success in that instance, but it taught me that I need a lot more practice and better equipment to film.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about your line of work?
I find there are many misconceptions in my line of work, such as only the most talented succeed, and that you need a lot of money to make a film, you need an agent, and you need to go to film school. None of these are true in my experience.
To offer an example for what I stated above (and not to downplay what my first documentary achieved regarding world impact), I can see so many technical holes in it now, years later, that I cringe at seeing every time I watch the film. I personally did not go to film school and know dozens of others who didn’t attend but who are successful. I have nothing against it, but my formal education is a Bachelors in Theater and a Master of Science in Communication. I watched YouTube videos, paid my friend Doug to teach me to use Final Cut Pro, ended up taking professional development courses at a local arts college to learn the Adobe Suite, and went to a local community TV station and practiced on professional equipment, among other things.
Finding an agent for filmmaking was pointless for me, as my time was better spent finding distributors and learning what they want in a film. I very quickly learned that if I wanted something I couldn’t sit back and wait for someone to make it happen for me; that I had to create my own magic.
Have you experienced copyright infringement and, if so, how has it affected you personally and financially?
For the readers of this blog, as I began to type my answer, I let out a huge sigh. The frustration is oh too real here. I remember after the success I had with my first documentary, how it went viral in Japan and South Africa, how I spoke to so many groups and organizations, how I made charities around the world over a million dollars, the hundreds of hours I spent, the personal backlash I received from people who wanted to give me their unsolicited advice, and more. All for someone else (who I know) to take credit for the film itself. I found out about the deception because I set up Google alerts on the film and learned someone was trying to market her communications company as being responsible for it. This person literally had nothing to do with the film in any capacity, but on her company’s website, she took credit for the film’s marketing.
Also, thanks to Google alerts I also found out that a company bootlegged that same documentary and put it on their website for people to download for free. I was livid! I had coordinated with organizations around the world to host screenings of the film to help them raise money while others were stealing from them. I ended up contacting the website, and fortunately, the site administrators took down the film with no issues.
What is your biggest copyright-related challenge?
Online streaming services are the biggest challenge for me today, along with websites and hosting platforms that illegally burn a film and distribute the product for free. And I’ve also faced an instance where another filmmaker tried to steal my story idea. I was almost year into a documentary project and hit a roadblock obtaining my next couple of interviews due to scheduling conflicts and travel. During that time, another filmmaker used the delay to produce the very same concept, even including some of the same people I had already interviewed or wanted to interview. He also had the people who he interviewed sign a “do no compete” contract, which they did! In the end it all worked out for me and I was able to complete the documentary, but not without having to get involved in a minor legal battle.
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