Featured Film Professional of the Month: Mike Feurstein

Filmmaking is not just a means of creative expression but also a means of affecting change for this month’s VersusMedia featured filmmaker, Mike Feurstein takes pride on creating content that aims to educate the masses and make the voices of people who experience bullying be heard, as well giving students opportunities to explore their talent and potentials in video production. Let’s get to know this promising artist even more!

Full Name: Mike Feurstein

Company Name: How to UnMake a Bully

 Location: Schenectady, NY

I’ve directed cinematics for Activision’s Guitar Hero, and promotional material for Skylanders. I’ve pitched TV concepts to Warner Bros, Cartoon Network, and other American producers. I’ve worked with talent like Tyler Perry and Brent Spiner, and I received an award for a STEM educational video I co-produced for President Obama. My current crew consists of apprentices from local high schools and colleges, and I help create hundreds of anti-bullying PSAs in schools worldwide. Scotia-Glenville, New York proclaimed June 14th as “Mr. Mike Day” throughout the town for my work in anti-bullying. I’m committed to helping youth realize their talents as actors, storytellers, and crew, ensuring that all I work with are able to encounter the same wonderful opportunities I’ve been afforded.

In what field do you specialize and how long have you been working in that field?

Filmmaking professionally for 22 years, Education for 17 years.
What are the current challenges indie professionals like you experience and how do you go about it?
When pitching concepts to TV, we face the “Who Are You?” mentality that has recently been easier to break thanks to YouTube celebrity and other overnight successes that sometimes pop. If your concept is great and your approach is solid, you’ve got a better chance to get through now than years ago. Other challenges faced by indies are the already-established celebrities and professionals who have leeched into the YouTube/Webseries/Indie markets with their own work. That, and the oversaturation of such work anyway, makes it difficult to rise above the din. IF your product is genuine, niche and attention-grabbing, you may succeed more than if you aren’t producing anything wildly different. Stand out, maintain high standards, and find a way to be unique.

What are your thoughts on the current status of the indie industry?

Parts of the indie industry are flourishing while other parts die. Same thing happens every year, to every industry, really. It’s all about what we do with the parts that flourish that marks our successes. If we cling to the dying elements without acknowledging new ways, new avenues, then we may go down too. We’re in an era of reboots or revitalizing previously-dead entities and aspects. So I think nothing really “dies” anymore. It just languishes, waiting for a new audience, or for a new approach to bring it back. With threats to net neutrality and recent drama with YouTube monetization, I feel that it’s going to become more difficult to “be seen” or “be heard” if you’re indie.

What compels you to continue what you’re doing despite the setbacks and challenges in the indie industry?

My approach has thankfully been successful. Our UnMake a Bully programs have changed lives. We have saved lives. Our work doesn’t only seek to entertain and educate an audience, but it brings our audience into the creative process when we visit schools worldwide to produce content. The subsequent changes in school climates, classroom morale, and the growth of students keeps me going. Our work is making a difference, and I’ll keep going until it doesn’t–in which case I’ll find out why, and approach it head on. We also find new ways to innovate our product, and we follow what functions.

Do you have any additional comments about your experiences or industry?

I do not enjoy working on sets that I have not had a hand in organizing–unless the preproduction is on point. But that’s rare, believe it or not. Even with big budgets, people can be miserable on set, waiting for things to gel. I wish more emphasis was put on accountability and responsibility, rather than making whatever sacrifices to get the shot or make the day. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice anything, not if you engaged in planning and delegating ahead of time. There’s no excuse for not having a shot list, for not visualizing your plans ahead of time. If you show up without these things and expect everyone to work overtime because it’s film and that’s “just expected” then people like me aren’t going to work with you anymore–no one should. I am also not a fan of overselling your product. Don’t tell us you’re producing an Amazon Original Series when that just means you plan to upload it to Prime. It’s not the same thing, and it’s misleading. Don’t dazzle us with all the festivals you plan to enter before you’ve rolled on your first scene. Use your prior work, your vision and your talents in filmmaking and organization as a sale point. If you have to lie, you have more work to do. Be excited! Be grateful! Be honest, organized, respectful and communicative. And so will those choosing to work with you.

Any tips, advice or words of encouragement to aspiring indie artists?

Graduating from film school, there isn’t any one place you can go to find steady jobs. You can apply at production houses, or ad agencies, or some other brick and mortar that specializes in output. You can also jump aboard other indie work. Build a network. Say yes to every opportunity, provided it’s beneficial to all parties. Be careful of mooches who talk a big game and then disappear when it’s time to collaborate later. Check their references, check their reels. I bought a lighting rental company that was selling out, and from there I met local indie professionals. I used that outreach to create relationships and recommendations. Word of mouth is huge in this industry. No matter where I work, I am sure to give it my best, even if it’s not something I ultimately feel contributes to my primary goals. You’re hired for a reason, you’re doing work on someone else’s passion project (or paycheck project) so you better be top form, or else no one will recommend you further–and good luck getting anyone to want to contribute to your passion project!

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