Dagan W Beckett: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker
Be prepared to spend money … A lot of money! I wish someone would have told me two years ago how expensive it is to make a quality movie. Holy crap! Do I have the benefit of my own production house? Yes! However, I had no idea how much attorney fees would be or insurance, PR and marketing, festival costs, sales agent retainers, paying people for permission to use their photos, etc. Dude, this stuff is expensive!! I’m wiser now and know to have those funds together and ready to go.
As a part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Dagan W. Beckett, Beckett Media Productions.
Dagan W. Beckett is a film director, writer and producer. He is the founder of Beckett Media Productions, located in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His most-recent film, the Emmy® Award-winning Songbirds, premieres August 9, 2022, on iTunes.
Songbirds tells the story of Chattanooga’s Songbirds Guitar Museum, which showcased an unparalleled collection — the world’s largest — of rare, vintage and celebrity guitars, a priceless array of instruments worth a fortune, each with a story to tell. But the iconic museum (which opened Feb. 2017) was forced to permanently close on Aug. 15, 2020, due to the pandemic’s devastating effect on the music industry.
Directed by Beckett — himself a long-time professional music artist before becoming a filmmaker — this documentary explores how the guitar helped shape pop culture history and the final tearful hours of this one-of-a-kind place. It’s a tale told through the eyes of those who loved it most, including its founders, historians, fans and such noted music artists, who also perform in the film, as Joe Bonamassa, John Schneider, Eric Johnson, Marty Stuart, Vince Gill and John 5, among others.
The museum traced the pop culture impact of the guitar from as early as 1924 but focused on the solid-body, electric guitar, which changed the course of music, tracing its increasing popularity in the 1950s through The Beatles appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 — when every kid in America wanted a guitar or drums the next day — through the popularization of vintage guitars in the ’70s, driving the market to stunning values. Included in the collection were about 1,500 guitars, many of them prototypes or one-of-a-kind, the single most-valuable instrument, a Gibson Explorer, worth $1 million. Only about 27 were made and the museum owned two.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?
I grew up in the south in a typical, middle-class family. I spent most of my childhood watching movies and believed Christopher Reeve could actually fly in Superman 2. Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, Star Trek and Star Wars further fueled my imagination and inspired me to want to make movies. As I grew older, music inspired me as well. I would spend hours and hours listening to The Beatles, which made me to want to be a rock star like Paul McCartney. He was and still is my hero.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Most of my career has been as a professional musician. After graduating from the University of Tennessee, I spend five years touring regionally in the southeast and about 10 years as a musical director and conductor. About a decade ago, my interest piqued in taking my creative skills to the next level as a storyteller through filmmaking. In 2016, I switched careers to establish my own video production company, Beckett Media Productions.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
I have an awesome answer to this! Years ago, I was shooting a monthly news segment for one of my corporate clients. Our studio was undergoing some noisy maintenance repairs. Instead of rescheduling, I wanted to shoot so I could get a jump on editing that weekend. A friend had a “studio-ish” warehouse. He warned me the air was out but said it was quiet. It was the dead of summer’s August heat, but I figured it would do for a few hours. I packed up all my studio lights and gear and headed out … and he wasn’t joking! When we arrived, it was unbearably hot and we weren’t using the LED cool lights we use today. We were hurrying to power through the shoot and were almost done when we smelled something burning. The backlight fixture had caught on fire and flames started engulfing the entire thing. Fortunately, we grabbed a waterbottle and it took less than 20 seconds to get the fire out. None-the-less, we lost the day! That was six years ago and we still laugh about how inexperienced we were at the time.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I was filming a scene with John Schneider for Songbirds and he started sharing his journey in his relationship with his children. That wasn’t prompted and I felt honored that he was comfortable enough to be vulnerable and share that story with me.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I spent many years of my life living under the same roof as my father but for the most part he was absent. He allowed the demons of his undiagnosed PTSD to get the better of him, which cost him his family and, later, it cost him his life as I buried him in 2013. However, throughout my childhood and youth, I was surrounded by a community of men who took me in and wrapped their wings around me. These men taught me to be comfortable with who I am and that I was fearfully and wonderfully made. They instilled in me the confidence I would later need to take risks and reach for my dreams. They led by example. They didn’t have to do that and I’m lucky to have had them in my life.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Don’t bring me a problem without a solution to it!” This taught me to think for myself.
I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Growing up, I was constantly told to simply “Listen” to others.” Sometimes people just want to know that they’ve been heard. I spent years listening to people tell me their stories which is probably why I have a love and passion for storytelling. Listening taught me two things: perspective and empathy. It’s important for us to tell stories of different cultures, to hear their perspective and to develop, empathy for them. I thoroughly believe that if we just took more time to listen to others, we would find that we are all more alike than we are different. That’s how relationships are fostered which is where real change starts.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m working on a project with the working title of Beautiful Faces. It’s the story of a world-renowned craniofacial plastic surgeon who has a passion for giving new lives to children with deformities utilizing the latest technology. This film not only explores the medical breakthroughs that have advanced the results but the mental health of these families through their perspective. Mental health is a hot topic now and I’m excited to be a part of stripping away the negative stigma surrounding it. I’m excited to tell a story of a surgeon with the gift of servanthood who simply wants to help give these children a better life.
Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?
When we first screened Songbirds publicly, in our Chattanooga premiere, I had a dad reach out to me and tell me that he brought his two sons to the premiere and that they were so inspired by the film that they went home and found their grandfather’s old guitars and started to learn to play. That is exactly why I am a storyteller and filmmaker. That’s what Christopher Reeve and The Beatles did for me as child. Mostly though, it is seeing my children’s faces when they see me winning an award or receiving recognition for my achievements. My children are the inspiration for everything I do and my goal is for them to witness me achieving my dreams through my actions in an effort to inspire them to do the same.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
That’s a hard one … But I wish I had heard these words in my journey …
- Own your mistakes, they make you wiser if you recognize they are mistakes. I believe that a true professional knows how to take a mistake or bad decision and turn it into an opportunity for growth. I’ve made some boneheaded decisions that I would later come to regret. Most of them involved being a control freak and doing everything myself. At one point, I was running a production set with three cameras, two mic feeds and lights all by myself because I was the only person who I thought truly knew how I wanted it to look and sound. Barf! The result was me botching the audio feed which resulted in me paying for a total reshoot two weeks later In that moment, I learned that I needed a team and that success is only acheived in trusting your teammates!
- Be prepared to spend money … A lot of money! I wish someone would have told me two years ago how expensive it is to make a quality movie. Holy crap! Do I have the benefit of my own production house? Yes! However, I had no idea how much attorney fees would be or insurance, PR and marketing, festival costs, sales agent retainers, paying people for permission to use their photos, etc. Dude, this stuff is expensive!! I’m wiser now and know to have those funds together and ready to go.
- Over charge for your services. You are worth it. I could have used more guidance about what I was charging my corporate clients for production services. If someone had told me that if your clients trust and depend on you and realize that you have unique knowledge and insights about how to present their product/brand, they would pay whatever it took for peace of mind and knowing that my team had their video projects handled. Instead, I took every job I could get and lowballed the budget out of fear I wouldn’t get the gig. At some point, I learned that I was worth more and if they weren’t willing to pay what my services and quality were worth, then I didn’t need them as a client. I took a stand and for about six months my bank account ran dry. But suddenly, the high roller call began to come in as a result of the effort made pitching my services to the right, high-level clientele during that time. The result was me being able to afford to fund my own film projects. Heh-heh.
- Just because you don’t get into your dream festival, doesn’t mean your film is crap. Wow, this was brutal. The festival circuit has a way of criticizing you without actually criticizing you. As a filmmaker, we spend so much time staring into our film project that we become numb to it and its message. A lot of times we second guess ourselves and think our work is a bunch of poo. When that Film Freeway email comes in, from the festival that you spent so much time campaigning, and tells you that they “regret to inform you” … Nothing stings worse! I wish someone would have prepared me for that emotional rollercoaster. However, I’ve since learned that these festival programmers are simply picking films that they believe will play best for their geographical audience and that your film isn’t a pile a steamy crap!. There are festivals made for your film project. You just have to find them.
- This project will encompass the next two years of your life! When I first started shooting Songbirds, I didn’t have a plan in place. That guitar museum was someplace that I loved and cherished. I simply wanted to document it before they moved all the guitars out. Little did I know at the time, that it would turn into an Emmy® Award-winning feature film. It was just a cool story that I felt it was my responsibility to capture. To be honest, even if someone had said, “Look, Dagan, this is going to take all your time, effort and money for the next two years,” I still would not have changed a thing! This has been an amazing ride!
When you create a film, which stakeholders have the greatest impact on the artistic and cinematic choices you make? Is it the viewers, the critics, the financiers or your own personal artistic vision? Can you share a story with us or give an example about what you mean?
It’s definitely my own vision that has the greatest impact on the artistic and cinematic choices I make. I suppose that’s why I mostly fund my own projects. I have found in my endeavors of documentary storytelling that potential funders or “stakeholders” inadvertently desire some form of creative control. “I’d like to see this …” or “I think it would be cool to include that.” I have a lot of people offer to pay for parts of my projects. But in the end, I usually turn them down just because I don’t want to deal with them down the road demanding something. Maybe that’s the control freak in me. However, I have confidence in my artistic vision and my production partners have confidence in my artistic vision. If a potential financier doesn’t truly have confidence in my artistic vision, then it’s not worth engaging in business with them.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
It’s a dream of mine to start a foundation to help give grants and onsite work opportunities to aspiring film students who would otherwise not have the chance to engage in those opportunities. I want to share what I have with them, which is a chance to learn perspective and empathy while storytelling.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in business, VC funding, sports and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the U.S. or the world whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with and why? He or she might see this. :-)
Matthew McConaughey. I’d love to talk with him about Greenlights, which he authored and is one of my favorite books. I work daily to recognize the greenlight opportunities in my personal life and career, especially as it pertains to being a father.
How can our readers further follow you online?
They can follow me on Instagram at @beckettmediapro or on FB at @daganbeckettfilms
They can check out Songbirds at www.songbirdsfilm.com or on social media at @songbirdsfilm
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!