“There’s Got To Be One Person Who Knows How To Affirm Your Deepest Purpose” With Filmmaker Jeff Witzeman
I had the pleasure of interviewing Writer, director, producer Jeff Witzeman, who released the film ‘Cancer Can Be Killed’ in July 2017. Over 50,000 people have now watched this groundbreaking film with no end to the digital downloads in sight. Jeff’s creative career has evolved from actor to singer-songwriter with a band to writer and finally to filmmaker, where he feels most at home.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I came to Los Angeles in the late 80’s to be an actor and after having some success being on shows like “Frasier,” “Jake and the Fatman” and a Miller Beer Super Bowl commercial, I started to realize that the power and the vision lay on the other side of the camera. If you really wanted to tell a story, unless you’re an A-list celebrity, chances are that story is not going to be made as an actor. So I got out of the acting business and pursued the music business, because there I could at least produce albums, hire musicians, and be in control of selling music to TV and film. The music was great and we sold lots of tunes, but businesswise I was so naïve and just got taken left and right. So after going bankrupt, I started writing more and honing my storytelling skills. Then as they say, “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
My wife got cancer, but instead of doing all the horrible things they tell you to do here in the United States, such as have an organ removed, chemotherapy and radiation, we went to Germany and treated her illness naturally with hyperthermia, ozone therapy and IVs of vitamins, minerals and amino acids. She was cancer free in 30 days. I wrote an article about the experience on Medium.com and got calls from a few different movie directors who wanted to make the documentary. After 30 days, however, they all dropped out, but vowed to mentor me through the process of making a documentary film on natural cancer treatment. That was all I needed to hear, and once I got my courage up, I started on this path to becoming a documentary filmmaker.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company
My favorite part of documentary filmmaking is that you never know what is going to come out of people’s mouths. One woman in Florida described her doctor’s order that she was to get lots of chemotherapy as, “Well I said, he wants to pore gasoleen on that fiiiiire.” Just the way she said it was so uniquely Southern. And then there’s this other guy on the film from New Jersey . . . my God! He’s a loving husband and father, but he talks like he’s a member of the Mob. Truth is so often funnier than fiction. So really, it’s the people that are so fascinating, real and brilliant, and who make me laugh and happy to do this thing.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Sinker Swim Productions, my film company, is totally funded by me. I recoup the money, from selling and renting the films on the Internet and via DVD sales. I don’t have to make my living from filmmaking, which frees the film up in a way. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard creative folks in Hollywood lament the fact that their project got compromised and it’s always for the same reason, because they needed the funding and the funder messed up the vision. Even with “Cancer Can Be Killed,” which is out now, I had offers from the biggest names in the business who wanted to executive produce and I turned it down, because it meant the story wouldn’t be told the way it needed to be. Ultimately this film is for the viewer, giving them the information they need to kill their cancer, and if the film had some financial agenda or had to please a sponsor, there’s no way that would have happened.
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?
Holy smokes . . . Crystal Moselle and Natalie Johns are two film directors who mentored me through this process. Without these two women, there is no way I would have had access to the years of experience with which they were able to constantly support me. I can’t thank them enough!
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
If you could see the number of messages I get and the types of things they say, it would blow your mind, because these are people with death sentences . . . literally, or being given options that would drastically affect their quality of life, and now they are being told that cancer is actually something you can kill rather than have to be afraid of. The healing that we received, we’ve been able to pay that forward and honestly, I don’t think it gets better than that.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my Start-Up” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. You don’t have to have it all figured out. You can let the story unfold. You can plow ahead and enjoy the process even if you don’t know exactly how to tell the story. I have spent way too much time stressing about “the story” when I haven’t even finished filming to know what is going to be in the story. Each part of the process has its own glory, just enjoy that and trust that it will all come together.
2. This business is an evolution . . . one thing leads to another. It’s not about hitting a home run out of the gate or getting everyone to like you. It’s really about doing a great job and then finding your people. I submitted to over 30 film festivals because I had no idea who would like the film and who wouldn’t. So far the five who have accepted and are screening the film have been like gold mines in terms of contacts and friendships. I keep getting rejections every day for those other festivals, lol.
3. Attorneys are lovely people . . . who knew? I had such a fear of anything law related, but if you make a film, you have to have a good attorney, and I have two. Shortly after ‘Cancer Can Be Killed’ was released, a giant corporation swooped in and pulled the film down from Amazon citing “property rights infringement.” Now, mind you, I had all releases signed and every right to air the interview with their doctor. It didn’t matter, money runs the show and I had no recourse, but to take that five minute interview out of the film. Having good attorneys helped me to know when to fight and when to let go.
4. There’s got to be one person who gets you, who knows how to affirm your deepest purpose, and who knows how to inspire you. For me it’s editor Paul Morzella. I couldn’t make a film without him. I think sometimes we underestimate how valuable a good cheerleader can be. I find the human mind to be a trap . . . if left alone. It’s kind of set up to self destruct and turn on itself. The only way out of that is to be working with someone who can create space to let you come to the answers to which you need to arrive. Neil Young used to say he went through 99 bass players before he found the right one. I get it. Having that guy or gal that makes you soar is worth the search.
5. Brace yourself for the selfishness and fear that permeates business and the world. It’s almost laughable at times. But it affects me because I think, can you imagine if we could all get on the same page, how quickly the world would change? But everybody has different agendas and most of the time, it’s to further their egos or their businesses at the expense of creating real change. So I’m always learning that it’s okay that a lot of people don’t care about helping others, because there are still so many who do and as long as you stay on this path, you’re going to connect with them and it’s going to be rewarding.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
I’m a huge fan of Jeff Bezos (Amazon) and Reed Hastings (Netflix). The way they have changed the world by getting projects out there that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise is amazing. I would love to sit down and talk with them about the ramifications of the fact that cancer can be killed.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!