The Underwhelming Moment Of Watching My Netflix Film

The Underwhelming Moment Of Watching My Netflix Film

The Underwhelming Moment Of Watching My Netflix Film

Jacob Matthew
Jacob Matthew
a year ago

January, 1st 2021

Sitting on my parents couch, with stale Christmas cookie crumbles on the coffee table, I turn on the TV to see that Netflix has dropped its New Year's Day documentary: Less Is Now… Produced by me.

I had dreamed of this moment for years: the moment when I would make a movie that millions of people actually saw. Coming up in the industry as a young 20s kid from south Philly, I would try to convince myself and others that this dream was possible. I shared my vision with fellow bartenders. I told my friends about my concepts. I spent hours convincing my parents that starting a film company was a decision I came to without the nudge of mind-altering drugs. And now, the moment I had worked my ass off for 5 years had come.

Why wasn’t I excited?

The Underwhelming Moment Of Watching My Netflix Film

18 Months Earlier

We were so excited about our new website. For the first time, it felt like we weren’t two kids asking the industry “adults” for money. We were a real company.

Chris Newhard (Booklight’s Director) and I had just started working together. Chris was a seasoned DP in the Philadelphia area and I was an overconfident kid who convinced him I could build him a company while traveling the world in my airstream trailer (I have a year’s worth of photographic receipts on my instagram).

Regardless, we had done enough to convince a few clients we could make them some great work, and we followed through on that promise. Soon, the bigger clients started to roll in and so did the required travel. In 2019, Chris and I flew all over the United States building our company stretching our Philly roots as far as Sydney, Australia for a project. Our mission was simple: build a full service production company that had the feel of a luxury car. Directors, clients, producers, and financiers could hop into the self-driving, filmmaking machine we’d built and ride it to their destination--namely, a finished film that fulfilled their brief.

Our clients were getting where they wanted to go, and our work kept getting better with each project. The car was made for the roads we traveled and kept arriving at the desired destination. Essentially, the plan was working.

The Underwhelming Moment Of Watching My Netflix Film

pictured here with Matt D'Avella. Director of "Less is Now".

The Text That Got Us Netflix

Long before my time working with Chris, he partnered with filmmaker Matt D’Avella. For years, Matt and Chris were best buds, gallivanting around New Jersey and Philadelphia filming weddings and customer testimonials for tech companies.

After honing his craft, Matt D’Avella decided to leave the east coast and head to LA to become a Minimalist YouTuber. Long story short… it worked. As of this writing, Matt has over 3.2 million subscribers, two successful documentary films and the best biceps in the entire internet space.

On his rise to YouTube success, Matt became quick friends with The Minimalists: Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. They had already made one feature documentary film together called Minimalism. They made the film independently; later to be acquired by Netflix. A few short years down the road, Netflix realized they wanted more Minimalism content. This led Matt, Joshua, and Ryan to begin the ideation process for what would become Less Is Now. However, in order to up their game from an indie doc that went viral to a Netflix Original Documentary, they needed a trusted, full-service film company to get the job done.

Thank god we got that website made.

Joshua and Ryan liked our work, and Matt already trusted Chris. So, Matt texted Chris to see if we were up to the task of helping them produce a proper Netflix Documentary Film from Pre-Pro and Production, all the way through Color Correction and Delivery.

Chris and I had never done anything of that scale before, nor did we know what went into delivering a film to any formal distributor, let alone Netflix. However, we both knew that this was one of those moments when someone opens a door and asks you to step through into the intimidating unknown.

With our text back to Matt, we took our first step: “No problem. When do you need us to start?”

The Underwhelming Moment Of Watching My Netflix Film

pictured here with Chris Newhard. Jacob's Business Partner, Co-Owner, and Director of Photography of "Less is Now".

Making The Film

Next thing I knew, Chris and I were on a plane to Los Angeles to begin filming Less Is Now. For six months we worked our asses off trying to make a piece of documentary film that felt unique to the stories of Joshua and Ryan and separate from other films in the genre.

Myself and fellow Producer, Tim Frazier, worked alongside each other to book locations, book crew, organize shot lists, and fit together every piece of the puzzle Matt wanted. Tim was an experienced commercial producer, and this was my first large scale project. I remember on the flight to LA feeling intimidated by all of the veteran filmmakers I was heading out to work with. Who am I to call myself a producer? Will any of the crew respect my leadership? Do I deserve to be here?

At that moment, I realized that I had the opportunity, right there on the plane, to choose what kind of producer and leader I wanted to be. Because I had never done something of this scale before, I had the freeing ability to start fresh. I wanted to be confident and teachable. Confident, because regardless of my experience I knew that the teams under me needed clear and decisive leadership. Teachable, because it takes a great leader to accept feedback and adapt your practices when your team needs you to.

Our plane landed, we got in our Uber and headed to set. My nerves bubbled up as I waited to walk onto set, as a Producer, alongside a full crew of experienced Los Angeles filmmakers. However, the second we stepped out of that car and onto set my nerves subsided. Why? Because upon meeting every single crew member I had the same realization: they were just people. They were kind and hard working individuals who all wanted the same thing: to make a great film.

The Underwhelming Moment Of Watching My Netflix Film

A Worldwide Curveball and Not Giving A Sh*t

Six months of on-and-off shooting had passed and we were almost done filming. All we needed was a few final pick-up interviews and the documentary would be done. Unfortunately, that was right when we got the news that shook the whole world: COVID-19 was shutting down all travel and film sets.

What? Are you kidding me? Our one chance to make a film with Netflix, and all of our work halts due to something entirely outside of our control? Well, this is annoying, but to be honest, Chris, Matt and I are all from Philly and we don’t give a sh*t. We are gonna finish this movie.

So that’s what we did. We found innovative solutions for filming our interview subjects and accepted the limitations we had as creative choices to adapt to. Once the filming was done, we transparently asked Netflix’s post team to provide us with as many resources as they could to finish the film per their standards and practices.

Our team devoured the content, filled out every form Netflix required, asked questions when we were confused, and worked our hardest to deliver a high-end product worthy of the Netflix brand.

During one meeting, a Netflix post production executive told us we were one of the best companies he had ever worked with. In my shocked disbelief I uttered: “That can’t be true. I know the companies you’ve worked with, and I know they are better, more experienced than we are...”

He responded, “Exactly. They think they know everything and you know that you don’t. That’s why it is so nice to work with you.”

Hmm… it's almost like staying humble and hungry can help young filmmakers. Who would’ve thought?

Regardless, 18 months later… there I am. Sitting on my parents couch, stale Christmas cookies in hand, finally turning on the television to see the film we worked so hard on, live on Netflix.

Click here to Watch a Video Interview with Jacob

YouTube Video

Why Wasn’t I Excited?

Like so many other up-and-coming filmmakers, I’ve spent hours thinking about what it would be like to become a “real” filmmaker. I envisioned this invisible, philosophical line that I had to cross, this moment when all of the sudden I would look around and realize I had “made it.” Why then, while sitting with my family and friends, seeing my documentary trending on Netflix, did I still not feel that sensation I’d been chasing for so long?

Then it hit me… the moment I’m looking for already happened.

It happened when we put up our website. It happened when we got our first client. It happened when we got that text from Matt. It happened when we flew to LA to begin filming. It happened when I made the choice to be the leader I wanted to be. It happened when COVID struck and we had to figure out how to finish the film on budget. It happened when we taught ourselves how to deliver the IMF file to Netflix. It happened when we re-watched the film 10 times to make sure it didn’t have any mistakes. It happened every moment of every day for the past 5 years.

We all make the mistake of thinking that the term “filmmaker” is a noun, a title to be achieved. We are wrong. A filmmaker is a verb.

We film-make everyday that we wake up and decide to do something that moves our film forward. We film-make everyday we look in the mirror and tell ourselves we are on the right path. We film-make every time we encounter an obstacle in our way and choose to get creative.

I didn’t need to be excited to watch my film on Netflix, because I lived the experience of filmmaking. I endured and enjoyed five years of filmmaking as a verb, all the while thinking I was chasing a noun, a title: filmmaker. I already lived out the film and battled my way through the most exciting thing I had ever done...all without realizing the entire process was exactly what I’d been chasing.

On to the next one.

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About the Author

Producer of Netflix's "Less Is Now" and Co-Owner of the Film Agency "Booklight"

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