We had the good fortune of connecting with Melissa Dowler and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Melissa, what’s the most important lesson your business/career has taught you?
The most important lesson is one I come back to every time I need to make a business decision: It’s either a heck yes, or it’s a no. Ten years ago, I left my job in advertising to start a film and video production company. I wanted to live a more creative and purposeful life, and work with people and brands whose values aligned with mine. In the early days of running a business, it’s exciting any time someone wants to work with you. I’m also an enthusiastic person who likes to help people, and I found myself getting caught up in projects that weren’t core to my purpose, or that didn’t truly set me alight. I realized that if I wanted to build a business that was in alignment with my highest values, I had to make conscious choices about what projects I took on, and which ones I didn’t. In fact, I discovered that what you say “no” to is what really defines your business. Saying no to the wrong opportunities is the only way to leave space open for the right ones to be revealed. Over the years I’ve developed different systems to make those tough decisions, but when it comes down to it, my gut tells me the answer loud and clear, if I’m willing to listen. It’s got to be a heck yes (I’m so excited, this is a dream project, this is a story I have to tell) or it’s a no.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
From the start, our mission has been for Long Haul Films to be part of the change we want to see in the film industry. Our hope is that our work and our working practices make a positive contribution and help create more equity and empathy. A core part of our mission is to champion stories from under-represented voices, whether that’s making a documentary about small business owners in Detroit or telling the story of a woman battling a chronic illness with the support of a service dog. We’ve also been purposeful about the company culture that we build. We pride ourselves on having gender-balanced crews; of bringing in collaborators from different racial and ethnic backgrounds; and choosing to work with people who represent a wide range of ages and experiences. A few years back, we created a statement of values that we ask everyone who works with us to read and sign. It’s a commitment to treat our fellow team members with respect, celebrate our differences, and empower each other through our words and actions. You can read more about it here: https://longhaulfilms.com/sharing-long-haul-films-values-in-the-age-of-metoo/
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I like to start off by taking visitors for a hike, proving we Angelenos aren’t always stuck in our cars. One of my favorites is Echo Mountain in Altadena. The steep trail gets the blood pumping, and the history is fascinating. You hike up the route of a former railway, that whisked guests up the mountain to a grand hotel that was once the number one honeymoon destination in America. And while it’s a little more touristy and crowded, I love to bring visitors on a Griffith Park hike, to marvel at the Observatory and the incredible views of the city that take in the downtown skyline and the iconic Hollywood sign. Or if my guest want a very unusual, “only in LA” kind of hike, I’ll take them to the Los Angeles Abandoned Zoo, where hiking meets urban exploration. All those hikes will work up an appetite, which would give me the opportunity to introduce my guest to some of LA’s best food trucks and street food. You have to experience LA street tacos– I’m spoiled for choice where I live in Northeast LA, and one of my favorite’s is Angel’s Tijuana Tacos in Eagle Rock– one of the best taco stands around. If I’m feeling really decadent, we’ll grab desert from the Churros Paloma stand in Highland Park, where a dozen hot, fresh churros will cost you 5 bucks. Mmmmm. And speaking of Highland Park favorites, we’d definitely grab some Tingly Cumin Noodles with Seitan from local pop up Bang Bang Noodles. Watching owner Robert Lee as he hand-pulls noodles to order for the long lines of fans is almost like performance art. And the noodles are to die for. When in LA, you have to check out a movie screening, and Cinespia’s summer series at Hollywood Forever Cemetery is one of my all-time favorite Los Angeles activities. Pack a picnic, get there early for a prime seat under the stars, and make sure not to miss the photo booth. No trip to Los Angeles is complete without a visit to the beach. I tend to skip overcrowded Santa Monica and Venice and head out to Malibu for a sunset stroll on Escondido Beach, followed by a lobster roll from Broad Street Oyster Co. on the way back to the city.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
One of the most influential books in my journey as a filmmaker and creative business owner is Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. This book gave me the confidence to see myself as an artist. It taught me powerful practices to put in place that support my creative journey. I read it shortly before launching my business, and I came back to it in recent years when I wanted to redefine my creative path. This book is a must-read for any creative.