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James Beissel of Just Float Films: “Enjoy the ride”

When I can tell that an audience is connecting with these stories and animals, then I knew I’ve done my job. I want people to walk away and become advocates themselves. I really enjoy being a fly on the wall and watching people’s reactions to the film, and then hearing them share something they’ve learned […]

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When I can tell that an audience is connecting with these stories and animals, then I knew I’ve done my job. I want people to walk away and become advocates themselves. I really enjoy being a fly on the wall and watching people’s reactions to the film, and then hearing them share something they’ve learned with someone else. Not everyone is going to see these endangered species in the wild, but there are things everyone can do to help protect them.


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 James Beissel.

James Beissel is a wildlife photographer and conservation filmmaker based out of Boulder, Colorado. His films showcase nature in revolutionary 360-degree immersive video. James hopes to engage viewers with our planet in a way they have never experienced before, and to inspire passion for the protection of our planet’s most imperiled wildlife.


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 rural Michigan. Some of my earliest memories are learning the tracks of the deer and other animals that lived around our house. I spent a lot of time just exploring in the woods and filling shoeboxes with feathers, antlers, snake skins, rocks, and whatever else was interesting. Looking back on my experience as a kid compared to how regimented the lives of children today can be, I’m really grateful I had that unstructured time to just get dirty and figure the natural world out.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I think it has actually been stalking me my whole life. In high school we took career aptitude tests and mine said I should either be a bus driver or a photographer. I really didn’t pick up a serious camera for at least a decade later, but things came full circle last year when I guided a bus of photographers on a tour of Grand Teton National Park.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?

When we arrived in Florida to make our manatee film, we walked out on the docks the first night to watch the sunset. It was almost too dark to see, and the words “we aren’t going to see any manatees tonight” had just left my lips when my wife Lana and I both came to the realization that we were both staring at the same spot in the water. Right on cue, a manatee surfaced with a blast of air right in front of us. That was definitely a good omen.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

Working in conservation, I’ve had the opportunity to meet volunteers from many different research projects. One of those projects is black-footed ferret surveys. The black-footed ferret is one of the most endangered species in the world, and they live right here in North America in prairie dog colonies. They are strictly nocturnal, so to find them you need to drive at night with a spotlight and often need to cover some rough terrain. One of the volunteers had a nice 4×4 truck and he had mounted massive light bars along both sides of his vehicle just to go out looking for ferrets. That thing looked like an alien spaceship going across the prairie at night, and they saw more wildlife than any other team. I think it just shows how people from any background can get hooked on helping save these animals and how important volunteers are to science.

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’m extremely grateful to everyone at Wildlife Protection Solutions for their ongoing support — Manatee 360 wouldn’t have been possible without them. Their mission is to use technology to protect endangered species and ecosystems and they are doing some great work all around the world. Meeting them for the first time was really a chance encounter that started when my neighbor came by to capture her cat that was running loose in our yard, which led to going to a fundraiser for a different organization which ultimately led to going to another meeting where I crossed paths with WPS. It was just another one of those chain reactions that seem to happen so often when you keep working towards a goal.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My coach in college always said, “winners make their own luck”. Working with wildlife involves a lot of luck, but the more you try, and the harder you work, the more luck you have. Funny how that works.

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?

First, we need more diverse voices and backgrounds to share their stories. If we just look at the world through our own eyes, or others that are just like us, we have squandered the full potential of film.

Second, up and comers need to see people that they can relate to in the film industry. If they are only seeing a mono-cultural clique, and they don’t fit in, they are going to do something else, and the world is going to be poorer without their contributions.

Finally, I think every little bit of progress creates hope. All of our issues aren’t going to be fixed overnight, but if you can say “hey, X got fixed, and even though Y is still broken, maybe we can fix that, too” then that momentum carries forward.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

We have many more adventures with endangered species in VR lined up as soon as travel opens up again. I am also working on a very personal film to share my experience as a former mountain rescue team member grappling with trauma in the mountains while searching for one of the most elusive animals on the planet — the wolverine.

Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?

When I can tell that an audience is connecting with these stories and animals, then I knew I’ve done my job. I want people to walk away and become advocates themselves. I really enjoy being a fly on the wall and watching people’s reactions to the film, and then hearing them share something they’ve learned with someone else. Not everyone is going to see these endangered species in the wild, but there are things everyone can do to help protect them.

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.

  1. The playing field isn’t level. The sooner you accept that the sooner you can move on and get to work. You can watch someone you envy create something you admire, and it can look like they didn’t even break a sweat. They seem to have it all; money, equipment, and a whole team dedicated to helping them succeed, while you have to dig deep and sacrifice at every turn. It’s not fair, but at the end of the day you really only have two choices: do what you need to do or quit and go home.
  2. We always hear “fake it ‘till you make it”. I think that is the wrong advice. Be authentic. Nobody likes a poser. You don’t magically land on top of the podium on day one. It’s a journey. Give the people who care about your work a chance to join you through the ups and downs and one day you can all celebrate reaching the podium together. I don’t believe anyone who claims to have it all figured out. If you don’t regularly have moments when you think “oh crap, what have I gotten myself into” then you aren’t pushing yourself and your work is going to be boring.
  3. Find your niche and quit worrying about competition. Know what your strengths are, what your assets are, what subject matter you have access to, and what you are passionate about. When you do that, you don’t have to try to be everything to everyone.
  4. Help others and don’t be afraid to ask for help yourself. The more you are able to get out into the world and interact with people, the more opportunities will open up. The more people you lift up, the more that will come back to you. No matter how obscure your niche is, there is someone out there that wants to see you succeed, you just have to meet them which means putting yourself out there on a regular basis.
  5. Enjoy the ride. There’s always something around the next corner but take a moment out of every day to count the things you are grateful for, to appreciate it all. I try to do this every night before I fall asleep — just make a mental list of ten things I’m grateful for that day.

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. 🙂

I think at the moment the most important thing for people in this country to do is to reach across the aisle, sit down, and really talk to one another instead of basing their opinions off the internet or the news. We might have different ideas of what is right, but if we can see eye to eye, then our country will emerge stronger. Let’s get cowboys and hippies to sit down for a cup of coffee and find common ground.

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 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 always eager to meet with anyone that has a passion for endangered wildlife and wants to do more!

How can our readers further follow you online?

Our film, Manatee 360 is making its L.A. premiere in June at the New Media Film Festival

https://www.newmediafilmfestival.com/events-2/ and you can find all of our latest news and social media links at http://justfloat.film and http://jamesbeissel.com

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

Thank you for the opportunity!


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