As an innovative writer/director team, husband-wife duo Bayou Bennett
and Daniel Lir
are rapidly gaining a reputation as powerhouses in the Hollywood film industry. Their feature films, documentaries and music videos have won awards in film festivals around the world; they’ve done projects for major corporations and important industry producers; they’ve worked with music icons like Coldplay
and P. Diddy
; and they’ve even helped discover stars like Matt Bennett
of Nickelodeon’s “Victorious”
and Lea Michele
of Fox’s “Glee.”
Daniel and Bayou refer to themselves collectively as The Dream Team
, not just because they’re living out their own dreams as filmmakers, but also because they believe in using their talents to help others fulfill their dreams (their motto is “Let our dream manifest your dream”). This mentality is a key reason why this dynamic “Dream Team” are now among the Film Connection’s top film industry mentors. Talking with this couple, it’s apparent that they truly understand the power of mentorship in this industry. Daniel cites several key mentors on his own path to success; Bayou taught film in one of the most prestigious art schools in the nation (Parsons The New School in New York), but actually prefers the one-on-one mentoring approach after her experiences making films alongside some of her students.
Among the apprentices they’ve taught for the Film Connection, they’ve formed a special bond with Mike Dusenka
, a passionate, aspiring director who jumped in with both feet during his apprenticeship, and stayed on after graduation to work for the company while he continues to forge his own career. Mike’s ongoing relationship with the Dream Team is a perfect example of what happens when the mentor-apprentice approach is done right. We recently had Q&A sessions both with Mike Dusenka and his mentors, and we were so impressed with what they had to say about their collective experience that we’re sharing both conversations here below!
RRF: So how have your experiences been with Mike Dusenka?
“I think Mike is a really, really unique person because he wants to learn so bad. He’s so passionate about the program and about filmmaking, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get a production done and to learn. He has a very fresh viewpoint about learning, which is refreshing. He has finished the program, and now he works for us as an employee. He’s really getting the star treatment because he wants to contribute so much that we just make him a part of everything we do, whether we’re signing a management contract or whether we’re working for producers who have multiplatinum hits, or whether he’s learning about how really different [things work] together from financing to casting. He’s really just involved in every aspect. So basically, from being a student with the Film Connection to actually being right in the center of the industry is a pretty amazing transition, I would say.”
RRF: Sounds like you guys work well together.
Yeah, we work extremely well together, and he’s very involved. He’s gone from being a student to helping the company with his daily promotion to going to meetings to being involved in the development of the contracts. You know, basically everything you need to actually run a successful company, he’s really able to get to learn and get insights into that whole process.
After training Mike for a while, Daniel got him to a level where we could actually hire him to edit music videos and things. . . We’re also mentoring him as the director, so when we’re doing our feature films and whatnot, he can continue working on the music videos and commercials. He’s learning, basically all of our secrets.
We keep it positive [on set]. That’s really important for Daniel and I because you need everyone to be on the same page, it needs to be a positive environment. Mike is absolutely one of the most positive people I know, and it really adds to the environment that we really highly always recommend and create, not only on our sets, but in the office, because that’s the only way to be.
RRF: Have you had any significant learning experiences that made you think, “Wow, that really saved me a lot of trouble!”?
Yeah, for sure. I mean I think having written this one feature or screenplay under the guidance of Doug Claybourne
who has seen about 30 movies go from script to screen, and all movies you’ve heard of—The Fast and the Furious, War of the Roses
, and Hearts of Darkness: Filmmaker’s Apocalypse
—I think under his guidance, I really learned about how to make a character likeable and how to create conflict and how to create a character journey that is something that an audience would really identify with, and create a world and character that audiences would really want to be involved in or care about. That was extremely valuable.
RRF: What do you think is the most valuable aspect of being a mentor?
You know, that’s a really important question…I think the value of it is that you can be a real kind of a lighthouse for students and filmmakers, because if you have someone who’s experienced and has recognition, and has worked with celebrities and has had successes, they’re able to give students a pathway that’s kind of lit up as opposed to [being] in the dark. They’re able to cut out a lot of unnecessary confusion and lack of knowledge and lack of how to approach the industry. So I think it’s a really very, very powerful position…I graduated from a very top film school, but because I didn’t have a mentor, I was very in the dark for many years about how to go about doing things correctly. And having had a mentor in the last two years myself, who produced movies for Francis Ford Coppola
, I could see how much that helped me to have that kind of mentor. So to be able to be that to someone else is really empowering.
RRF: Your mentors have some pretty amazing things to say about you. What do you have to say about the program?
The program, to me, has been extremely beneficial in the fact that I’m a very driven and motivated person, and this program really compliments that because it gives you the skills, and then there’s the people in the industry you have to know to really get your foot in the door and get started. For me that was very, very beneficial and it really opened my mind to how I can make a living and a career as a filmmaker and to continue to be solvent throughout the rest of my filmmaking.
RRF: What is it about Film Connection that was different from the other film schools you looked into?
Well, the Film Connection
really caught my eye because it is affordable. I will not be in debt, and I get actual skills that I would not get at a traditional film school.
RRF: What has been your favorite experience on set so far?
My favorite thing on set that I’ve done with my mentors Bayou Bennett and Daniel Lir is being the director of photography, and directing how the shot will look and where the lights will be placed, and the mood according to the lights and the camera angle.
RRF: How do you feel about working for your mentors, going from an apprenticeship to being part of the company? How has the transition been?
The transition has been excellent. To be completely honest, Daniel and Bayou are my best of friends, really good friends…I was able to become familiar with how they run things, and how things should be done [to] maintain business. They really, really trained me on that and how to be an expert filmmaker. Now that I’m working full-time with them every day, it’s just like I’m continuing to even learn more…
RRF: Have any projects of your own in the works?
Well, for myself (not with Bayou and Daniel), I have been directing a music video for an incredible artist named Jean-Luc from Rwanda, Africa and he’s got a really cool R&B song. It’s been a four-day production, actually, and I’ve been working on that. We have our last production day coming up here real soon, and it’s going to be a great piece.
Film Connection mentors Daniel Lir and Bayou Bennett are taking the skills, expertise, and connections they’ve gained over the years and are using them to empower and prepare the filmmakers of tomorrow. Every single day, this Dream Team is helping Film Connection graduate, Mike Dusenka, manifest a dream all his own. Who will be next?