Michael Willer: Filmmaker

My NativeAdVantage:


I'm a storyteller at heart, always will be. I'm originally from Virginia, but am now living in Los Angeles to direct film. I started making home movies around 11 years old with whatever camcorder I could get my hands on. Everything we made was edited in camera. Didn't get it in one take? Rewind and shoot again. I quickly learned that you had to rewind a bit extra (over the end of your previous scene) so that the delay when you hit record wouldn't cause a blue screen to flash during your movie.

I wrote and shot my first feature film at 19. I chose a fantasy setting which meant only shooting out in the countryside for 4 months in the Virginia summer, hauling equipment around in costume. We had 0 crew. I used no lights or reflectors, only natural lighting. We tackled blue screens (okay, these were lit), CGI, and everyone had to man the camera at one point (I was acting in the film, as well). The writing and acting are youthfully amateurish, but it looks beautiful. I taught myself effects compositing, 3D design and motion compositing, coloring, and sound design just to complete this project. It took two and a half years.

I am 100% self-taught, and proud of it. I learned to make movies by going out and making movies, then studying them intensely to find the mistakes. That was my film school and I can't recommend it enough.

What’s Your NativeAdVantage:

What do you do best?

Problem-solve. When I'm on set, a part of my brain engages that is otherwise hidden. If things go haywire, intsead of getting overhwelmed it's like I go into hyper-focus mode and I just think it through on the spot. It's hard to describe, but I think it has everything to do with being in my element. I'm not like that just anywhere, any time.  Just on set, in the moment.

What makes you the best?

I'll never sit back and think "I'm the best, time to stop growing and learning." No matter how good you were, there's always a way to get better.

How will you become the best?

I'll make movies until the day I die. If one of them is called "best", it's only because I never stopped trying and never stopped growing. Beyond that, I'm a critique-junky, whether it's self-critique or from respected peers. I want to know every way I could've done something better. I'll watch my own movies ad nauseam for that reason: to pick out the flaws so I can avoid them next time. I'll watch movies from the greats for the opposite reason: total inspiration.

What are your aspirations?

Personal: I want to iron out the things that make me a crummy person sometimes. I'll never stop trying to be a better person, but if, one day, I can look back and go, "I absolutely got to a better place" then I'll be happy with myself.

Business: I want to make films of enormous commercial success married with artistic integrity. I want to win Oscars and have my cast and crew win them in my pictures. The sky's the limit, and it's what I'm shooting for. I want to earn enough money to support the people dear to me without a second thought.

What fascinates you?

Light. It's such an artsy response, but it's true. As long as I can remember, I've been watching reflections, watching light bounce off objects and create glows, seeing how it interacts with materials and scatters and softens or hardens. It's part of my eye, it's something I can't get rid of and wouldn't for a whole cabinet full of Oscars.



I will, therefore I can.


Oscar Wilde, Steven Spielberg, Sam Mendes,


The redwood grove in Monte Rio, Northern California. It's awe-inspiring.


The pen. The kinetic joy I get from writing on a notepad with a pen in my hand is hard to describe. It's like biting into a crisp, flavorful apple in the middle of Autumn: satisfying to the core. Okay, that was unintentionally cheesy. But you know what I mean.


Storytelling is the obvious answer here, but beyond that, I love talking to people. Simple as that. People I've met, people I've never met. I'm not the extroverted guy who strikes up conversation with anyone, but I am absolutely the guy who will sit in a coffee shop with you can talk about our entire lives for five hours. I've done that more times than I can count, with all kinds of friends and acquaintances, and it never grows old. I suppose that's because we're just telling each other stories. And so we come full circle.