Brett William Mauser of Not So Sane Entertainment: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker
And finally, don’t be stupid. Take a moment to think about a problem. Think about the downsides, then about the upsides. Do not seize the day. Remember, you have to live tomorrow with the fallout from your decisions today.
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 Brett William Mauser.
Brett William Mauser’s journey from making casual short videos with friends during high school to becoming a celebrated filmmaker is both fascinating and inspiring. After his graduation from Kingwood High School in 1991, Brett nurtured his creative inclinations at San Antonio College, earning an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science in Radio-Television-Film.
His career took flight in 1997 when he founded Ponderous Productions in Denver, Colorado. Concurrently producing a community access television series titled “This Is Ponderous,” Brett landed a role as a Master Control Operator at Denver Community Television, swiftly ascending to the position of Production Coordinator.
The Texas native returned home in 2000, serving as a versatile Multimedia Journalist for KXXV in the city of Waco. This period also saw the revival of Ponderous Productions, leading to the creation of a television pilot, “Knight Watchmen” that aired in 2003.
2004 saw Brett managing production at KWDB, the Corpus Christi Warner Brother’s affiliate. Here, he formed a successful partnership with producer, Bradley Bates. Their collaborative brilliance resulted in nearly a hundred award-winning commercials and acclaimed films like “Barrio Angelz” and “Cartel Killaz,” securing nationwide distribution.
Returning to San Antonio in 2006, Brett and Bates embarked on an ambitious ten-film project, “The Innocence Saga,” contributing significantly to Brett’s feature film portfolio. His films during this period found widespread distribution, including a historic biopic, “Bass Reeves.” One reviewer of the film had this to say,
In 2010, Brett chose to further his education, taking a brief detour as a photojournalist at KIII in Corpus Christi. Around this time, Ponderous Productions transitioned into Not-So-Sane Entertainment, a company that gained recognition for its award-winning short films.
Brett, a Summa Cum Laude graduate from Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi, holds both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degree in Communication. After producing communications materials for the Corpus Christi Regional Transportation Authority for over three years, he returned to San Antonio, where he presently educates budding filmmakers at Northwest Vista College.
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?
Thank you so much for the opportunity! I’m excited to share a bit about my history in hopes of inspiring others to get behind a camera and make their own projects!
I grew up in Dallas as an only child, so I was a bit spoiled, but my father, an economics major with a sharp mind for expenses, taught me the value of penny-pinching on movie sets. He instilled in me the importance of not over-indulging or spending money on useless things. I brought that mentality into my filmmaking and was always looking for ways to save money.
On a personal level, I started off as the goober nerd in elementary school. However, when we moved to Houston, I had the chance to reinvent myself and swore to my parents that I would become popular. I buckled down and tried my best to fit in, eventually finding a group of friends where I could be myself.
Through TV shows and movies, I learned about ethics and values, and I brought these ideas of friendship, loyalty, and honor into my storytelling. In high school, I was a B or C student, but I attended an exceptional high school that ranked pretty high up among the top high schools in the country, providing me with a well-rounded education. For the classes and projects where I struggled, I used my video skills to complete projects that helped me boost my grades and graduate.
I had a very supportive family. Although they thought the passion I had for film might just be a phase I was going through, they never discouraged me from chasing my dream as a filmmaker. While they encouraged me to have a Plan B, they always supported me in following my passion. I can complain about a lot in life, as it’s our God-given right as Americans to complain, but the one thing I can’t complain about is the loving and supportive household in which I grew up.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Kind of funny, actually. In high school, I had plans of being a magician/illusionist. I watched all the David Copperfield specials and loved the comedy magic of Penn and Teller and the Amazing Jonathan. I always had coins and cards on me and could whip them out to impress a girl or start a conversation on any social occasion. But when it came time to graduate and start looking for colleges, I was hit with the hard reality that magic wasn’t something you could major in at your typical university. So I had to find something else.
My grandfather passed away when I was young but left me his old Super 8 film camera. So I made a few little stop-motion films with my GI Joe action figures and even tried to make a short horror movie when I was 12 or 13. But film was expensive, so I put the camera away. Early in my freshman or sophomore year of high school, a family friend had left an old VHS camcorder at our house. So one summer day, I invited some friends over, and we made a few short movies for fun. At the time, I never expected to pursue it as a career, but when magic was taken off the table as a career goal; I decided to try this video and film thing. The first time someone told me it would be impossible and I couldn’t do it, then my fate had been sealed. As a Texan, I don’t take kindly to people telling me I can’t do something, and will do everything I can to prove them wrong.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
As a no-budget filmmaker, pretty much the only thing we have are funny stories. I’m a firm believer that the rich don’t have good stories. You need to be broke to have the strangest, weirdest things happen to you in life.
There was a time I was shooting a scene that involved drug dealers, and my actors didn’t show up. So I told my producer to go get me some drug dealers. He drove into downtown Denver and picked up some real drug dealers off the corner. It was my bad for not being more specific. But they were great guys and made the scene more authentic, teaching our actress the proper way to snort the flour that we were using as cocaine. So there’s that. And we accidentally electrocuted one of them that night.
I had just watched Robert Rodriguez’s commentary track of El Mariachi and was trying to emulate the squib technique using a 12V battery and a condom of blood. We tried several times to pull off a blood bullet hit on one of them, but the squib just never went off. After we realized the battery might have been messed up from being dropped a few times, we thought we would have to shut down the shoot for the day. It was 2 in the morning, and we didn’t want to have to go to Walmart or King Soopers. As we were trying to figure out what we could do, we heard a voice from the back of the room say, “You could plug him into the wall.”
My producer and I looked at each other and said, “No, no. We can’t do that,” followed by a moment of deep contemplation. “Can we?” So, we took our speaker wire, which was leading to the rocket model igniter jammed into an M-60 firecracker stuck under a bag of blood, and plugged one end of the wire into a long orange extension cord that was running to the basement.
Did I mention? Kids, don’t try this at home.
When we were ready to go, one of the actors put one end of the speaker wire into one hole of the extension cord, and as soon as I called action, he would put the other end of the speaker wire into the other hole, completing the circuit.
Since I wanted to make sure this one went off, I stuck a whole string of ladyfinger firecrackers on top of the squib packet, thinking, “One of these sons of guns is going off!”
We were ready to go, and I called, “Fire in the hole! Action!” My friend plugged it in, and the firecrackers popped, lights started flickering, and the drug dealer started jumping up and down as the electricity coursed through him, “Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!”
Of all the times to become an acting coach, my actor decided now was a good time. Instead of just sticking the speaker wire in and then immediately pulling it out, as soon as the dealer started jumping up and down, my friend started giving him acting advice and direction, chastising him for not getting shot correctly, all while forgetting to pull out the speaker wire.
After a moment of terror and wondering if anyone was going to jail, a deep silence fell over the room as we all looked around at each other, realizing no one had died. Finally, after a long ten or fifteen seconds, I said calmly, “Cut.”
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
Aside from the drug dealers? He was fine, by the way. He even came back the next night to finish the scene. Amazing what free beer and pizza can get you on a movie set.
I’ve had the honor and privilege of working with a couple of names here and there, usually before they became famous. But perhaps the most interesting people are the crazies I work with who no one has ever heard of. Once, I asked my best friend why all the crazy actors and producers manage to find their way onto my sets. He looked at me and said, “Brett, you might as well ask why the graveyard attracts the dead. It’s where they go.” And that never stopped. To this day, I have the weirdest, most bizarre people on my sets. From my prop guy, who has OCD, causing all my props to be late because they have to be absolutely perfect, to actresses who were involved in political scandals and include that on their resumes. I’ve worked with divas and airline pilots, real homicide detectives, and doctors. Most of those in the indie film world have day jobs, bringing a wide scope of personalities — conservative, liberal, and everywhere in between.
My best friend is a former military personnel and now flies cargo planes, and he hates movies. He hates watching them, and he hates making them even more. Yet, he never misses an opportunity to come and hang out and watch the crazy people pretend to be chased by serial-killing rabbits. The number of stories he has gained over the years by working on my films is priceless to him. From answering the pay phone at a roadside rest stop in Denver, Colorado, at 2 in the morning, to trying to direct a dwarf on how to fight a werecow. To this day, he swears he would never trade those stories for anything.
I have so many stories that I’ve started putting them in books. One of which is now available on Amazon. Check that out if you want to hear some of the most insane happenings in the history of my films.
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?
Simple. Everyone who has ever been on my set, every actor, whether a lead or an extra, makes my films possible. Without them, I would have nothing. Those who started off as actors and became production assistants or producers not only made my job easier but also are just as responsible for the success of our projects as I am. The people who come to mind most are my producers Bradley Bates, Jake Jecmenek, Amanda Nutting, and Joey Venegas Jr., aka Gigantor.
In 2004, I was working at the WB affiliate in Corpus Christi as a commercial production manager. At the time, Bradley was a salesman for the station, and I thought he was the most boring guy I had ever met. But after a few conversations and throwing him into a commercial for a moving company in which he played a bumbling mover, I realized he had a pretty sick and twisted sense of humor. He helped me write several of my earlier films, including Serial Rabbit, a character he still plays to this day.
Amanda worked with us for several years before departing, but she was an important part of those last years of Ponderous Productions. Sadly, she passed away last year and will be sorely missed. Before her departure from Ponderous Productions, she was essential in helping to find locations, casting, and handling anything I couldn’t.
Jake came on in 2006 as an extra in a fight scene. He showed an interest in learning and being as big a part of our productions as possible. One day, when needing extras to play mercenaries for a shootout, Amanda enlisted Jake’s help. Somehow he managed to find dozens of people to come out and play the mercenaries. We refer to that shoot as “The Day of a Thousand Mercs.” Since then, he has been a loyal and helpful member of Ponderous Productions, and now Not So Sane Entertainment.
Joey was a student of mine when I was teaching at the Art Institute. Upon graduation, I often asked former students who showed promise and potential if they wanted to help out on my sets. Joey is one of the only ones to take me up on the offer. Now he has become an important and indispensable part of Not So Sane Entertainment. His senior project was a short film about a werecow, which really impressed me and made me realize we had similar senses of humor. Today, we are working on a film that brings his werecow into the Serial Rabbit franchise as his arch-nemesis.
Without these four producers, my almost 50 feature films would never have been possible. Or, if they had been made, they wouldn’t have been nearly as successful as they have been.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Is there a good one about common sense? There are a lot of good quotes out there, but none come to mind as serving me any in my life. Carpe Diem is crap. It’s how people screw up their lives, the whole living for the moment thing. It breaks up marriages, friendships, and bank accounts.
I asked my father in an interview recently if he had any words of advice. He had one. Invest. As a teacher, I find it amazing how little some students know about life and how to live it responsibly. Sometimes, I would have students ask about how much money they should put into their movies. Fifteen minutes and a lecture on compound interest later, I taught the class how they can turn a minimal amount of money into a respectable budget in ten years.
So, stop and think. Think about tomorrow. If you’re not thinking about tomorrow, you’re not thinking. Did I just create a life lesson quote?
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
We recently finished our film, “The Oldest Posse,” which was a love letter to the Westerns I grew up on and was introduced to by my father. He was diagnosed with kidney cancer a few years ago and has been battling it ever since. After shooting our film “Lady Lawman,” about the first female deputy marshal in the old West, I had the idea of a movie with just a bunch of old, retired lawmen going after one last outlaw. While visiting my parents in December of 2022, my father showed interest in being in one of my movies, something he hadn’t shown much interest in before. So I decided to make the western and give him a role in the film. In March of 2023, we were back in Arizona at the historic Mescal movie studio, shooting the scene with my father as a sheriff.
Currently, I am working on a series called “Long Shot.” After seeing a YouTube video from Chris Gore, where he was trying to inspire people to go out and make their movies, I read several comments in his video. Almost all of them were making excuses about money, time, effort, you name it — all excuses as to why they weren’t making their movie. So, as a veteran of making movies with no budgets, some as low as $65, I decided to make a documentary series following us in making a movie. It will teach scriptwriting, how to cast, how to find locations, shoot, and edit — the whole process from top to bottom, all with a budget of only $1,000. Now, we are in production of our 4th Serial Rabbit Movie, “Serial Rabbit 7,” shooting behind-the-scenes footage and interviews that we hope will not only teach but inspire people to go and make their own movie, even if they have no money.
Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?
Short answer to this one. Having made so many movies with so little money, every time I would get home, sweaty, in pain and agony, with my feet and back killing me, it was a badge of pride that I had busted my butt, worked hard, and accomplished something. The cast and crew and I made every movie with our blood, sweat, and tears. We had to, as we never had any money. Each and every one of those no-budget films taught us something. So when we were finally able to start putting some money into them, we knew what we were doing, and we had the experience to do some pretty great stuff!
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.
Well, the first would be not to plug actors into the wall. Self-explanatory on that one.
Second, everything is going to be all right. Don’t panic. The human mind is an amazing thing. Let us do our thing as humans, and we’re going to solve problems. A friend of mine says humans are going to human. Yes, that means we’re going to create problems to survive, but we’re also going to figure out a way to solve those problems. That’s why the most important type of diversity is diversity of thought. I don’t care about the color of your skin or your socio-economic status. I care about how you think and if you have good ideas and can help contribute to the human race.
Third, don’t take a net profit-sharing deal. Always ask for gross. And make sure you get a minimum guarantee. I’ve been involved in a lot of distribution contracts. Most of them promise to pay once it starts making money, but they always manage to find new expenses. Sometimes they won’t even release your movie. One of my films from 2010 still hasn’t seen the light of day because of a distributor shelving it. U.S. rights won’t revert back to me until 2025. So always hire an attorney to look over contracts.
Fourth, be careful and take advice from those who have been where you are. Pride can hurt. Especially when you’re young, you think you know everything. You may be right from time to time, but you’re not always right. I have said before that there are over 7 billion people on this planet, and I guarantee you can’t find two people on Earth who believe the exact same thing about every single topic. This means, logically speaking, there could only possibly be one person in the world who is right about everything. It’s pretty arrogant to think you’re that one person in 7 billion who never gets it wrong. Ignoring good advice for your pride or just to accomplish finishing a project will hurt you in the end. I currently have a friend who is producing a film that he has stolen almost word for word from an old ’80s movie. It’s also infringing on a well-known character in pop culture. But despite my warnings, he is going forward with the project. His pride is holding him back from seeing how much trouble he is going to get into. Don’t be like him. Listen to those around you, especially those who know more about the business than you do. Listening doesn’t mean you HAVE to take the advice, but you should at least hear them out. If they have a good point, you need to find a reason that debunks it. If you can’t debunk their advice, then maybe you need to second-guess your course of action.
And finally, don’t be stupid. Take a moment to think about a problem. Think about the downsides, then about the upsides. Do not seize the day. Remember, you have to live tomorrow with the fallout from your decisions today.
When you create a film, which stakeholders have the greatest impact on the artistic and cinematic choices you make? Is it the viewers, the critics, the financiers, or your own personal artistic vision? Can you share a story with us or give an example about what you mean?
Depends. I teach filmmaking at a local college. I tell my students to ask themselves ONE thing before they make a movie: What is the goal? Is it to make money, or is it to tell your story? The answer to that question is going to guide every decision throughout production. If you want to make money, you need money. You’ve got to get a name, or you’ve got to make sure it looks great, as close to perfect as possible. You have to avoid offending people and make it as accessible as possible. You have to watch the language you use and how much sex or violence is in it. You have to be mindful of all of that.
But if it’s for you, and it’s a story you want to tell, and you’re not worried about making money, then you get to do what you want to do. You get to make all the decisions and put on screen the story you have always wanted to see.
So my answer to that is it depends on whether I want a film to make money. Even then, though, you have to pick your audience. You’re never going to please everyone. Our comments and ratings section is always split. People love them, or they hate them. And people can hate your movie for the most ridiculous reasons. One person gave “Lady Lawman” a one-star rating because the horse buckle on one of the horses wasn’t period accurate. But other people have tracked down our contact information in an effort to desperately find a copy of the original “Serial Rabbit” or “After the Day.” One fan has become a great friend because he loved “Serial Rabbit III” so much. To this day, he says it’s his favorite movie of all time.
So whom do I make my films for? I make them for the people who want to see something different. If you’re looking for a Marvel superhero movie or a star-studded action-packed adventure with millions of dollars of explosions, we’re not the filmmakers for you. We hope you’ll check us out and that you’ll give us a shot. But we’re not going to say we’re something we’re not. We want to give you something you’re not used to seeing. We want you to laugh and be taken on a roller coaster ride. We don’t put a lot of money into our films so we can experiment. We can try different things. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. We take chances. And we hope audiences will take a chance on us.
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. 🙂
Let’s get back to making movies because we want to make movies. AI is proving that isn’t the case anymore. At the heart of the writer’s strike is the AI problem. On one side, it’s the buggy whip of the movie industry. There’s no stopping progress. It won’t be long before you can just tell your computer you want to see a horror film with Bogart and Bruce Willis, and it’ll whip that up and spit it out.
But here is the problem. Why would studios and filmmakers want to use AI? People write because they enjoy it. They want to tell stories. You edit and shoot and direct movies because you WANT to make movies. Sure, making some money would be nice, but this is supposed to be an art, too. So why in the world would you make movies if you don’t want to or don’t enjoy writing, shooting, editing, directing, creating special effects, etc.? So if you’re taking the creative humans out of the equation of filmmaking, then you’re essentially just doing it for the money, because you didn’t write it. You didn’t direct it or edit it or do the set design. So it’s not for the love and excitement of finishing and creating something. With AI, you didn’t do any of that. So what’s left besides it being about the money?
That may not be world-altering or utilitarian, making the most amount of people happy as possible, but it’s an important step to take if we want to save the movies, save film. And then there’s the whole Skynet thing, so let’s be careful with AI in general.
Outside of that, dogs. I love dogs. I’d love to help dogs. Not a cat person, though.
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. 🙂
They say, “Never meet your heroes.” So I’m hesitant to answer that, as I think my first instinct would be someone I grew up watching or greatly admired, and I wouldn’t want to find out they’re an asshole in real life. Throw in the fact that so many of the actors and filmmakers I grew up with have passed; it’s a difficult question to answer. But after some deep thought, I would have to say, Roger Corman. In 2008, I was making a film saga called the Innocence Saga, ten feature films shot in one year, a time travel epic. Another filmmaker in San Antonio heard about this and scoffed, saying, “Who does he think he is, the Steven Spielberg of San Antonio?” When I heard this, my response was, “No, I’m the Roger Corman of San Antonio.” I think the relationship would be so mutually beneficial for us both. He wouldn’t have to keep telling me to stop spending so much money. In fact, it would probably be a goal of mine, if I were to ever work on one of his films, to have him say, “Wow! That cost less than I thought it would!”
Otherwise, an acquisitions manager at a streaming service who is looking to get around the strikes and work with someone who can give them creative, interesting, and new projects consistently. Someone who needs to keep their budgets down and is willing to just work with a Texas company that loves making films. Working with guys like us would be so incredibly beneficial to their bottom line.
How can our readers further follow you online?
I’m not a big social media guy. I got off Facebook years ago, and I haven’t been happier. So, we haven’t had much presence in recent years. But we are now trying to rebuild that presence. We can be found at NotSoSaneEnt on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and on our website www.notsosane.com. We’ve always had an active YouTube channel, NotSoSaneMen, where you can find our trailers, some of our short films, and even our series “What Went Wrong,” where we talk about all the insanity that went on behind the scenes of our low to no-budget movies and hopefully teach filmmakers not to make the same mistakes we did.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Thank you, I’ve truly enjoyed this.
Brett William Mauser of Not So Sane Entertainment: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.