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Angels Do Fly West: An Interview with Joe McNeal

Tell us about yourself. What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

My name is Joe McNeal and I am a retired 25 year law enforcement officer from Western Montana. I retired in 2013 and then in 2015, had the opportunity to assist on a movie set with Academy Award Winner Rami Malek helping with Law Enforcement procedures. I worked then as an extra in the film “Buster’s Mal Heart” as a Deputy Sheriff. This gave me my first taste of acting. As I moved forward with Acting classes I also had ideas of different stories to be adapted to screenplays. I studied all areas of film making to help myself to understand this business better. Spending time in Hollywood working and auditioning was a great learning experience for me.

Talk about your last work. What are some of the challenges you faced during production?

In 2018 I heard of a program called “Angel Flight West” through a friend who started as a volunteer pilot. I never had heard of it so I contacted him to find out more. Realizing this has been around for decades helping families with medical issues to get to their appointments. According to my friend and pilot Michael Burks, they are in desperate need of pilots. I asked him what he thought of me creating and producing a documentary to recruit more pilots and let families know of this service. He readily agreed this was a worthy effort.

I contacted many people within the industry to assist filming and making this documentary. Everyone was enthusiastic and even donated their time and expertise in their areas of film making and production. A year into filming of course the Pandemic hit the world. This held any further production and filming for over a year. Once we found safe ways to film and continue into postproduction. Taking over 70 hours of footage and editing to a 12 ½ minute short documentary that could be put on YouTube so people could share it on any venue to help find more pilots. It took 3 years to complete this endeavor. Over the past year this documentary has won so many national and international awards celebrating Angel Flight West and their mission. Many awards being “Most Inspirational Film”. This story follows our “Angel” pilot Michael Burks and his relationship with Mya Toone and her mother Carly Brown as they share their inspiring story of what I consider their heroism of their lives.

What makes you want to tell stories? In other words, what are the themes/issues you want to incorporate into your work?

What helps me want to go from acting to writing and producing is people. Telling a story and encouraging people to want to learn just like I am. After seeing how this documentary touched so many lives I continued wanting to write more. I met a great screenplay writer Gerasimos Rozis from Greece. We both felt the same on creating screenplays that can inspire people. I had an inspiration when talking with a friend on exploring Indigenous Culture with “The Star People”. I wrote a fictional story based on the true beliefs of many Native cultures titled “Ancestors From the Stars.” Gerasimos and I then wrote a script to this to inspire and teach such a positive and emotional belief of Native America. This script has won numerous awards which has been so humbling to both Gerasimos and I. The past three years I was involved in a film titled “Teller’s Camp” which is not just a western and fictional story, but tells and shares the truths of corruption during the early 1850’s in California during the gold rush. This is a film I was so blessed to participate as an actor/consultant and some of the props. This is a film by an amazing writer Jared Zabel and produced and lead actor Michael Town. This story tells an amazing adventure with an emotional moral to the story.

Please tell us about your vision and your method of approaching a new project?

When I look forward to other projects as I move forward, I have always wanted to be able to tell some kind of story or leave a message. I am currently working on a Sci-Fi Comedy of the Apocalypse with a funny twist. Most stories of the apocalypse is of death and distruction. This is about a man who wants to continue his cooking show he started. Title of this film which starts filming later this year is “Cuisine De La Pocalypse.”

Who are your filmmaking influencers? What are the films that were influential for you?

As I look to who or what influences me I have to say my first and foremost inspiration in the film industry is my former dearest friend and colleague Galyn Gorg. She past away almost two years ago from a short but coragious battle with cancer. Many knew Galyn’s amazing 30+ year career as an actress and professional dancer. Starring in films like Break Point, RoboCop 2, Teller’s Camp and continuing in TV on Star Trek Deep Space 9, Fresh Prince of Bel Aire and so many others! She was so humble and taught me to move forward in this industry with this attitude. She was my mentor and dearest friend. Her and I started the company Universal Spectrums Entertainment producing movies. This company now is based out of Western Montana. My next mentor and amazing influence is actor/producer/writer and editor Michael Town. I met him through Galyn Gorg and he walks the same walk as Galyn. A true inspiration!

How do you think the industry is changing? How has COVID affected independent filmmaking/creation?

I have only been in this industry since 2015. But in this short time this industry has truly changed due to COVID. Auditions, most work being done as self tapes and on audio/video formats on the internet. COVID safety officers adding another finance to filming. But in many ways these issues are helping streamline and making sets safer and allowing auditions from all over the world opening up better opportunities for actors and for casting directors with quality talent.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists? What are some of the things they must follow/avoid?

First and foremost, stay humble, don’t be afraid to help out on a set with anything that needs to be done. We are all their to work as a team. Do what needs to be done. Listen more than talk, we can all learn from amazing veterans onset. And watch what others do. There are more opportunities behind the camera than in front. I went from only acting to handling B cameras, working in props and consulting. Producing numerous films and Directing my first film which I have been awarded numerous awards. Creativity is being open minded, keeping it fun. The only thing I can really emphasize to avoid is toxic behavior from others. Stay an individual with strong character and convictions.

Do you think films/stories can bring about a change in the world?

100 % yes! I have witnessed this even with my short documentary “Angels Do Fly West.” Even behind the scenes the amount of people wanting to be a part to help those in need. The pilot in this film Michael Burks and his wife Kiomi have been helping people for decades in so many ways and this film he stepped in as the pilot/actor and also as Executive Producer of distribution doing what ever it takes to share this film with the world. This video is the success it is BECAUSE of the cast and crew working as a TEAM and a TEAM EFFORT to support Angel Flight West. I cannot in good conscience ever take the only credit making a change to help families in need with this video. I have to share others names of this amazing team!

My Dream-Team: Michael Burks, Kiomi Burks, Mya Toone, Carly Brown, Kyle and Zuzu Weingart, Michael Town, Jim Sanders, Troy and Anne Bashor, Kurt Skrivseth, Larry Robert Wilson, Ryan Graham-Laughlin, Mike Rukstad, Jill Valley, Chris Little, Lily Mitchell, Desert Jet and KPAX Television and SO MANY MORE!

What do you think people like to watch these days? Has the pandemic changed people's taste?

People now days want to watch something that can help them escape reality. Even with all the reality shows they want to see something that not only just entertains them, but inspires them, makes the laugh, makes them think. The pandemic has shows the world how fragile we are, how precious life is and we need to live it to its fullest. Everyone has the genres that they love most so the film industry has become such a wide variety of work and films. Having so many streaming channels to add to pay per view, premium channels and network TV. The film and TV industry has become an open book to the world for creativity!

Please tell us about your upcoming projects.

I am currently working on a feature film title “Cuisine De La Pocolypse” that will start filming later this year. This is a Sci-Fi Comedy that will not only bring the humor of a possible Apocalypse instead of tragedy as projected in other Sci-Fi films. I am also working towards getting two award winning scripts produced that I have Co-Wrote with Gerasimos Rozis titled “Ancestors From The Stars” and “Rise Of The Paladin.” I am always networking with other filmmakers in Montana and new ideas seem to surface every week. Later this summer I am excited to see the release of the Western film “Teller’s Camp”.

1 comment

1 Comment

Spoken from the heart, great interview, thanks for sharing your journey, this is just the beginning of your success

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