It’s a Long Way to the Top (Or Just Your First Feature) If You Wanna Rock N’ Roll by Brian Douglas of DANI THE RANCH HAND


My name is Brian Douglas, I’m 27 years old and I just completed my first feature length film, Dani The Ranch Hand. All I had to do was write a script, learn non-linear editing systems, meet some industry professionals from LA, and have a little cash. It’s that easy! Anyone can do it. I’m serious.

Let’s start from the beginning. I was 12 years old when my uncle took me on a train trip to see a bullfight in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. After the match we went to see two movies across the river in El Paso: An American Werewolf in Paris (my choice) and Jackie Brown (his choice). On the train trip back my uncle suggested I watch the Robert Rodriguez flick From Dusk ‘Til Dawn. I did. That’s when I knew I wanted to make movies. Robert Rodriguez was from San Antonio just like me! I knew I could make movies, too. The only way I knew to make a movie was to write one. So that’s what I began to do. Every. Single. Day.

It was around this time that my dad left my mom, sister, and me. In a way I was glad. I think secretly I was mad and I turned this energy inward into the keyboard, writing numerous short stories about South Texas drug deals gone bad, cross country bank heists gone bad, and high school keggers, gone bad. Almost all my stories involved drug use and bad luck. I probably wrote like this because I remember my dad as a guy with drug problems and bad luck.

I played football in high school for two years. I quit when I got my first car, a 1987 Ford Bronco II. It was also about this same time that my mom was just getting out of the hospital after a battle with Leukemia. I really didn’t know how to deal with all my emotions and feelings so I turned to drug and alcohol use.  I began to skip school and hang out at a convenience store and drink malt liquor and do cocaine. I also got a job bussing tables. All the while, though, I kept writing. I always wrote. I lived and I wrote.

I went to an honors high school that was affiliated with a renowned art school on the same campus. The art school had a great movie-making program but I never wanted any part of it. I preferred to live (what I thought was living) and write. I though it was absurd that there might be a possibility that I’d get turned down from the program. I wasn’t a great student, but I thought I might be a good to average movie-maker. The kids in the program all wore Goodwill clothing, yet had their parents pick them up in BMW’s. I wanted no part of that.

All of my “living” eventually got me in trouble with the law. I got busted for marijuana possession, 2 public intoxications, an MIP (minor in possession of alcohol) and finally a DWI when I crashed my Bronco II into a telephone pole. From 16 until 21 I was in some form of trouble with the law. But still I wrote. Always writing.

I shaped up in college. I enrolled in the Radio, TV, and Film program at San Antonio College and I excelled. I made many short films with fellow students and fell in love with a girl that I met in the Film Club; a club I later became president of. We dated and eventually married. I got a job working in Master Control at a Fox affiliate in San Antonio. It was during these years that I was really forming a story around the alcoholics and drug addicts that I hung around in my high school years. The people whose pain, between my father’s abandoning me and my mom nearly dying of cancer, I related to.

All and all though, I was a frustrated writer who couldn’t make his movie. I quit my job at the station and got a job running camera for a AA baseball videography team. Not long after this I got divorced. I quit my job running camera and went back to bussing tables. I needed the grounding of a blue-collar job again.

While running camera for the baseball team, though, I met a local producer and we did some short films that won local recognition. I finished my script about my high school years hanging out with broken down addicts. The only thing was it wasn’t a complete story in my mind. The solution came when I made the lead character an ex daughter-wife to David Koresh. That was the missing piece. The story now had a plot.

Now the question became how to film this. My producer friend and I did a little preliminary casting but things weren’t going very far. Through him I met producer Aaron Lee Lopez while working on his film, The Return of Johnny V. The late hours working on this movie in essence caused me to lose another girl I loved. After production was done, Mr. Lopez brought me in to post production on the movie where I fine tuned my editing skills. I told him I had a script in Final Draft form and he expressed interest. He requested some money to pay key players he’d bring in from LA, and he would help out with editing costs. I had some cash saved up and I convinced some family to loan me some money, as well.

That’s all I can say regarding how to make a movie. This movie has been my life. It has consumed me. That’s how my journey of making my first feature went down. Making a movie isn’t shooting some BS, putting it online, and having your friends shower you with adulation. Filmmaking is your life. You will lose lots. You will lose friends, you will lose jobs, and you will lose love. You have to go balls to the wall. That’s about the best advice I can give. Go all the way. If not, please, don’t waste your time.


That is the lifeblood of moviemaking.


Brian Douglas is a native San Antonian with a love for film and his hometown. Brian began his movie-making career at San Antonio College’s Radio, TV and Film department where he quickly rose to president of the Film Society.

After a short career in broadcasting, he was brought on as a SFX coordinator and assistant editor on The Return of Johnny V. Brian made his directorial debut in 2011 on Dani The Ranch Hand.