Art or Business, Which Comes First? by Dale Stelly

Film Courage: What came first for you, art or business?

Dale Stelly, Filmmaker: It was both actually. They came at the same time. I was fortunate to have a very close friend of mine Daniel Zirilli that I did my first production job with and I was craft service or something in like 1995? My first job on set was craft service and was for a very good friend of mine Daniel Zirilli (he owns the company called Pop Art Film Factory). What I learned from him right off the bat was he was a director. Not only was he a director, but he owned the production company.

I learned right off the bat if I wanted to be in this game, I had to be like my friend Daniel. I’ve got to own the company, I’ve got to own the production company and then direct. So I learned the business before directing like you have to set up a company. I set up Stelly Entertainment.

I PA’d and then I Second AD’d, then First AD’d 1995 into 1996 and working behind my friend Daniel being 21 at the time I got envious of him. I’m like “Man, I want to be a director.” He was older than me and obviously like a mentor in a way  but he didn’t realize that I was actually paying attention and sucking up everything. 

And so after 1996 I developed this attitude of like “I want to be a director.” So I’m 21 or 22 talking about I want to be a music video director. I was working at Kodak at the time and being in the shadow of my friend Daniel Zirilli and him kind of bringing me up the ranks like PA, Second AD to First AD. I was first ADing music videos that were on BET in like 1996 and that’s what kind of built up my confidence to start Stelly Entertainment from a business perspective because if people are going to take me seriously I’ve got to have a production company and then my production company will loan out my directing services or my writing services or my producing services or whatever.

In my 20’s I learned right away how to run a production company to get checks written to Stelly Entertainment not to Dale Stelly. That was a big deal for me and a big step for me and my company because I worked at a post house at the time. I would take some of my friends out to lunch and then when I would put my credit card down it was my Stelly Entertainment credit card and they’d be like “How do you have a Stelly Entertainment credit card?” And I was already starting my business, I was already doing lunches. It was bananas because I had already foreseen me starting my company, I already seen my taking my friends out on lunch meetings. I had already seen myself buying this car, seeing my car going on the back lot with my “Director” plates. I visualized all of this and I made it happen and in like 2006 or 2007 I am going on the back lot of Universal. They are letting me in because they know my car and recognize me. Everything I pre-visualized and everything came to life all the way to me getting an office on the back lot, not even knowing how that was going to happen but I knew “I want to be on the back lot.” And I ended up on the back lot for like a year and a half with a partner of mine.

But yes, when you believe and you have faith and you put that in the Universe everyday you can manifest some unbelievable situations. And I like to say me I don’t come from a rich family. I just really dedicated myself in figuring out this movie business, every facet, from post production, I worked in post production for over 13 years so I know exactly what it takes to shoot and make a movie for little money or for huge amounts of money. And having that talent and skill is very valuable in this business. Because right now with the technology and everything people are condensing film crews to three man, four man.

And it used to be 25 people crew back in the day because of the budgets and technologies, these millennials they done figured out how to make projects on cell phones and everything. So it’s like you really have got to stay on top of the creativity and put out the best product that you can economically and you’ll win.

Question For The Viewers: What came first for you, art or business?



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