Risking It All to Tell a Story

This filmmaker's bold documentaries don't shy away from big issues.
This story first appeared in the September 2006 issue of Entrepreneur. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Vital Stats: Mike Shiley, 39, of Shidog Films in Portland, Oregon

Company: Film production anddistribution company

2006 projected sales: $205,000

On the front line: After 9/11, Shiley had a desire to help. He quit his corporatesales job and used his experience as a world traveler and amateur filmmaker to go to Iraq and create a film that, he says, "would give a greater understanding [of] the war."

Risky (Ad)venture: Shiley convinced his local ABC news station to take him on as a freelance reporter, but was refused media credentials. With the station's permission, Shiley fashioned a fake press pass at Kinko's. "I had no idea what I was getting into," says Shiley. He rented a used bulletproof vest, cashed in his frequent-flier miles, bought some equipment and headed to Iraq.

Under observation: For two months, Shiley brazenly captured the war-torn land. Briefly embedding himself with a National Guard unit, he became a tank gunner and received a civilian combat award. He made money by providing newspapers and ABC stations with stories and footage. Shiley says, "I [went] in a nobody, and came out a bona fide journalist."

Live & direct: Shiley's nonpartisan 90-minute documentary, Inside Iraq: The Untold Stories, was released in October 2004 and is now in its fifth edition. The film won best documentary at three film festivals and has earned more than $500,000 in sales. Flouting traditional film industry standards, Shiley books appearances at colleges and other interested venues, where he personally screens the documentary and sells DVDs.

Fair game: Shiley plans to teach teleseminar workshops on how filmmakers can use his methods to be successful. His current documentary, Dark Water Rising, covers the Hurricane Katrina animal rescues; he'll tackle immigration next. Says Shiley, "I'm a filmmaker who goes behind the scenes of the biggest news stories in the world and brings a human perspective in a politically balanced way."

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