Starting a Business

Risking It All to Tell a Story

This filmmaker's bold documentaries don't shy away from big issues.
Magazine Contributor
2 min read

This story appears in the September 2006 issue of Entrepreneur. 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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