Dan Mace’s Story: Seeing The World Through The Lens Of A Film Director

Meet the filmmaker behind the "Seeing Sounds" series...

Team Nas Academy

31 Jul · 5 mins read

Dan Mace walked away from a successful career, as an award-winning film director, to make YouTube videos instead. But he had always been an unconventional thinker, as far back as he can remember. He was often unable to express himself and always felt awkward when trying to share stories with others.

Through the power of video storytelling, he was able to find his voice. Dan Mace’s story, as both a filmmaker and YouTuber, is an inspirational tale of a visionary creative who isn’t slowing down anytime soon.

Growing up in South Africa

Before Dan won prestigious awards and received multiple accolades, he dropped out of film school.

But the “Dan Mace Story” starts a bit further back in time, when he entered the world alongside his twin sister, Lisa. But, unlike his sibling, he didn’t excel at school and never seemed to fit in.

The Inspirational Story of Filmmaker Dan Mace | Nas Academy

In a desperate attempt to avoid speaking in front of his classmates, Dan convinced his teacher to allow him to pre-record his presentation and then play the video when it was his turn to speak. He opted to create a short film on Jack the Ripper, and it went off without a hitch.

Even though he was only 16 at the time, Dan managed to find a creative way to get out of an intimidating situation. It was also what sparked his curiosity for the medium. He then tried his hand at acting and appeared in several commercials, including a McDonald’s campaign. Once he had saved up enough money, he purchased a small camera for shooting and a cheap laptop for editing. Dan, aka “Dan the Director,” was born.

He realized that, through film, he could create a much more compelling case than in person. The music, the sound effects, the camera angles… all these cinematic techniques (and more) could be used to guide viewers through different emotions.

Finally, he could tell the stories that he always wanted to tell. Finally, he could take people on a journey through his mind.

Becoming an Award-Winning Director

Dan readily admits that he became rather arrogant early in his film career, as he somehow convinced himself that he would become rich and famous – even when his lack of academic success indicated otherwise.

It wasn’t long until he realized that simply owning a camera wasn’t quite the ticket to Hollywood that he was hoping for. As an all-round creative, he had always been able to write, produce, direct, and edit the majority of his own work. But he wasn’t sure how he would make a living as a creator.

He started an agency called If Not Why Not and poured all his efforts into creating digital content for businesses. Unfortunately, as a creative, he didn’t have any business acumen and the company failed within the first year.

From there, he decided to take a risk and started freelancing. It was an unstable gig, but it gave him the creative freedom that he was seeking. And it wasn’t that long until he worked himself up and managed to collaborate with some of the most highly creative individuals in the industry – which motivated him even further to make exceptional work.

The Inspirational Story of Filmmaker Dan Mace | Nas Academy

As he developed his technical knowledge, he began to craft his talent for bringing meaningful narratives to life. Narratives that would move people and, hopefully, change the world for the better. He soon reached commercial success, having directed over 100 commercials, music videos, documentaries, and short films. Dan had already become a sought-after director by the age of 27.

He won multiple awards, including Young Director Awards at Cannes Lions, an African Crystal Film Grand Prix, Bronze Loerie Awards, Ciclope Africa Editing Craft Awards, and the Creative Circle Ad of the month.

Three of his short films in particular, “Here’s To The Us In Every Tusker,” “Mine Sniffing Rats,” and “Gift,” received international recognition in the film community – earning him coveted awards at Cannes in 2016 and 2017.

For the Tusker commercial, Dan and his crew traveled through Kenya to feature 42 tribes in a soundtrack that would eventually become a type of anthem for the nation. For “Mine Sniffing Rats,” they traveled to Mozambique where rodents are taught from infancy to sniff out the remaining bombs that were placed around villages during the civil war. And for “Gift,” they didn’t have to go very far as they followed a boy named Gift in Dan’s home country, South Africa, to explore the concept of perception.

So, although most people know Dan as Casey Neistat’s protégé on YouTube, he was also the first South African to win the Young Director Award three times at Cannes Lions Festival. He was also rated as one of the top 6 young film directors in the world by Shots Magazine, long before he garnered success online.

Moving to New York City

Dan managed to achieve exactly what he had set out to do when he was 16 years old – an impressive victory. But there was a heavy feeling that began to grow inside of him, as he slowly came to the realization that he was stuck in his comfort zone. It was stifling his creativity and causing him to become complacent, but it was hard to admit. He slowly drifted further and further away from his initial rejection of all things conventional, as “conventional” became standard in his new life.

His spark began to fade and his passion started to dilute.

Then, as if it were divine intervention, Dan received an offer that would change the course of his life. YouTuber Casey Neistat was building a large following by uploading daily vlogs, and he was about to launch Project 368. The idea was simple: buy a building, get a bunch of equipment, and invite creators in.

It was, essentially, the original version of “The Hype House” (a collective of teenage TikTokers based in Los Angeles).

But Casey needed a partner in crime for producing content. So, he turned to his old surfing buddy, Dan Mace. Despite warnings from industry colleagues, Dan walked away from his promising career to accept Casey’s invitation.

So, Dan flew to New York City and, for three years, he worked tirelessly on Project 368 together with Casey Neistat. But he also dedicated time to growing his own YouTube channel – which has amassed over 35 million views to date.

From Filmmaker to YouTuber, and Back to Filmmaker

Dan was chasing “life experiences” when he hopped on a plane to America – and that’s certainly what he got. He soon became one of the most visionary content creators on the internet, and he traveled to over 40 countries.

“Dan the Director” is known for ingenious ways of mixing pop culture with unexpected video treatment, but we can only get a glimpse into his mind through the end product. With his sharp ear, he is able to record live sounds in any environment and merge them with visual aesthetics to create a deep, sensory experience.

This methodology can be seen in action in his “Seeing Sounds” series, where he recreates The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” with bricks as his instruments and Justin Bieber’s “Peaches” with peaches as his instruments.

Today, Dan Mace’s story comes full circle as he now transitions back to his film directing roots, where he’ll undoubtedly shake up the world of feature films.

But that’s not all he’s up to these days.

Join the Dan Mace Academy

The Inspirational Story of Filmmaker Dan Mace | Nas AcademyDan is launching an academy for aspiring filmmakers, directors, editors, cinematographers, or anyone who wants to take their video-based storytelling to the next level.

Even if you’re a complete beginner, you can join in and learn how to solve creative problems.

This is a chance to get an insider’s look at Dan’s entire workflow and processes, from ideation to final edit, as he deconstructs each step and technique.

Join the “How to Become a Great F*cking Filmmaker” course and walk away with a great f*cking film to add to your portfolio.

Become a great filmmaker bru!

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