23 year old Flatface owner Mike Schneider is probably the best fingerboarder in the world
2nd November 2019 by Will Stewart
For the uninitiated, Mike Schneider is possibly the best finger boarder in the world. He’s owner of Flatface, a finger boarding empire that has brought the 23 year old, and his mother and father business partners, fortune. A fun tale of a suburban American subculture that will take many back to the lost days of their youth.
We were caught up with director Jonathan Bregel to ask him a few questions about the film, and his film making career.
MadeGood – Hi Jonathon, please tell me how you got into film making.
Jonathan Bregel – I started making films when I was maybe 12 years old. My dad had a camcorder. I broke my arm three times skateboarding in middle school, all my friends were skateboarders. Since I couldn’t really skate or progress in the way that everyone else was because my arm was always broken, I just sort of defaulted to being the guy with the camera. And it just so happened that I actually really, really enjoyed it. So that’s how it started out, I guess.
MadeGood – so that was a hobby at that point. How did it turn into a bigger thing?
Jonathan Bregel – I was selling skateboard DVDs in high school, videos that I had shot and edited. I never really thought of it as a career by any means but when it came time to think about what do, I was like, well I guess I’ll do filmmaking. I wasn’t even really into watching films necessarily. It was just that I liked to make videos. I ended up going to film school in Florida, this place called Full Sail. I was more into the act of making content, like videos or films or whatever you want to call it, and less of the film theory that a lot of the other people were there to be engaged in.
I found myself making a lot of videos, a lot of films, music videos, shooting stuff for senior projects etc., that’s all I really cared about. I was networking and making great friends that were also into making films, and I built a really solid community of people that I still work with to this day. So we had a team, like a bond, and right out of film school we all moved to New York together and started working together as much as we possibly could.
It was a very organic process. It was very much like a family unit from the time I was in film school up until about a year ago when I left my last company. I was working with people that I really liked, it was a lot of fun, a whole lot of fun.
MadeGood – What is Flatface? When did you finish that- it was a while ago, was it?
Jonathan Bregel – Yeah. It was about three years ago.
MadeGood – Is that a typical example of the sort of thing that you make?
Jonathan Bregel – Definitely not. When I was in film school, right through to starting that production company that I had, I was focused on high-end production values and really trying to like build a career in a very tactical way. We wanted to make big commercials and get budgets to push ourselves technically, work with the best gear and learn that way.
MadeGood – So that was like corporate films? Mainly commercials and branded content.
Jonathan Bregel – I built my last company with a handful of other people. A lot of my little passion projects like Flatface, I just made with just myself and one or two other people. They were a reaction to all the bigger budget commercial stuff, where we had tonnes of agency client politics and ‘high level meetings’, and all this stuff. I was just exhausted and Flatface was one film that was definitely a reaction to that. I was super burnt out and actually depressed, which I never was a kid.
I got so burnt out by building that company and digging myself a hole, basically because I was so naïve about the commercial industry, building business, and life in general.
I found this guy who is in the film, the main guy, Mike, had a YouTube channel and I just could not stop watching his videos. I was just fascinated by this character, I couldn’t believe it was real.
MadeGood – I can totally see why he struck a chord with you, you know what I mean? You used to love skating and you started a business yourself. There’s a lot of similarities.
Jonathan Bregel – Totally. And more than anything it was just this idea that he built a business out of something that I never even thought was possible. I finger boarded when I was in high school. I was very entrepreneurial. If I wasn’t selling skate DVDs I was making some sort of jewellery and selling it or, you whatever. I was always involved in trying to think about how to monetise creative things, I guess. And this idea of monetising something with a finger board, that was so close to me and my own childhood I just couldn’t believe that someone did that.
MadeGood – Were you a little bit like, “God, why didn’t I do that?”
Jonathan Bregel – It wasn’t even like that. I knew there was this huge company called Tech Deck that made finger boards that were sold in like Wal-Mart and Target and whatever, but that was a huge corporate company. This is was a one man, DIY operation. It was just a state of disbelief more than anything.
There’s something really interesting about taking something that’s so far out and fusing it with real life. I think the film is a response to what I was feeling when we showed up at the location, and were presented with what that actually looked like, and what that felt like.
MadeGood – You mean, a massive house that’s been bought by the money from the finger boards?
Jonathan Bregel – Yeah. I mean, that and just the energy and the pacing and everything about the film was not planned before we got there. We just showed up decided to film this guy for a couple days. The second I met him I said, okay, this is going to be a lot different than I imagined it was going to be.
Mike, he’s a very intelligent guy but he’s not your average businessperson, you know?
MadeGood – I totally understand what you’re saying. Skating, you associate with people who just sort of want to sit around and chat and be outside. It’s like the opposite of business. He’s driving around in a massive Mercedes and it’s just like, what am I looking at? It’s such a juxtaposition of things, isn’t it?
Jonathan – Yeah, absolutely. It’s just a really unique slice of life. It opens your mind in one way or another. Business doesn’t have to always be so buttoned up and beautiful. It can be your own little operation, you know? Whatever makes you happy at the end of the day, that recipe of success was a pretty beautiful, unconventional view of what that could look like.
MadeGood – You said that you had an old business which left you feeling burnt out, and then you made this film and it sounds like it was almost like you had an epiphany. That was three years ago. Has there been a change in your working outlook?
Jonathan Bregel – There has been, definitely. I mean, there definitely wasn’t like a huge epiphany from that film by any means. I think a lot of it was me not being truly honest with myself about the effect that the commercial work had on my soul. And it took me a long time. It took me a little more than a couple years to really accept that, that commercial industry, for me as a filmmaker, wasn’t the best place for my soul as a human being.
You can make a lot of money in the commercial industry as a director, as a cinematographer, and it’s provided very good savings and all this sort of stuff. That’s very hard to say no to and to walk away from.
But there are different ways to live, and different ways to have a film career, too. If you want to live a life that’s true to yourself, then that’s where someone like Mike is really inspiring. He made a freaking company out of a fingerboard, you know? Think about how imaginative and creative you can get if you really want to make films, or anything, you know? You might have to think a little bit differently than what the commercial industry is telling you, so I just had to take a huge step back from all of it.
So I left that company about a year ago and I’ve been coaching filmmakers for the last year while pursuing making my own films.
MadeGood – That sounds a lot more interesting.
Jonathan Bregel – For me, I mean, it was a mandatory thing. I had to save my soul. I mean, I was so deep in it. I’d built a commercial production company and was billing lots of money. We had about six different people rostered. It was a huge responsibility and I started that when I was 21, until I was 29 when, I left.
A huge chunk of my life was involved in the commercial industry. So again, that’s why stories like Mike’s is very inspiring to me. Even looking back. I don’t even know if it was so clear to me at the time when I was making it. But those sort of people that do things on their own terms are, yeah, he’s an extreme example of that.
MadeGood – So how’s it been since quitting your old business?
Jonathan Bregel – Well, it’s funny because the first time it might sound like I was focused on the money, but I was more excited and passionate about the ability to work with my friends and create high quality content.
And that translates to money because we work with really, really great people. So money came quick and I was young and that feels good. To be flying around the world making great content for household name brands. At 21, 22, 23, that was a dream as far as my former definition of success was.
Now it’s more about really clarifying the type of life that I want to have, and building my career around that ideal that I have for myself and my family and my future.
MadeGood – But it sounds like that was a great process to go through, too. It doesn’t sound like you made the wrong decision to be doing that, even if by the end of it you were burnt out, and you were questioning why you were doing it anymore. The place it put you in, both in terms of what you learnt, and the money you made. That’s great, right?
Jonathan Bregel – Oh, I mean, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It was so amazing, and everything that I have now. I’m so closely connected to my values now, and I could never have gotten to this point without literally diving headfirst into the fire. Also the fact that I was working with such close friends through the whole process allowed me to endure it even longer.
MadeGood – And now you’re a film making coach. What’s that like?
Jonathan Bregel – More than anything it just feels good to work with clients that I respect. Every one of the clients that I work with, I have a deep respect for having the courage to commit to goals that they want to work towards. It’s a vulnerable thing to reach out to somebody else and say, “Hey, you know, I’m struggling here. Can you help me get towards this place?” I have a lot of respect for people that are willing to do that.
MadeGood – Well, good luck Jonathan! Sounds like you’ve made a success of it so far, and have some good ideas for the future. Thanks for talking to us.