recaps of the top 'ask me anything' interviews from reddit and more...
I quit my teaching job, bought a camera, went solo to one of America's most dangerous cities, and made an award-winning documentary film about love and the opioid epidemic. AMA

My name is Hasan Oswald and I am a filmmaker who made the documentary film HIGHER LOVE in Camden, NJ with no professional experience, no budget, and no crew. Using YouTube to learn all things film and selling my blood plasma to make ends meet, I somehow pulled off a zero-budget Indie hit. My film HIGHER LOVE is now available across all North American cable/satellite Video on Demand platforms. International release coming soon. Ask me anything!

WHERE TO WATCH: https://www.higherlovefilm.com/watch

Website with trailer: https://www.higherlovefilm.com

Instagram: higherlovefilm (https://www.instagram.com/higherlovefilm/)

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/higherlovefilm/?ref=bookmarks

Proof: https://i.redd.it/bwuwol6wdq961.jpg


111
questions
9,081
score
January 6th 2021
interview date
NotSomeSuggestedname

Was there any "fuck it, I quit" moments you had or any realization that came to you before you decided to quit?


hoswal01

I fell through a factory roof pretty early on. Luckily my tripod got wedged in the hole and I didn't go all the way through (30 foot drop onto rebar). There were some moments where the pregnant character in the film is using every drug under the sun. Those were tough as a filmmaker/human. But I never really got close to calling it quits. I think I pushed a lot of stuff to the background, choosing to deal with it later. Which I am now, for better or worse.

NicklePhilip

Do you have concerns about the footage you shot being used against your subjects for legal purposes? Custody battles, arrests, etc? Not just the finished doc, but all the additional raw footage as well being subpoenaed and you having to testify? I ask because I have worked on projects that that has happened on.


hoswal01

Great question. I can't get too in-depth but it was certainly an issue we were concerned about and ended up dealing with in post. There is a lot of creative leeway with docs and filmmaking in general, but we had a lot of work to do after our "film first, legal later" approach.

dimaltay

I'm not even an amateur filmmaker but how did you even learn it all from youtube alone? There's so many stuff to consider when filming. From formatting, color, lighting, sound recording to post production etc. It seems overwhelming in terms of knowledge and expenses.


hoswal01

Yeah it was a lotttt. I think that I learned more on the ground, just doing it, than anything else. I taught myself editing first, using mostly youtube, and then started my film, learning on the fly.

However, I wouldn't say it was overwhelmingly difficult. Sure I made many mistakes with sound, lighting, lenses etc etc, but the end product barely shows any of these. So I would say it's easier than it looks on paper.

MovieNewsJunkie

Hi Hasan! I came across your interview on No Film School just a few weeks ago. I'm a big fan of theirs, just like you.

Question: Are their any other sites dedicated to film that you like to follow?


hoswal01

Hey! Yeah, I learned so much from the No Film School / Indie Film Hustle type outlets. I'm also constantly on publications such as Indie Wire and Metaflix for my daily film fix.

yorkshirenoodles

I am looking forward to watching this; it sounds absolutely fascinating. Post Industrial America is an interesting topic in itself, and I saw below it is what led you to the film's subject: the opiod epidemic. What did you teach befor you quit? I am guessing High School History? (I used to be a Lit teacher; 12 years).


hoswal01

Good guess haha. But I was a second grade English and Math teacher in Thailand and then Spain.

I've always had a (morbid?) curiosity with crumbling factories and cities. I'm not sure where it came from but this urge to explore a decaying Americana was certainly heightened by living overseas for seven years.

thelongernow

2 part question:

What would you say to doc filmmakers trying to find a good story to follow and get involved with? I’ve been trying to start with smaller projects, but would hope to get more involved with a long term or feature length project at some point. Just haven’t been able to find any great starting points.

Have you ever had a project you wanted to work on so badly but it just fell apart, for one reason or another? What did you do to learn from that?


hoswal01

I'm not sure where you're from but I don't think you need to embark on some huge, breaking news story as a starting point. The opioid epidemic is barely in the news anymore because everybody and every publication have put out something on it. So in that sense, I was late. I think what made my movie successful was the story and characters that were projected onto a backdrop of the epidemic.

I'm new in the industry so thankfully both of my projects (including one I'm wrapping now in the Middle East) have been a "success". I am prepared for a project down the road to go belly up though, as that's the nature of the biz. And I'm sure I'll be heartbroken haha. As filmmakers, we invest so much time, money and heart into these stories and characters.

rubmahbelly

Hi, I am interested in watching this. Apple store says it’s not available in Germany. Are there plans for a release in Europe?


hoswal01

Hey, thanks for the support. Yeah, we are only live in North America but will have our worldwide release within the next few months. If you follow us on instagram (higherlovefilm) we will announce soon.

titivillus_was_here

Trailer is fantastic! What were your first steps to finding the people featured in the film? Were they pretty open to being recorded?


hoswal01

Thank you!

I didn't have any choice but to just walk down the streets and knock on doors. The motel scene at the beginning was the first day I met "the group" so they were pretty candid from the start. They all provided me with an incredible amount of trust and eventually it was almost like they didn't even notice me sitting there with a camera after a while.

I think for a city like Camden, and especially for those suffering from addiction, they feel ignored/forgotten and the camera finally gives them some agency back.

sickbeautyblog

I wish I could get someone interested in the same type of project but from the perspective of chronic pain patients that this heroin/fentanyl crisis is damaging. The war on drugs is really just "we figured out how to make money on both ends of the equation." The number of CPP's driven to suicide after having their meds taken or involuntarily tapered is way bigger than people think.

One thing I experience often is being treated like a drug seeker in the ER when I'm having an attack of pancreatitis. Did you encounter many people trying to work ERs for drugs during filming, or was it all stuff coming in from other countries in the form of fentanyl or fentalogues?


hoswal01

"we figured out how to make money on both ends of the equation" is really a great way to put it and so true. Might steal this for a future screening Q+A ;)

Do you mean someone suffering from drug addiction trying to work the ER / healthcare system in order to get drugs?

space_monster

if I rent this on Prime (AUD $5) how much of that do you get?


hoswal01

I'm not sure of the exact numbers because they differ from platform to platform. I would guess about half of that when it's all said and done.

Indie filmmaking is expensive, even when you do it like I did. Expensive and full of companies/people trying to take advantage.

K--Will

Okay, as an unmotivated artist with a lot of ideas and a comfortable job, very simple question:

how did you motivate yourself to leave comfort and pursue what you felt was important, and how did you maintain that motivation for long enough to complete the project?


hoswal01

I left Thailand and then Barcelona because I was getting too comfortable with my life as a teacher in these amazing cities.

I can't really explain the motivation that first set me on this path but I knew that I had a lot in me that wasn't being utilized and/or explored.

I've maintained that push by having a giant chip on my shoulder, provided by an industry that insists on you paying your dues, inching up the ladder and constantly telling me there was no way I could make it as a first time director with no experience.

funfilledfun

Do you have any plans on doing another documentary? Would you base it on drug addiction again?


hoswal01

I'm currently wrapping up my next film on the Yazidi genocide and coinciding ISIS captives still missing. I've been filming between Turkey, Iraqi Kurdistan and Syria for the last year.

I would love to explore the subject of addiction in further films and Higher Love is currently being turned into a narrative.

lablaga

Do you feel a little icky about buying and using equipment and then returning it on day 29?

Edited for clarity


hoswal01

In retrospect, I do. I always kept the gear in perfect mint condition, (it was usually a computer to edit) and I stopped doing it towards the end.

AjTheWumbo

Super cool story! How much income would you guess selling plasma brought in? Did you just crash on someone’s couch while filming?


hoswal01

Yeah, my extended family is still in the area (we are originally from Camden)so I crashed with my uncle most of the time.

Plasma brought in about $100 per week. Enough for food/gas, a drone, and a few lenses.

Any-Refrigerator-966

What made you decide that this was a story you wanted to tell/explore? And has it changed you as a person and how you view the world?


hoswal01

It didn't start out as a story about the opioid epidemic, but rather the fall and fallout of a post-industrial America. So that was what I originally set out to explore.

What I witnessed and filmed has changed me a good bit, of course. I've learned to be a little more patient and a little more empathetic towards places like Camden and the people who are struggling within them.

rakisak

Whats the craziest thing you saw?


hoswal01

A single episode doesn't come to mind. Lots of ODs. Thousands of injections, drug deals, etc. Little old me was SHOOK the first few weeks filming.

I fell through a factory roof once (the city timelapse in the film was just before this) and luckily my tripod caught on some shingles, probably saving my life.

BernieTheDachshund

Do you cover how this opioid epidemic has affected chronic pain patients? I see a lot of folks on Twitter who can't get pain meds. I'm talking about cancer patients, people who've had hip replacements, chest surgery, etc. The DEA has doctors scared to prescribe meds and it has resulted in some cruel deprivation of even a 3 day supply of opiates. Those who suffer from debilitating pain on a regular basis have been cut off or forced to undergo spinal shots to get them.


hoswal01

That is an aspect that I didn't realize until recently, during our festival run, when someone brought it up.

One of our characters (Tye), started using pills after she was shot. That then turned into street drugs when she couldn't afford her medication any more.

So while the film doesn't cover it, I will certainly do some digging into how the epidemic is effecting those with chronic pain.

funfilledfun

Are you from NJ?


hoswal01

I was raised on the NY/NJ border (on the NY side) so sort of. My father and that whole side of the family is from Camden though. Most still live in the Cherry Hill / Marlton areas.

paradoxofchoice

I see you used a A7Sii. Did you ever have any overheating issues? How many batteries did you carry with you? How was your audio capturing experience?


hoswal01

Oh man, at first yes!! So many lost clips due to overheating. Some things I used that seemed to help: I updated the firmware and filmed with the screen extended away from the body. I changed the batteries out when they became warm, even if they weren't done yet (I carry 8). I kept the battery door open.

But I still have them occasionally when I film in hot places. I'm in Iraq finishing up my next project and it's happened a few times. For audio I used a shitty Rode for most of it and had a LOT of work to do in post. Now I use the Rode Vid Mic Pro+ and it's a dream.

tasker_morris

Since Higher Love, do you find more professional filmmakers or indie filmmakers lining up to work with you? Or has it remained a bit of the same?


hoswal01

I have been approached by a few big producers/networks who want to work with me on future projects. I'm currently wrapping a film in Syria/Iraq/Turkey about the Yazidi genocide and it's a co-production with well-known channel.

Pretty surreal. None of this happens without Higher Love of course.

T98hSp4SwIq2dg0Mmnv7

How do you feel about the fact that the entire documentary has already been uploaded to Youtube for everyone to watch for free?


hoswal01

The range of emotions reading this post was incredible.

ikevintruong

What do you think about Drug Decriminalization proposed by Andrew Yang to combat opiod epidemic? See https://youtu.be/eyNJfg_s9vw?t=277


hoswal01

Absolutely agree with Yang and the Portugal model.

Outsiderx11

Hi , I wanna shoot a documentary regarding the how is the life of the homeless during the pandemic in İstanbul but I don’t know where to start with the interviews (how to even get them accept an interview ) And I have no gear other than my phone . Is there a way I can solve these issues ?


hoswal01

Hey, what an amazing idea. And an amazing city! I've spent a lot of time in Istanbul.

That's exactly where I was at when I had started. No gear or experience. I would find someone you would like to interview and approach them without a camera of course. Tell them that your working on a project about ____and you were wondering if you could learn their story.

I learned early on to fake it till you make it, so don't tell him it's your first time doing this, or first time with a camera. Exude confidence and it will make you both more comfortable.

If he/she says yes, use your smartphone as a camera, get a tripod and a friend's phone for external audio. If it goes well, rent some cheap gear the next time around.

Shy_Cowboy

Most questions have been directed towards your film, but I wanted to ask you about your experience with teaching. What's the story? What made you go into teaching, and then what made you leave the profession?


hoswal01

Ahh a nice film break ;) I graduated from Villanova with an English degree and writing/journalism concentration. I had no idea what I wanted to do so I moved to Thailand to teach and fell in love with it.

I continued onto Barcelona and then back to New York, where I had been accepted at Columbia Teachers College. However, I quickly became disillusioned with the program itself and the education system as a whole in the US. Mostly, I couldn't picture putting myself 100k in debt to be treated as poorly as our educators are and to be in a system I didn't believe in any longer.

vitalidol88

How much do you love that Steve Winwood song? Bring me a higher love, ohoh


hoswal01

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c__noWWtdZg

That's actually where the title came from haha. It was our credit song until you know, they wanted a lot of money.

martusfine

Perhaps this is addressed in the documentary but how was the support from the family and have their views changed with your major life choice now that your work is being recognized?


hoswal01

The family I filmed with? The people I filmed with were all super supportive of the film, and remain so to this day. Daryl (protagonist) especially.

My family? Always supportive. Couldn't have asked for a better support system throughout 3 years of no income and being in a good bit of danger.

AciliBorek

How you built the guts? I want to discover people and culture, feeling like college is a linear prison corridor, yet i dont have the guts to just move. Were you financially relaxed before taking off?


hoswal01

I had a bit of a nomadic childhood so I think I had built the courage to just set off. I will say though, that NONE of these places are what the media portrays. I just got back from Syia and Iraq, where I'm wrapping my next film, and can't say enough about the people and culture. Yes, that's obviously a dramatic example. Don't go to Syria right now.

I didn't have much savings, no. Under 5k.

root88

What award did you win? It seems like every movie ever made has some award attached to it.


hoswal01

Slamdance Film Festival: Grand Jury Award Best Feature Documentary

2x Brooklyn Film Festival: Spirit Award, Best New Director

2x Flicker's Rhode Island International Film Festival: Best Feature Documentary, Best editor

Crossing the Screen International Film Festival: Best Feature Documentary

Atlanta DocuFest: Best Director

Stony Brook Film Festival: Spirit of Independent Filming Award

anonoman925

Why did you quit teaching?


hoswal01

Copying from another answer:

I graduated from Villanova with an English degree and writing/journalism concentration. I had no idea what I wanted to do so I moved to Thailand to teach and fell in love with it.

I continued onto Barcelona and then back to New York, where I had been accepted at Columbia Teachers College. However, I quickly became disillusioned with the program itself and the education system as a whole in the US. Mostly, I couldn't picture putting myself 100k in debt to be treated as poorly as our educators are and to be in a system I didn't believe in any longer.

BBBEADA

Any advice for someone looking to get into documentary making? / insights from the film biz ?


hoswal01

Don't let the film industry and their "pay your dues" bullshit scare you off.

Just go do it. Learn the basics, buy a camera, find a subject that really interests you. What's the worst that can happen?

Be careful in this indie film world. Lots of leeches and the likes who want to milk you out of every last dollar.

amanda259

I’ve been teaching in Camden for 8 years now. This is the 2nd documentary I’m aware of about the “City Invincible.” Have you done, or do you plan on screening your film in Camden? Have any of your subjects seen it? What was their reaction?


hoswal01

That's awesome, where do you teach? Rutgers?

Yes we are planning on having Camden screenings. Covid put a wrench in that for now.

whatsupdate

That is an amazing trailer! Much more gripping than most mainstream Hollywood trailers with insane budgets.

How did you get past your fears and doubts to dive in without a safety net and try to make this vision a reality?


hoswal01

Thank you! I backed myself into a corner on purpose and didn't give myself a plan B.

A lot of people in the industry scoffed at me and wouldn't even give me an internship. I used that chip and continue to use it to this day. And I got dumped, so I got that "I'll show you" boost haha.

SilverGlow11

The trailer looks great and I'm looking forward to watching this! As a fellow Sony user, I'm curious.. what picture profile do you shoot on?


hoswal01

PP 7! With S-Log assist on. Thanks for supporting.

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hoswal01

Sony A7sii with mostly 24-70mm Zeiss.

DennisDystem

The trailer is haunting, and I look forward to watching. Couple questions:

I'm curious, what did the subjects of the film get out of it? I'm not necessarily talking about anything monetary, I'm just wondering what they were hoping to get out of it by agreeing to be filmed? (if that was ever something you discussed with them)

Also, did you show them the final cut?


hoswal01

There are a lot of things that go into characters agreeing to be filmed, and money is usually not one of them. I think in forgotten cities like Camden, people want to tell their story. To regain some agency. Then, of course, is an element of ego...to be on TV and have a film crew following them around.

I made the final cut available to everyone in the film. I know a few have watched it and loved it.

ImageMirage

Very inspiring story bro. Three questions please:

1) Do you have any recommended links that you personally used to acquaint yourself with the fundamentals of filmmaking? Links to “editing movies” would be great but I’d love to know where you picked up lighting and sound tips etc.

2) Based on the knowledge of filmmaking you now have, what advice and tips would you give to your younger self if you could go back in time? Specifically to save him heartache with mistakes that could have sunk your project?

3) If you won the lottery and could go off and shoot your dream project with a dream equipment list what stuff would you buy and what film would you make?


hoswal01

I'll come back to this when I do some digging into my youtube faves. I don't know if I have a favourite, as I would just type in things like "what is peaking on A7s?" or "what's the difference between frame rate and shutter speed?"

Off the top of my head Matt Johnson is amazing (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCN9rUqSA8Wu6dutv0H6fBCA) and NO FILM SCHOOL was probably my go-to podcast/website/forum. Check out Indie Film Hustle podcast as well. Alex Ferrari is the man.

Advice for a younger me? GET BETTER SOUND! NOT ALL CAN BE FIXED IN POST.

My dream equipment list is pretty basic, as I like to film everything myself, run and gun style. I would say Sony fs7, top rode mic, and the newest Mavic drone. And for what project? I'll have to think on that as I'm currently wrapping my "dream" project ;)

pr0v0cat3ur

Hello Hasan, Did any of the addicts ask that you pay them? What was their incentive to allow you into their lives?


hoswal01

Certainly, especially at the beginning. We would help them with gas money, food, etc though.

I think the incentive is that it's a chance to share their story. And of course, to be in a movie.

TAMilliona

Well, this looks amazing! Are you looking for work right now or are you busy? I'm working and looking to invest into consciousness projects that highlight things that are generally not brought to our awareness.

This includes

  • Where does our trash go?
  • Effects of cell phone usage
  • Microplastic

And so on. Open to any and all ideas. Well funded.


hoswal01

I'm currently wrapping up my latest project in the Middle East. DM me though, these sound interesting.

munk_e_man

I'm currently about 50% through a documentary I filmed on my own dime with my own gear. Now that I need to do things like motion graphics/audio mastering I'm finding I've hit a wall, and I cant afford to pay anyone to help me.

How did you get over this inevitable hurdle? Its one thing to grab a camera and shoot, but the part where you need to survive to finish it is something else entirely.


hoswal01

I hit that wall also. What I did was, I edited the first 30 mins of the film into a sort of extended sizzle. Music, basic coloring etc....just what I could do myself. I then it to people who fell in love with the project and agreed to continue on with backpay.

[deleted]

[deleted]


hoswal01

Find a subject or subject matter that really interests you. Then do a little research on cameras (most iphones are now 4k) and go out and do it. It really is that easy, and can be done for almost no money.

Watch youtube tutorials, learn to edit (easier then it sounds), and go knock on some doors. You can always go back to the rat race :) DM me, I would love to keep chatting and lure someone else out of the ratrace.

phamedits

How did you deal with getting it into festivals or what was your process of distribution like?


hoswal01

That was certainly an experience. I was a first-time director and our small team was also pretty green, so we were unable to play the politics/name game. So we did blind submissions to the A/B tier ones and crossed our fingers.

Luckily we got into Slamdance and won the grand jury and it all snowballed from there. We also got a distribution deal at Slamdance.

codecduck

Very inspiring! The hardest part for me is when we have to get the film out there.

How did you plan for release?


hoswal01

Thank you!

We knew we had a great film but getting it out there was really tough for us as well. We didn't really have a plan or any money, so we just blindly applied to the major fests and got lucky with Slamdance. I would NOT recommend that to any first-time filmmakers.

mdgraller

What city was it? You somehow neglected to mention it in your blurb and I’m feeling dickish


hoswal01

Good catch. Camden, NJ.

jacksont8

Im a teacher myself and am curious, did being in that profession influence/inspire your drive to make this documentary and, if so, did it aid in your ability to make such a successful documentary?


hoswal01

Yeah, I taught adults (night class) in Barcelona and that really helped me down the line with confidence in interviews. If you believe it, they believe it.

I don't think the teaching profession lead me to doc film but teaching abroad and the travels that ensued certainly opened my eyes to other cultures and made me even more curious. And I started making travel films with one of the first go-pros, which was probably the original seed that brought me here.

HeyHoLetsGo615

I'm not sure if you're still answering questions but there's a film I've always wanted to make (I won't bore you with the details), but knowing how niche of an audience it would attract I have never delved in to it as I know it would be a money and time pit.

But, seeing how you walked away from teaching to dive in to making your film, I'm feeling adventurous again. I'm curious though, what provisions did you have in place, if any, for if the whole thing went to shit? And while you were traveling and filming, what was something that came up that you wish you'd have planned for?

I'll be watching your film this weekend, so thanks for posting!


hoswal01

I'll be here all night, as the world burns ;)

I didn't have any plan B, no. Which is why I think I was able to make the jump out of teaching. I guess I could have gone back to teaching, or writing, but I never really thought about those as options.

Something that came up while traveling and filming that I wish I planned for? Well I didn't plan for anything, so everything was a surprise. I guess I should have known how hard it would be to try to start a travel show with your (now ex) gf, with no money, or real plan. Ahh to be younger and in lust. ..

Sorry, losing my mind. Thanks for the support I hope you like the film!

nashswayze

Just watched the trailer and looking forward to watching the entire thing! If you're still answering questions I have a few technical questions at the tip of my brain:
 
1) What apertures did you find yourself shooting in a majority of the time? Especially curious about your approach to low light scenes.
 
2) Speaking of low-light, what was your preferred method of dealing with SLOG noise in the shadows?
 
3) Did you lean on the A7SII autofocus much during this shoot?
 
Have a lovely day!


hoswal01

The A7sii is amazing in low light and I of course tried to shoot at as low of an aperture as possible. But the majority of the time I shot at F8 and also used a great adjustable ND.

For slog noise I keep fstop as low as it goes and keep the ISO down as much as possible. I then like to add a tiny bit of external light, whether that's a door cracked or an iphone light off to the corner of the room.

I leaned on autofocus while I learned the camera, as it was one more thing to worry about when I legit had no idea how to film. You can see some focus pulls that were NOT intentional but now ppl think were an artistic choice haha. As I gained confidence, I went to manual.

jagreen013

From a photographer would like to venture toward photojournalism/editorial 1. How did you build trust with the subjects? 2. Did you have contacts before going on or did you just go in blind? 3. What was the most difficult part throughout the whole process?


hoswal01
  1. They sort of just let me in from the start (that motel scene at the beginning of the movie was my first night with "the group") They all provided me with an incredible amount of trust and eventually it was almost like they didn't even notice me sitting there with a camera after a while. I think for a city like Camden, and especially for those suffering from addiction, they feel ignored/forgotten and the camera finally gives them some agency back.

  2. I didn't have any contacts and went in blind.

  3. I think the most difficult part was having to sit back while people destroyed their lives. Especially when that also deeply effected others, such as their children and unborn babies. Those were certainly the toughest parts to film and still stick with me today.

317LaVieLover

I guess I have a cpl questions:

  1. What got you interested in addiction itself— and filming it? Did you experiment with them at some point in your life, or had loved ones to be affected by drugs, maybe?

  2. Do you have any opinions on the drug war? (do you think drugs should be decriminalized?)


hoswal01
  1. I didn’t set out to make a story about heroin or street drugs, and in fact, it didn't start out as a story about the opioid epidemic at all, but rather the fall and fallout of a post-industrial America. I would still go so far as to say it’s more a film about love and addiction, projected onto a backdrop of a post-industrial city struggling with the current epidemic.
  2. The dug war is a complete failure, and yes, I would push for a similar model to that which Portugal has implemented with great success. Let's see what happens in Oregon.
opiablame

Have you ever used Heroin/opioids? If not did you ever feel tempted while making the documentary?


hoswal01

I never have used them, no. And never felt the urge to while filming.

notapingpongball

Where can I watch in the UK?


hoswal01

Our UK release is coming soon! Some people on this thread have had luck with VPNs.

ParadoxRift7

Hey there! As someone quite familiar with Camden and just now seeing this AMA, I wanted to ask why you chose Camden specifically for this??

Also having spent the time that you did both in this city and on the issue, what are your thoughts and feelings about Camden as a city, and legalization of drugs in a broad & general sense?? Looking forward to watching!


hoswal01

My father and his side of the family is from Camden, NJ, although they left in the 70s. They all remained in the general area and they have so many good/bad stories about Camden so it's always been a place that I've wanted to explore.

Also, I didn't have a budget and Camden was close enough where I could go make my first film without too much overhead. But once I got there, I fell in love with the place and the people.

Manomeme

With all your research on the opioid epidemic, did you see a lot of people who were using them for actual pain management and were successful and using responsibly? I feel like pain management patients get lumped in with heroin addicts and puts a stigma on their treatment. Do you have any thoughts on that after putting this together? Thank you.


hoswal01

I was not aware of that aspect of the epidemic until our festival run, when it was brought up in a Q+A. However, there have been a few comments regarding it in this AMA and I'm gonna dive into it.

riskybisquit86it

How many years did you teach before your realized kids aren't the future, robots are?


hoswal01

Taught for about four years. Realized this on day one and just went along for the ride.

DJ_Molten_Lava

How'd you know lightning was gonna happen right there?!


hoswal01

Stood out there for a while haha. It was a pretty big lightning storm and I knew it would come my way eventually.

CynicClinic1

Hello fellow Rockland native!
What steps do you think we collectively as a society need to take to curb such rampant destructive drug use?


hoswal01

Hello hello Rocklandite (is that a thing?)

It's obviously a very complicated subject with no simple outs. But briefly, I would push towards a system that focuses on rehabilitation rather than punitive measures. See Andrew Wang's proposal or the model Portugal implemented ten years ago with incredible results.

Alanoki

Hi, this looks amazing! Question, how long did the whole process take? From deciding you want to tackle this project until completion then submitting it into film festivals?


hoswal01

I decided to go to Camden and left the next week. I filmed for a year straight then came back trying to work freelance/raise funds. Then I went back and forth the next few months on weekends.

Start to finish (festivals) ? 2.5 3 years. Would have been 2 or less with proper funding/crew.

chemEmomma

I’m so excited to watch this tonight with my husband. He grew up with a lot of exposure to the hardened real world and I was incredibly sheltered. Ironically, I used to attend Junior national rowing regattas in Camden in high school, so I’m incredibly nervous to see what was just streets away from my polished times in the city.

Now for my question: has your worldview shifted negatively or positively (or not at all) based on your experiences? We’re you exposed to the challenges others faced or were you more sheltered as a kiddo?


hoswal01

I was not sheltered as a kid at all and grew up in a pretty nomadic way, being exposed to many different cultures/peoples and their struggles.

So while these new experiences no longer shift my perspective all that much, I love that I work in a field that gives me the opportunity to share these stories and people with others, such as yourself and your husband.

Make sure you get back to me after the viewing with what you thought ;)

moshercycle

I haven't watched it, but I plan to later on. I am always curious about documentary participants. Did any of them glorify their addictions, and life obstacles, almost as if they were a celebrity due to the camera?


hoswal01

That's a great question but I don't think our characters did that. If anything they downplayed their obstacles and struggles, probably out of shame.

Enjoy the film, would love any feedback when you're done.

seriousbangs

Is the city really all that dangerous? When I was a kid I was told the colors gangs would drive by me but to be honest the drug dealers pretty much kept to themselves because if they didn't the cops just came in and busted everybody.


hoswal01

No, I think it's probably overblown. The city and the people are amazing and resilient.

professor-professor

Wow how cool! Fellow teacher (although still teaching) here and I'm currently being tasked to put together their video production crew.

Any tips for teaching video production? Any possibility of getting an interview with you? 🥳


hoswal01

Oh I would love to! Let's hop on a zoom with your students. Or just you haha.

band145

Did you enroll in Teach for America or New York City Teaching Fellows Program? (I did. Thought I would quit or transfer out in under 5 years. I stayed for fifteen).


hoswal01

No, I did a TEFL course abroad and bounced around between SE Asia and Europe. Thought I would stay 6 months. Stayed nearly 4 years.

rollonyou32

That's pretty cool. Did you do this as a result of something else? It reminds me a bit of Chris Arnade's journey to do Dignity.


hoswal01

It was just where I was at in my life, I needed to make the jump into something I loved or be stuck forever.

I haven't heard of Chris Arnade but will check him out!

gunnerkes

How can I watch this in the UK? This looks like a very powerful film.


hoswal01

We haven't released abroad as of yet, but that's coming soon. If you follow us on social we will announce when we do. OR, I've read in this thread that ppl are having luck with VPNs.

Thanks for the support!

42Ubiquitous

Did you generally feel pretty safe, or no?


hoswal01

Yes. Especially after the first few months.

mmmmmmmkate

Do you think you’ll ever return to teaching? I’m interested to know your thoughts on if/how you’d return to the profession.


hoswal01

My mom wants me too that's for sure.

I absolutely loved it and would consider it down the road as a part-time gig possibly.

blinkyb

Any options to be able to watch in the UK? None of the links on the website work


hoswal01

Yeah it's North American only :(

We will have our international release within the next few months. I've read that some people on here are having luck with a VPN.

adviceKiwi

Too late to the party, but what YouTubes did.you watch to "learn all things film", and what did you shoot on?


hoswal01

I didn't have one specific channel, bounced around a lot. I can dig a little deeper to find some of my favs though.

Shot on Sony A7s.

vexillographica

Did you pay the people in your documentary?


hoswal01

No.

nevaraon

Do you have any plans for your next Documentary? Or will you try something else?


hoswal01

I'm currently between Iraq/Syria/Turkey wrapping my next documentary about the Yazidi genocide and missing 3000 Yazidis in ISIS captivity.

The_Collector4

I just "drove" through Camden on Streetview, and wow, you are brave! What was the most threatened you ever felt by the residents of Camden?


hoswal01

Never! I went in there scared shitless but towards the end I was just worried about stepping in shit or onto needles. Or falling through a roof again.

The city is struggling and has been for a while. But the people are amazing and incredibly resilient.

rapescenario

Wow dude. Amazing. Super inspirational.

What is the music/song used in the trailer?


hoswal01

Thank you.

It's an original score by the amazing John McDowell. We are working on getting the soundtrack onto spotify.

Twils215

Were you wearing body amour when in Camden?


hoswal01

I had a vest that I would wear when filming with police or swat. I wore it to certain drug houses as well to start with but ditched it a few months in.

SerialPest

Is there any way us fans down under can watch the film where it’s not region blocked?


hoswal01

Our international release is coming soon! Some people on this thread have had luck with VPNs.

0nTheHorizon

which camera did you buy?


hoswal01

As7ii. Still my go-to

lazykazooo

Was quitting your job impulsive or planned?


hoswal01

Sort of planned. The film part was impulsive though.

doingbasiclifeprep

which awards did you win?

how long did it take for u to make this

why did you pick this area, did you know about it?


hoswal01

Slamdance Film Festival: Grand Jury Award Best Feature Documentary

2x Brooklyn Film Festival: Spirit Award, Best New Director

2x Flicker's Rhode Island International Film Festival: Best Feature Documentary, Best editor

Crossing the Screen International Film Festival: Best Feature Documentary

Atlanta DocuFest: Best Director

Stony Brook Film Festival: Spirit of Independent Filming Award

shortstackkk

Did you have to set boundaries with any of the addicts when it came to helping them acquire drugs? Already rented and watched on YouTube, I’m so proud of Daryl. Amazing work!


hoswal01

Thank you for supporting and yes Daryl is an amazing human! I'll talk to him tomorrow and pass on your words :)

Hard boundary was that I would never pay for it.

VarsityAthlete

Are you receiving unemployment benefits?


hoswal01

Tough for freelancers. Tougher for freelancers who haven't had any real income while working on passion projects ;)


hoswal01

Improving, possibly.

Continuously one of the country's most dangerous cities for the last few decades? Without a doubt.

thefrontpageof

Hey! I live near Camden. I worry about the title of this post and that it might permeate stereotypes for BIPOC. Are you concerned about that?


hoswal01

Hey, thanks for the very valid question. Hope you're doing well down in/near Camden.

I don't think the title perpetuates any sort of stereotypes about Camden or BIPOC, no.

Justgivemelogin

Fresno?


hoswal01

Camden, NJ.

Kep0a

Has the success so far with this film made enough money to continue and live from? Is the future looking like more bootstrapping, or have you found sponsors or connections make enough to keep doing this?

Looks like a great film. I'll have to give it a watch, and keep an eye out from the next one it sounds like you're working on.


hoswal01

This film was used as a stepping stone into my current project, which has more support and I will actually be able to pay myself.

While filming HIGHER LOVE I had to get a part time and then full time freelance position towards the end.

itssalmon

I live in Camden but not in Camden. I have accounts I visit there and one thing I learned real quick is to keep your eyes low. If you accidentally pull up and see some guys hanging out in the corner, they saw you pull in and are trying to figure you out quickly. If your wondering why they’re looking at you, don’t stare at them trying to figure it out. Just continue on with what you were doing. Think about it later.

Other times, I’ve had to pull over to do some work stuff real quick and turns out I parked in front of someone’s house, who doesn’t like visitors. I didn’t notice them watching me. I pulled away and this dude jumped in his car and sped after me and cut me off. Stopped me and yelled “were you writing down my cars information?!” I had to explain what I was doing and the dude said alright and left.

That being said, I’ve also met some incredibly nice people day and night. They’re all trying to get by.

Where you able to meet the nice side of Camden? IE the people who live there?

I can’t wait to watch the shit out of this.


hoswal01

Yes, I met many amazing people in the city. Thanks for the support! Hope you enjoy the film and that it rings true to someone from the city itself.

NewYorkNY10025

I know I’m late to the party but had to comment. Your trailer is amazing and I’m going to watch the whole thing this weekend. I’ve always been fascinated by abandoned places and grew up not far from Camden.

I have been in NYC for over a decade now and abandoned places are not something we see here anymore but, we certainly do see abandoned people. I feel like your documentary is bringing those people to a wider audience.

I feel like you give a story to people that most are comfortable labeling as junkies and moving on. There’s a person, family, and traumas when you dig deeper and that’s far harder to ignore/write off. I really loved how you value and highlight their humanity and give a voice to a largely voiceless and marginalized community.

I guess that really wasn’t an AMA more of a comment so here’s my question… single/married?

And... I’ll let myself out...


hoswal01

I'm going to steal some of this for my next in person AMA if that's ok haha. Really so well put and couldn't agree more.

Single. Marriage in the future if this job allows ;)

HillaryBinLaden

Have you ever tried opioids or other hard drugs? What made you interested in the lifestyle to film it?


hoswal01

I have never, no.

It wasn't the drug use or addiction that attracted me to the project, but rather the amazing characters and their stories.

sgt_barnes0105

Hey Hasan, I think the idea for the film is amazing. I went to college and lived in Camden, NJ for three years and so I always love seeing it represented. When I first decided on Camden, I had some preconceived notions about the city and while it is one of the most dangerous areas in the country as you mentioned, the city has a beautiful underbelly filled with history and vibrant residents that should be the key to changing the narrative. My question is what were your thoughts and biases going into the project regarding Camden, and did they change by the end and how?


hoswal01

My biases were probably exactly same ones that the rest of the America (or those who have heard of it) hold. Hellhole, nuke it, pull themselves up by they bootstraps, etc. etc. Of course, not to this degree.

That's why I chose the opening radio Opie and Anthony montage that I did.

But that's why I wanted to go explore this city and meet these people, because I knew that I probably had it wrong and that the media had it wrong.

And I/they did have it wrong. Sure it's a city with its struggles but it's a it's a resilient city filled with amazing people. Walt Whitman, Campbells, the ship yards. Cities like Camden built America and now have just been left to rot.

Sumuttaja

Hi! Have you seen Lost Boys? documentary about Finnish opioid addicts? http://catalogue.ses.fi/movies/lost-boys/

Any toughts on that or the earlier film from the same director: reindeer spotting?

Any toughts on these? Im eager to see your film as well, it's important that these documentaries are being made all around the world to spread the knowledge about this terrible disease.


hoswal01

I have seen it. Or parts of it of both.

I will have to watch again and see what thoughts I have. But I remember being inspired by his access and raw verite style.

justagirl1231

How did you get access to the subjects in the film and get them to participate? Just wondering if maybe anyone reading this (commenting late) knows how that side of things work? Unless I was being given money or drugs, not sure i'd want to be filmed at my lowest point in life.

Film looks really well done!


hoswal01

Great question.

I think it is a combination of ego and truly wanting to get your story heard. With many, many other facets piled on.

Minjaben

Hey, thanks for being so thorough and answering so many questions for posters.

What software did you use in the beginning for editing and arrangement? Did you do all of the initial stuff yourself? (Color grading, audio work, etc.) Or, did you end up working with someone else or hiring for contract work?


hoswal01

No problem! I'm enjoying it, surprisingly :)

I used final cut pro x to start and then moved to Premier Pro. I used temp music, doing basic coloring and audio tweaks myself. Once I had a 30 minute cut, I brought on a real editor, colorist, composer, audio tech, etc

lil_egg98

How do you deal with filming conversations or scenes that are hard to witness? Any time I'm in that situation I feel somewhat guilty for filming such a tender moment even when they've agreed to be filmed on paper.


hoswal01

It was really tough at times, but I do think the camera provides a bit of a filter. A way to remove oneself.

I do find that I am now dealing with a lot of things from my time filming there. So I guess I pushed a lot of the more traumatic aspects aside so I could finish filming.

NativeSonSF

I'm late to the show but I'm wondering how you went about getting distribution. I made a film (zero budget) that's about to be distributed on American public television. Who do I go to for the next step? TIA


hoswal01

We went the festival route. So festivals, sales agent, distributor, VOD platforms.

OnlyHereForLOLs

I just rented the film on Amazon. For a 48 hour rental it cost $4.99. How much of that rental fee will you see? Or did they pay you to put it on their site? I’d rather just send you the money directly


hoswal01

Thanks for the support! It varies platform to platform but I would guess about 70-75 percent on average.

Feuersturmer

Hi, I'm not able to watch the documentary in my region but are you able to explain very briefly how there can be an opioid epidemic to a non american? Getting such drugs where I live wouldn't be easy.


hoswal01

Oh I love Germany, lived in Bremen for a bit. Follow us on social media as we will announce our international release soon. We really want to get this story out to as many people and places as possible.

There are SO many factors that go into the opioid epidemic, but doctors overprescribing pain pills to patients, who then eventually turn to the much cheaper street drugs, is probably a good place to start. Also, big Pharma in our country should be held most responsible.

asecuredlife

This is very timely -- what's the best way to get a hold of you for someone who wants to do something very similar, but about a medical issue? Hayyyyy :)


hoswal01

Thank you!

Find me on instagram (higherlovefilm)

Kaisernator

How did you go about distributing this film across all of the listed platforms? Amazing work. Did the film festivals help with distribution?


hoswal01

Sorry missed a few somehow.

We did well in the festivals and were approached by sales agents and disributors.

ManagedIsolation

Dude, come on. It's 2021.

Why region lock this when you're releasing it digitally?

What do you expect to gain from that?


hoswal01

I wish it was my choice! Trust me, we want this out as widely as possible. It's the choice of our distributor to sell different regions at different times, we had no say in the matter.

Ghostzz

Were you ever afraid during work that something might go wrong? Get attacked or ambushed? How did you deal with it?


hoswal01

Copied from below:

I went in there scared shitless but towards the end, I was just worried about stepping in shit or onto needles. Or falling through a roof again.

The city is struggling and has been for a while. But the people are amazing and incredibly resilient.

tyjamo

How close did you come to pairing the relationship of the Vietnam War to Increased Opioid Usage in America?


hoswal01

Many of our interviewees (while we still had interviews in the film) made that connection. Specifically, the DEA head first brought it to our attention.

torquemada_1369

I am an addict and have been in recovery for 6 years. Was it shocking to see the lifestyle first hand?


hoswal01

I would be interested to see your reaction of the film. And good on you, 6 years is incredible! Congrats.

It was at first shocking but I became numb to it after a few weeks.

sticksnXnbones

Did you ever use drugs before deciding to make the film or was this your first exposure to drug use?


hoswal01

I've done drugs recreationally before but this was my first real exposure to hardcore addiction and drug use.

I had never seen someone inject, for example. Or OD.

bea_cas8

How with no crew did you end up filming dangerous criminals without getting into danger yourself??


hoswal01

We built mutual trust. They are humans just like any of us, who have just fallen on hard times.

szzzn

Did it make any money? How did you afford not having a job for the making of the film and now?


hoswal01

It's making money now, but it's been tough, not gonna lie.

I've freelanced and had a salaried position at a big editing house off and on since.

futurespacecadet

What gear did you use for this? How did you like filming with your camera?


hoswal01

A7sii with 24-70 Zeiss.

Rode Vid Pro+ camera top mic.

DJI Phantom 3 (till it caught on fire after crashing into a pool).

Yes, I loved filming with the A7s and use it still.

MihaelaAgarici

You are crazy! What were you feeling when the film was ready?


hoswal01

Complete relief. But I didn't get to really enjoy the ride until the festival run.

Oreos_and

did you get a cheesesteak from Donkey’s?


hoswal01

"a" ??!?!

BunchaOranges

Looking for interns for future projects?


hoswal01

YES.

TechnicallyCrazy

What kind of camera did you buy?


hoswal01

Sony a7sii

NefariousSerendipity

What is next on your journey?


hoswal01

I'm currently between Syria/Iraq wrapping a film on the Yazidi genocide.

NotMyHersheyBar

did you visit the aquarium?


hoswal01

I haven't. Those places make me sad. Especially with the Norcross tax thievery that made that particular one happen.

NefariousSerendipity

Amazing! Dogs or cats?


hoswal01

Dogs

BluesCrewz89

Why not Chicago ?


hoswal01

Camden was a short drive. Chicago was an airplane ticket ;)

But you make a good point. Camden could be any number of cities across America.

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